As the second-driest continent in the world, Australia is no stranger to blistering heat, drought and even floods. But the current drought conditions facing south eastern Australia is said to be amongst the worst in centuries.

We’ve seen the devastating news coverage – images of the dry barren earth, farmers running out of feed and struggling to keep their stock alive. The stress and hardship associated with drought can be felt across all aspects of rural life.

The Foundation for Regional and Rural Renewal (FRRR) works in partnership with philanthropy, government and business to strengthen rural communities. Chief Executive Natalie Egleton said it was not just farmers but others in rural townships and communities who need support.

“When farmers experience prolonged drought, the whole community struggles – the local school, the pub, the vet, the newsagent, the supermarket and the sports clubs,” she said.

Wendy Cohen is the CEO of the Country Education Foundation (CEF) and says the impacts of drought on young people are often underestimated. She points to a University of Newcastle study, published by the Medical Journal of Australia which finds that stress associated with the drought was more acute in young people, living in geographically remote areas.

Through a network of local foundations, CEF supports regional, rural and remote students to pursue their educational and career aspirations.

“Regional, rural and remote students already face a participation gap when it comes to education – they are around seven percent less likely to complete high school or attend university than their city counterparts,” Wendy said. “We need to ensure this drought, shaping up as the worst in living memory, doesn’t become yet another barrier to education for a section of the community that already faces inequality and exclusion.”

How we’re helping

The plight of drought-affected communities has touched the hearts of Origin’s employees, many of whom live or work in impacted areas.

Together they have raised funds for Drought Angels, who provide individualised support to families affected by natural disasters around Australia, and Rural Aid’s Buy A Bale campaign, which to date has delivered over 160,000 bales of hay to farmers in need across four states.

When matched through our Give2 workplace giving program, more than $50,000 has already been donated to these causes.

Through our Grants Program we have taken a longer-term view, providing more than $1.6M to help young people in the country achieve in education, through partnerships with CEF and FRRR.

Perhaps there is no better time to acknowledge the importance of investing in young people from the country. Their communities are going to need their skills now, more than ever.

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