Volunteer trauma counseling : Garden Route fires

Posted By Carol Surya on Jul 5, 2017 |


Volunteer trauma counseling : Garden Route fires

The Garden Route fires catapulted me into non-stop serving mode last month, as I volunteered in my hometown of Plettenberg Bay.  From Wednesday 7th June, children and adults alike have been in much need of containment, reassurance and nurturing care.  As raging fires continued to destroy vast areas, various churches and schools became evacuation centers filled with bedding, food, volunteers and evacuees. With approximately 100km/ph wind gusts on Saturday the 10th, a firestorm on a scale not seen since 1869 – rushed through the Garden Route. Thick smoke wherever one looked and road closures and warnings – social media became a frenzy of fire-filled images, terrifying stories of evacuation, burning lands and friends and families homes destroyed.

Garden route fire at night

Fire over the mountain

Being a part of the committed volunteers who soon established the “Plett Fire Relief Center” in a disused building was a humbling experience. Also baring witness to the community coming together to help in unexpected and amazing ways. An “Emotional Support” area was established with many local psychologists, social workers and lay counselors offering our trauma counseling services.

Understanding the impact of such a trauma, made it particularly important for our  Emotional Support group to offer the support needed to all the evacuates. as well as to children from all the schools.  Having lived on the Phelophepa Mobile Health Care train during 2006 where I used the ‘Kids Classroom Journey’ process in groups, I was able to offer group trauma debriefing sessions for pre-schoolers through to Grade 7’ using sing therapeutic story, drawings, feelings elicitation, yoga and other creative techniques. I worked at the Doodlebugs Playschool in Knysna and have served at Greenwood Bay College, Plettenberg Bay Pre-school, Plettenberg Bay Primary and Raphaeli Waldorf School.  I have filmed two 5-minute video clips on my  YouTube channel to help the public understand children’s common responses to trauma, as well as guidelines to helping those effected.

Well after the fires die down, people continue to be affected in many ways and as a psychologist, my debriefing work still continues with clients, family and friends with the hope that everyone who has suffered receives much needed support and learns to move forward and rebuild their lives with hope and conscious awareness.