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A journey of hope

16 November 2020, Impact of Our Work, Voices from the Field, Action for Change

Supporting children through bushfire recovery

It was 31 December. A time fireworks would be lighting up the sky, illuminating the houses underneath. Instead, what Sarah Jayne saw was far more frightening. A total blackout in her small town of Ulladulla, just three hours south of Sydney. “We knew that the fires were approaching, we didn’t know where they were,” says Sarah-Jayne, recalling the night. “We had no communication with the outside world, we had no idea what was happening.”

It was a terrifying night, as text messages came through, telling them friends’ houses had burnt down. Sarah-Jayne and her children evacuated Ulladulla just after seeing in the New Year. Her husband stayed behind to support elderly neighbours who couldn’t leave. “Having that separation, my kids were really worried,” she says.
The anxiety ramped up the days afterward, as fires continued to burn around them. “We had the sirens constantly going, the planes and helicopters that were putting out the fires were picking up the water from the lake where we lived. You were on edge the whole time for days and days on end.”

Bringing Ulladulla back together

Post-bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic took root in Australia. Schools shuttered, activities were cancelled and shops closed. Britt, an Ulladulla local, and Save the Children’s Journey of Hope facilitator, saw the uncertainty take hold in the children too. “There was so much anxiety and fear. Even something like seeing the plastic partitions go up at the shops, or being told you cannot be physically close to your friends, was so difficult for children at a time when they’re trying to heal.”

Britt facilitates the weekly one-hour program at Ulladulla Public School. Photo: Adam Williamson / Save the Children

It was then that Save the Children started delivering the Journey of Hope program at Ulladulla Public School. The program helps young people build resilience and process their worries after a disaster. “When children experience a traumatic event so many emotions come into play that they don’t necessarily have the capacity to understand,” says Britt. “Journey of Hope comes in to help the children understand their emotions, normalize these emotions, and see that they’re not the only ones who are experiencing what they’re experiencing. We help them to then verbalize how to appropriately express what they’re going through. And we help them to identify positive coping strategies.”

Children engage in creative age-appropriate activities across topics such as bullying, self-esteem, building safety, fear and sadness. Photo: Adam Williamson / Save the Children

Happier and more confident children

The importance of the program to the children and school community can’t be underestimated, says Britt. Teachers and parents alike have seen tangible change in children’s behavior and their learning.
This is because Journey of Hope uses a variety of experiential and reflective learning activities, including cooperative play, discussion and creative arts, to support the children.

“We do different activities like games, art, writing and discussion, and fun interactive ways for the kids to look at these feelings. It makes it really enjoyable for the kids,”

Britt, Save the Children Facilitator

Ultimately, Britt says, Journey of Hope offers children a safe space. “They can feel like part of a community and tap into their support network. And know that they’re not alone, and know that they have that inner strength and resilience inside of them to cope with the current trauma, what has happened, what is happening and what could happen in the future as well.”

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