26 June, 2024

To mark our 40 year anniversary of ADRA in Australia, we wanted to hear from some of our staff and showcase a significant experience or memory they have from their time at ADRA.

Today’s story comes from Greg Young, Regional Director for ADRA South Pacific. Greg has served ADRA, both internationally and in Australia, for over 27 years.

ADRA Australia staff member Ashley Stanton sat down with Greg to talk about his time with ADRA. When asked if he had any significant memories or moments from his time at ADRA, three came to mind: ADRA’s response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Rohingya crisis, and a recent trip to Ukraine.

2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, Thailand

“I was in Thailand in 2004 when the tsunami hit,” Greg said. “I was the ADRA Thailand Country Director at that time.”

The Boxing Day tsunami took the world by surprise. It claimed an estimated 230,000 lives across 14 countries and is one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

Days after the tsunami struck, Greg wrote a letter to his two daughters back home in Australia, reflecting on the devastation.

“Today has been a day that will be etched in my memory forever,” he wrote in the letter. “I took many photos; I don’t know why! The photos are to show others, but yet it is something I want to forget.”

Greg (second from right) was the Country Director for ADRA Thailand when the 2004 tsunami struck

Further in the letter, he wrote about the magnitude of the need, saying, “We will need a lot of money to help them restore their lives, but with God’s grace and the kind donations of concerned people around the globe it will happen. We are going ahead in faith and know that the Lord will provide.”

ADRA Thailand were on the ground immediately to determine how they could help affected citizens recover from such a tragedy. The team travelled further and further north, until they reached a community that had yet to receive aid.

Greg recalls, “The district governor said, ‘We’ve had a couple of NGOs come in and say they’re coming back and they never come back. How do we know your agency will come back?’”

Greg reassured him that ADRA would return to help. In a desperate attempt to ensure ADRA kept their word, the district governor asked Greg to speak to the masses of displaced people and make promises to them directly.

“Here’s this sea of tents and all these people came forward,” Greg said. “They had all been displaced and lost their homes. So, I spoke to them and said, ‘We’ll definitely be back.’”

True to his word, ADRA returned days later and spent three years in that community, helping them to rebuild and recover after the tsunami.

In 2011, Greg visited Ban Nam Khem Tsunami Memorial, Thailand’s main memorial. There, he reflected on ADRA’s response and his recent visit to the communities ADRA supported in the aftermath. Greg said in a video at the time, “I’m pleased to know that they are able to get on with their lives through the help of the people around the globe, and especially (because) of what ADRA did here. As I’ve visited communities time after time over the past few days, it’s been pleasing to know that we’ve been well received. ‘Yes, we remember ADRA, we love ADRA.’”

The aftermath of the 2004 tsunami was sobering. Despite how taxing it was on everyone involved with the response and recovery efforts, Greg knew he was in the right place.

“It was amazing to be involved in helping these people and seeing the difference that it makes,” Greg shared with Ashley. “Even though I saw all these atrocities, you see a lot of people that you help as well and you think, ‘oh, this is rewarding stuff.’ Rather than putting you off this type of work, it really has the opposite effect of, ‘Hey, I want to keep doing this.’

“Emergency responses are fundamentally different from development programs,” he explains. “Development programs require time to engage with the community, which, though often lacking essentials like clean water, is generally managing to survive. In contrast, during emergencies, immediate needs for food, water, and shelter become critical. Without these essentials, people’s lives are at immediate risk.”

Rohingya Refugee Camp, Bangladesh

In mid-2017, over a million Rohingyas fled ethnic and religious persecution in Myanmar. The majority fled to Bangladesh, creating a refugee crisis. The refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar soon became the largest in the world, with almost one million refugees converging there.

Greg was sent as part of ADRA’s Emergency Response Team to respond to the refugee crisis. He spent six weeks in Cox’s Bazar.

“The Rohingya camp was the largest refugee camp in the world,” Greg says. “It’s covered acres and acres, you just look across the hills and it’s just all these people wanting help that have crossed the border from Myanmar.”

Greg (centre back) with the ADRA Bangladesh staff he trained in the software to conduct needs assessments in the field

Yet, when presented with an overwhelming situation, Greg was optimistic about the collective impact aid agencies could make.

“You don’t think the situation is ‘too big’ because ADRA’s not the only agency,” he says. “You know, when you looked across the Rohingya camp, for instance, there were flags there everywhere from all the different agencies to mark the area where they’re working. So you know that it’s not just ADRA trying to feed a million people in a refugee camp, that’s just impossible. It’s just a matter of okay, how do we go about it?”

ADRA’s Ongoing Ukraine Response

Greg has been sent to Ukraine three times since the conflict broke out in February 2022 to assist the local ADRA team in their ongoing response. More than two years on and ADRA is helping internally displaced persons rebuild their lives by providing food relief, education support, and housing support. Most recently, Greg was in Ukraine in January and most of February this year. Though he was located far from the front lines, it was at times surreal to be operating in a country that is constantly under threat.

“Sitting in basements of hotels or universities when shelling is going on, it’s a very different sort of experience, it’s a bit confronting,” Greg says.

At the end of his six-week deployment, Greg left the ADRA operation in Bucha and headed home via Kyiv.

“On my way home I stopped in Kyiv for the weekend and went to church there,” Greg says. “When I was in church, a soldier from Bakmut turned up. Bakmut is on the front line. He said, ‘I just want to say on behalf of the men from my unit, we want to say “thank you” to this Australian that has come over here, that’s helped us.’”

The soldier presented Greg with a now-empty container that was used to hold explosives for landmines. Greg opened the container to find a Ukrainian flag inside that was signed by each of the members of his unit.

Greg and the visiting soldier hold the flag gifted to Greg by a Ukrainian military unit

Greg points to the top of the flag and says, “They wrote a message on the flag which translates to, ‘Never give up and thank you’, more or less. All of the men in the unit signed it just to thank me for the work I was doing in Ukraine. How he knew about me or that I was in Ukraine, I have no idea. I mean, he travelled nine hours from the front line.”

Greg also received a military coin from the ADRA team in Bucha as a thank you for his work.

“There aren’t many of these around,” Greg says of the coin that was made in remembrance of the 2022 Battle of Bucha.

The Battle of Bucha remembrance coin

The now-empty explosives container

“You really don’t get recognised for the work you do in the places you go, so when this sort of thing happens, it comes as a real surprise. You think, ‘Oh, wow, why would they do that?’”

During his time with ADRA, Greg has been involved in finance, marketing, international programs, and management. His wife, Alison, has also been working in the ADRA network for 18 years.

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