Disasters have befallen regional Australia with terrifying ferocity and frequency in recent years, placing great strain on national disaster relief resources, but Anastasia Bougesis (BHlthSc(Paramedic) ’10, BNg(GradEntry) ’12) is an organiser who has thrived on the challenge.
As Chief Development Officer of Disaster Relief Australia, Anastasia has played a pivotal role in growing the support organisation that was run by only two volunteers in 2016, to now have more than 50 paid and part-time positions – many taken by Australian defence force veterans, who bring their training and skills to the fore.
It has been a rapid growing phase for an organisation that provides a crucial second wave of disaster support through physical assistance for affected families. “After the initial Emergency Services responders leaves a disaster site, there is no-one else to provide the essential clean-up work that we provide, says Anastasia, “especially for vulnerable residents, such as disabled people, the elderly and older widows.”
Instrumental to the growth of Disaster Relief Australia has been Anastasia’s rebranding of the organisation in 2020, and her success in lobbying for federal government funding of $38.1 million over the next three years.
“This is due recognition of the essential services we provide, but now our challenge is to plan how to best administer these resources, because we have a great responsibility to the Australian community,” she says. “We are literally building a plane as we are flying it.”
Anastasia graduated from Flinders University as a Paramedic and trained nurse, having undertaken the Rural Placement Program in Loxton and joined the Study Abroad exchange program with Chongchinq University, China, in 2010. Her results earned a Commendation from the Dean – and provided the skills for her to be active on location for disaster relief work.
In 2018, she led a team of Australian veterans on a support mission to the British Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. She was promoted to Mission Commander for this international disaster relief mission, leading a team that also included veterans from the USA, Canada and UK.
Anastasia has been awarded three National Emergency Medals for her assistance in Tropical Cyclone Debbie, Black Summer bushfires and Far North Queensland floods, and her emergency response work continues, as she was recently deployed to Coraki in northern NSW for flood recovery efforts.
Disasters have also affected her personally. Anastasia returned from her honeymoon in December 2019 to find that her family’s Adelaide Hills vineyard had been lost in the Black Summer bushfires, but she immediately sprang into action, volunteering to lead a reconnaissance team for affected areas in the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island. She coordinated a response that saw 312 volunteers deployed (amounting to 14,680 volunteer hours, worth an estimated $700,000 in value) to help 150 families devastated by bushfire.
Anastasia continues to work part-time as a paramedic with the South Australian Ambulance Service. After 15 years of service, she now works a quarter-time position (which equates to four shifts a month), which she says helps her to garner respect within the disaster relief fraternity, for underlining her practical knowledge and capability.
As a strong advocate for women and emerging leaders, Anastasia is the SA Chapter Lead for Australasian Women in Emergencies Network, and is building a stronger culture of acceptance and respect for women among military, emergency management and disaster response teams, in what has been a male-dominated industry. “I’m very proud that I’m now in a mentoring role, to show other women what can be achieved. As I’ve learned, if you can see it then you can be it; if you can’t see it, you already are it.”
Anastasia Bougesis has received a 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award for her distinguished leadership in disaster relief, both as a volunteer and employee, bringing together a passion for emergency management, community service and women in leadership.