Royal Far West (RFW) will take its annual Ride for Country Kids to southern NSW for the first time, visiting towns and communities significantly affected by the Black Summer Bushfires.
The "Coast to Country" route also marks the 10th anniversary of the ride and will see cyclists travel more than 330 kilometres from Merimbula to Cobargo from March 17-19.
Since its inception, Ride for Country Kids has raised more than $3.5 million for health and developmental services in rural and remote communities.
It is hoped the 2024 ride will raise $600,000 to support services in the regions that need it most.
RFW CEO Jacqueline Emery said some children had been affected by countless natural disasters since 2019.
"This means the impact of these disasters, coupled with the limited availability of services, has seen the number of country kids in need of developmental and mental health services drastically increase," Ms Emery said.
"The Ride for Country Kids will get its team of riders out into the communities impacted by Bushfires to hear firsthand the impact RFW is making but also helps us raise awareness and much-needed funds to help provide the important services to communities who need it most."
About 4000 children were impacted by the 2019/20 Black Summer Bushfires in NSW, and RFW has been supporting children in more than 60 communities in NSW and south-east Queensland with their recovery.
RFW works alongside schools to identify children who may need ongoing support and therapy to recover from the trauma of the bushfires.
"There has been a significant investment in supporting the kids, but you must finish the job," Ms Emery said.
"Our funding is ending, and we have a submission with the federal and state government to support ongoing work in those communities.
"We have built a highly skilled team that can support community-wide trauma. Many schools are okay; we have built their capacity and worked with the teachers.
"But there are other schools still struggling and individual children who need ongoing therapy and support - the funds raised will allow us to do that.
"The last thing we want to do is withdraw from those communities. We only want to be there while we are needed, but many of those communities have voiced very loudly they still need us.
"I always say you can't put a timeframe on recovery, and every child recovers depending on their circumstance in a different timeframe."
Clinician Sarah Eagland headed RFW's Community Recovery program and was instrumental in its establishment.
Ms Eagland was part of the team visiting schools in bushfire-affected communities.
"We realised there was little recognition for a child's needs following a disaster - children were quite invisible," she said.
"Their needs were being overlooked because some considered they were too little to be impacted."
While the reactions from children following the bushfires were varied, the common things clinicians have seen were sleep disturbances, heightened anxiety, not being able to engage in learning, for many children withdrawing and internalising behaviour, separation anxiety from their parents, intrusive thoughts, and so many more things that impact their daily lives and sense of safety.
"When we started this work in 2020, a timeline of disasters occurred," Ms Eagland said.
"There is usually the intense period of recovery immediately following, then there's longer-term recovery, and in the last three years, that was torn up and thrown out in that children were experiencing further disasters in the recovery phase, and having to prepare for another disaster.
"The children we worked with, in most of the areas, experienced drought, fire, flood, and COVID-19.
"So you can't talk about disasters and the impact on children without acknowledging this has been a unique period that adults today didn't experience as children."
Registrations are open now, and cycling enthusiasts of all levels and experiences are invited to join the ride.
RFW will hold an information session to share all the details. All interested riders should visit the website to register their interest.
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