Rev. Dr. Lynn Arnold AO, Schools Ministry Group (SMG) chairperson, Brenton Ragless, SMG ambassador, along with ‘When Disaster Strikes’ Program Partners Beyond Bank Australia and Paradise Motors Mazda launched a new program supporting children, families and communities with emergency chaplaincy support during disasters and times of crisis.
Tracey Butter, SMG School Chaplain at Tarlee and Hamley Bridge Primary Schools shared what it was like for children and parents during the Pinery Fires during the program’s recent launch.
“I organised a coffee morning at Tarlee Primary so that I could comfort shocked parents who had arrived with their children, and then I went into class to listen to children speak about their experiences and provide support. Hamley Bridge Primary was closed until Monday,” she said.
“That morning there was severe dust storms, poor visibility, and the ash and soot in the air was very strong.
“Parents and children were crying and distressed as they arrived.
“I remember the CFS siren kept going off because burnt trees kept reigniting, fire trucks were kept on the move.
“I provided comfort and support to children and parents, and reassurance that there was not another fire.”
Jessica Jenke’s children attend Tarlee Primary and she said the Pinery fires had affected her three children emotionally.
“One has nightmares and is often screaming through the night. My two younger children were often drawing our house on fire, and using their toys to re-enact us evacuating our home,” she said.
“I think the constant smell of smoke in the weeks afterwards made them on edge and frightened there would be another fire.
“Tracey was often at school in the mornings ready to talk to any kids who were upset or anxious - which was a massive help to my children as they dealt with their emotions and feelings and also feeling safe.
“The Stormbird sessions Tracey ran at the school enabled my children to talk about the feelings they had during and after the fires.
“Tracey has been a huge support to my family in helping us all cope with what happened.”
The Pinery fire was extinguished more than a year ago, however children, families and communities are still recovering from this traumatic and devastating event.
Rev. Dr Lynn Arnold affirmed that the support Jessica has received through SMG’s Chaplaincy Service has been an integral part of her family’s recovery process, and will continue until it is no longer needed.
“Our state has suffered recently with floods, storms and bushfires where lives were lost, homes destroyed, families overwhelmed and communities reeling in the aftermath of those devastating events.
“When Disaster Strikes is a program that aims to be proactive in its support of children, families and communities with a Chaplaincy Service - when it is needed most.
“The Program has developed out of learnings from the Sampson Flat and most recently the Pinery bushfires. SMG had nine School Chaplains in the affected bushfire zone, and one year on those Chaplains continue to provide pastoral and practical support to children and families in their local communities.”
Peter Malinauskas, Emergency Services Minister spoke at the launch about the importance of response as well as recovery when there is a disaster.
“In much the same way as our CFS and SES volunteers demonstrate the strong commitment to their local communities, I commend the Schools Ministry Group for their vital contribution and the role of their noble cause,” he said.
“It is so important that when we have programs such as When Disaster Strikes in place that our children and their families can be assured that in the days, months and also years ahead they will not be alone – and that speaks to everything that this group is about.”
SMG have been serving and supporting communities in South Australia for more than 25 years.
SMG is well placed with Chaplains in over 340 schools in metropolitan, regional and remote areas.
The ’When Disaster Strikes’ Program aims to provide support across the state during disasters and times of crisis so children and families like Jessica’s can recover well – and return to a greater level of functioning and resilience with support from their local Chaplain.
You can find out more information about the ‘When Disaster Strikes’ Program online at the Schools Ministry Group website – http://smg.asn.au/