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The soul continues to burn

Emergency pedagogical intervention after the fire catastrophe in California

At the beginning of November, devastating forest and bush fires claimed many lives in California and caused severe devastation.  The fire was finally completely contained, but hundreds of victims are still missing. In order to provide psychosocial support to the local people, an emergency pedagogical mission took place in the disaster region from 6 to 10 December.

The fire hit the north of the US state of California particularly hard. On November 8, the so-called "Camp Fire" broke out here and destroyed more than 60,000 hectares of land. At least 80 people lost their lives around the almost completely burnt down village of Paradise and around 700 other victims are still missing.  Since the beginning of the records there have never been so many deaths in a fire. It is therefore the worst fire catastrophe in the history of the West Coast state.

Bernd Ruf, managing director of the Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiners e.V. from Karlsruhe and founder of emergency pedagogy, led the mission in California. Together with his team colleagues from Germany and Brazil and about eight American pedagogues, he worked at the Blue Oak Charter School in Chico. Here, about 20 kilometers west of Paradise, most of the victims were accommodated in reception camps. Although normal school life has resumed, it is severely impaired by the terrible experiences. Many of the teachers and pupils are homeless and live in these reception camps. Some of them have lost everything in the flames, their relatives, their houses, their centre of life. "The children are therefore very suspicious of behaviour and their parents or educators are very worried about them," explains Bernd Ruf.

But the traumatic experiences are also very stressful for the adults and they can hardly talk about them. "For many, driving to Paradise is unimaginable. The fear of looking into the eyes of the disaster's face is too great," says Ruf. Psychological effects often only become apparent weeks, months or years after such a catastrophe. "Through our intervention, we try to start in the early phase of traumatic stress and thus prevent trauma disorder," explains Ruf.

Within the framework of workshops and seminars, educators and teachers, including parents, were advised and trained at the school in Chico. The emergency pedagogy team introduced them to traumatology and taught them methods for self-stabilisation. In the morning, the focus was on activating the children's self-healing powers. "Through artistic activities, children can express what they have experienced non-verbally, which additionally supports the processing process," Ruf continues. Painted pictures usually make it easy to see what it looks like inside the children and how heavily their souls are burdened. It will certainly be a long way for those affected and surviving dependants in the region to come to terms with the terrible events.