A VOLUNTEER who has helped communities hit by devastating natural disasters across the world has been recognised for her efforts closer to home supporting the UK's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lizzy Stileman has been volunteering with Chilmark-based disaster response charity RE:ACT for four years.

She was awarded an MBE for her work last year during the pandemic in Standing Joint Command in Aldershot where she liaised with the military and the charity.

"It was a huge surprise to be honest. I was working hard for RE:ACT but you don't do it for any recognition," said Lizzy, who admits keeping it a secret for four weeks after receiving the letter was "absolutely hideous".

The 48-year-old added: "I almost feel guilty about taking it because there are so many people doing incredible stuff and it is absolutely team work. I feel very privileged and overwhelmed to have got it."

Over the last 12 months, RE:ACT volunteers have been supporting the Covid-19 response across the country with welfare visits and checks, helping at vaccination centres, delivering PPE and working in hospital mortuaries.

Salisbury Journal:

RE:ACT volunteers at the vaccination centre at City Hall in Salisbury

For the last two weeks, Lizzy has been supporting frontline patient care in two Covid positive Intensive Care Units at Eastbourne District General Hospital and Conquest hospital Hastings. RE:ACT are now doing this in a number of hospitals across the UK.

She says the work has involved turning and proning patients, caring for deceased, cleaning and decontaminating Covid positive beds and equipment as well as organising and distributing PPE.

Lizzy joined RE:ACT, which was previously known as Team Rubicon UK, in 2017 after an army career spanning 20 years where she served in the Royal Logistics Corp. Looking to take on new challenges she decided to do a masters in disaster management which led her to cross paths with the charity.

During that first year she was deployed internationally four times. She was sent to Sri Lanka after floods hit, responded after Hurricane Irma caused devastation in Caribbean and also travelled to Nepal.

Recalling her time in Virgin Gorda, part of the British Virgin Islands, after Hurricane Irma caused wide spread devastation, she said: "I had never seen anything like that in my life. Sleeping on the floor of a warehouse with blown out windows. We actually had another Category 5 hurricane going over our heads while we were there.

She said it was a "fairly intense" experience but "incredibly fulfilling" especially working with other volunteers.

"When you go to a disaster zone you get people that have lost everything and lost their entire life - their homes and maybe their loved ones as well," explains Lizzy.

"It is just communicating with them and saying people around the world care about you."

When Lizzy was in Virgin Gorda the team of volunteers were clearing out schools, taking everything out that was destroyed from soaked school books to damaged furniture, also help clear out people's homes as well as doing needs assessments at medical centres, finding out what was needed.

One of Lizzy's more recent international deployments was after Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas in 2019 where volunteers from RE:ACT were able to get food, water and supplies out to communities that had been cut off.

Lizzy Stileman in the in The Bahamas responding to Hurricane Dorian in 2019

Lizzy Stileman in the in The Bahamas responding to Hurricane Dorian in 2019

The volunteers were working with other Non Government Organisations (NGOs) to try to identify the areas worst hit and the best ways to provide help.

"[Being able to help] is very humbling to be honest because you know when you're out in a disaster zone for let's say three weeks you'll be going back to your house," explains Lizzy, who is also an army reservist. "You're in this disaster zone where no houses are standing up, no trees are standing up, no power, anything, and you are doing everything you possible can to make it better but you know you will ultimately be going home and they won't."

RE:ACT receives no government funding and relies on the generosity of the public to ensure it is able to continue its work.

Salisbury Journal:

RE:ACT's headquarters in Chilmark 

Lizzy,who grew up in Lockerley, added: "You'll never join a more dedicated organisation," added Lizzy. "It is the most worthwhile thing I have ever done. You feel very proud to be part of it and the organisation is really making a difference. You can make someone smile again after the worst day of their life."

For more information about RE:ACT go to re-act.org.uk


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