By Charisse Garcia
It was one of those joyous moments for a three-year-old. There was a big red truck with yellow beaming lights and a loud siren. Three fireys were invited for a preschool incursion and spoke about what it was like to be part of Mernda Country Fire Authority (CFA).
Wearing multiple layers of heavily insulated clothing, thick protective pants, a helmet, and a huge smile, I met Raymundo Rosales, a volunteer firefighter. I was not able to muster up courage how a typical Filipino would usually ask, ‘Pilipino po kayo’? In my mind, I knew he was. It was when I read in a local newspaper that he was awarded the Senior Australian Citizen of the Year in the city of Whittlesea when I became certain, ‘Yes, Pinoy nga siya’.
Kuya Ray, as his closest friends would call him, migrated from England in 1987. Born and raised in a family of 11 in Batangas, Philippines, he has seen how difficult it was to live in poverty.
“My parents were fruit and vegetable vendors, while I studied part-time in the evening and worked full time as a Cash Disbursing Officer in Makati City,” he narrated.
He later joined his brother in Australia and started a new chapter of his life together with his wife, Yolanda. Yolanda worked as a psychiatric nurse and Kuya Ray is still working as a Business and Finance Manager.
It was in 2005 when Kuya Ray started volunteering as a firefighter through South Morang CFA and later transferred to Mernda Fire Brigade.
“Training was challenging and required a lot of time, dedication, and commitment,” Kuya Ray added.
Despite the challenges of juggling the different roles he has been playing as a father, a husband, a career man, and as a volunteer firefighter, Kuya Ray remained high spirited.
He extended his vocation to various organisations such as St. Vincent de Paul Society, Barry Road Tennis Club, Whittlesea Reconciliation Group, Whittlesea Neighbourhood Watch, and Whittlesea Community Connection.
“I do all these things from the bottom of my heart; I’ve always had a passion for helping out my local community. It enables me to meet people from different walks of life, learning their culture and new skills,” Kuya Ray humbly said.
The historical tragedy in 2009 that cost 173 lives was one of the pivotal moments of Kuya Ray’s career as a volunteer firefighter.
During Black Saturday, Kuya Ray was recovering from an ankle operation. He found an alternative means to support his community by organising a donation drive through St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Every year during winter and Christmas season, Kuya Ray would be present to help the disadvantaged people. He has been a witness of a strong community spirit; not even bush fires and calamities could cease.
When asked about his opinion about heroism in times of catastrophe especially during a pandemic, Kuya Ray had a simple explanation. “Heroes don’t have to be someone who perform extraordinary things, as long as you do things from the heart with dedication and commitment, and not expecting anything in return, you are a hero in the eyes of everyone.”
For decades, Australia has relied heavily on its volunteers to fight bushfires. Kuya Ray has been an instrument of kindness and courage through his volunteer work.
In 2018, he was given recognition as a Highly Commended Seniors Award at the Spirit of CFA Awards. It was on this year when his dedication and commitment were greatly acknowledged by the local community. He was awarded the Senior Citizen of the Year in Whittlesea.
The son of vegetable and fruit vendors from the Philippines has been recognised for the positive changes he has fulfilled in the local community. Filipino-Australian modern heroes are everywhere. In this time of crisis, acts of kindness, commitment, dedication, and courage are manifested in unconventional forms. Kuya Ray is one of those contemporary heroes whom we can all proudly say, ‘Yes, Pinoy nga’.
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