More than 22 years after the Thredbo landslide, the "Stuart Diver effect" continues to motivate Sean Gordon to make a difference, especially in children's lives.
Earlier this year, the Clontarf resident was awarded an OAM for his work on SchoolAid over the last 20 years.
The charity mobilises students to raise money and do good in their communities in an effort not only to help disaster-affected people, but also to help children feel good about themselves and the future.
It all began two years after Sean, the then controller of the Bega Valley SES, was involved in the Thredbo rescue mission following a devastating landslide that claimed 18 lives.
Sean and his team arrived on site approximately 9 pm — the night before rescuers heard the voice of lone survivor Stuart Diver from under the rubble.
“My role was to lead that crew (of 70 SES volunteers) and communicate with the police, fire and ambulance onsite,” Sean explains.
“It was very dangerous, very scary and I thought this thing’s going to fall again — more people could be killed.
“It was about 5am, (rescue firefighter) Hirst called out and we heard his voice come through the rubble to say he (Stuart Diver) was there, his missus was there and she was dead. That was a bit tough.
“Then we got on with it. We did another three hours until about 9am. I took my team (off site), we all had to swap over.” The exhausted crew was sleeping when Stuart was eventually pulled out at 5.15pm.
Sean says the experience and previous roles as a road and flood rescue volunteer, changed the way he thought about life’s ups and downs.
“It helped me enormously to get a sense of perspective about the scale of my issues in the world,” he says.
The former school principal says a conversation with a Year 5 pupil, who thought humanity would be wiped out before he turned 25, forced him to act.
“I turned to my teachers a couple of days later and said, ‘what’s the point of teaching these kids maths and English if they don’t have hope’,” Sean recalls.
After the Turkey earthquake in 1999, Sean decided to mobilise other school principals around the country so children could help.
“If you get kids involved in giving and they help someone else, I know they like that,” he explains.
“It’s about hope and optimism and well-adjusted young kids who became well-adjusted, contributing young adults.”
They raised about $40,000 and SchoolAid was born. They have since built schools in East Timor and Banda Aceh, and have assisted countless community projects. Closer to home, students raised money for cyclone victims and supported the homeless – just to name a couple. Sean says at some point 60 per cent of Australia 's schools were involved in SchoolAid.
He wants more schools to create social action teams, using resources on the SchoolAid website and its crowd-funding platform. And he’s hoping schools will take part it its national accreditation program.
“We get out of their way and let them go. Kids have a heart to do great stuff, they’re naturally inclined to do it,” he says.
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