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Soul Tsunami

by Bernd Ruf

On 28 September 2018, a severe earthquake followed by a 7.4 magnitude tsunami shook the north of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The coastal town of Palu was hit particularly hard. A 15-strong emergency education crisis intervention team from the Friends of Waldorf Education travelled there to help affected children cope with their traumas.

Risky runs a small coffee roasting plant in Palu. When the quake shook Palu and several tsunami waves of up to twelve metres in height and 800 kilometres per hour brought death and destruction to the city, he and his wife were in his small café shop on the beach. When they see the waves coming, his wife flees in panic as he tries to get his scooter. Then the wave hits him. He loses consciousness and only regains consciousness when a man shakes him. Risky runs to his house. The relief comes about three hours later. His wife comes home. She has also survived.

Many others were not so lucky. It is believed that over 15,000 people died and tens of thousands were injured. In the city centre of Palu alone, over 3000 people died in the collapse of a shopping centre and the destruction of hotel facilities. The Balaroa district was particularly badly hit. There the quake pressed the groundwater into the upper layers of sand. The resulting dissolution of the sand structure leads to the rare phenomenon of earth liquefaction. Over a thousand houses with an estimated 5000 inhabitants sank into the mud and were swallowed by the earth. The survivors now live in makeshift plastic shelters and have to fight for their survival on a daily basis 14 days after the quake. The weakest are always hit hardest by such catastrophes: Poor, old, sick, disabled and of course children. Many are severely traumatized.

After a trauma, nothing is as it was before. Risky and his wife have been suffering from panic fears, nightmares and sleep disorders since the day of the quake. Triggered by the many, sometimes violent aftershocks, they are repeatedly thrown back into disaster in so-called flashbacks. Risky throws himself into his work with wild actionism in order to repress the painful memories. His already teenage children have experienced symptoms of regression, such as bed-wetting or baby talk. In Palu many other children show similar symptoms, but also eating and digestive disorders, memory and attention deficits, concentration problems, depressive tendencies or social withdrawal can be observed. Such symptoms are a completely normal reaction in the first weeks and months after extreme stress experiences. They are signs of psychological injury. If these wounds can be treated professionally and mental infections avoided, trauma sequel disorders can be avoided. Emergency education is such first aid for the soul.

Every shock literally drives the affected person into his or her limbs. Traumatisation always leads to blockages, numbness and comprehensive rhythm disturbances. In psychology one speaks of the freeze state. As long as the numbness persists, the mental wounds cannot heal.

In the school of the village of Lombonga north of Palu, which was completely destroyed by the earthquake, almost 670 children and adolescents are being worked during the emergency intervention. With rhythm exercises, movement games and experience pedagogical approaches, attempts are made to loosen the blockades and to harmonise the disturbed physiological and psychological rhythms again. Close to Lombonga, in the middle of the mountainous palm forest jungle
a tent like temporary shelter. More than 130 children are dancing, singing, painting and drawing. Through artistic activities, creative possibilities of expression are to be created in order to give an alternative expression to everything that has left the people concerned speechless.

The Balaroa district, swallowed up by the ground, is at the heart of the Palu tragedy. Although thousands of victims are still buried under the rubble, the salvage work has been stopped and it is too unlikely to find any survivors. Everywhere in the air there is the smell of decay. The school Madrasah Ibtidaiyak Neger stands directly at the edge of the abort. How many children, parents and teachers of this school community are among the victims of the disaster is still unknown. The headmistress fears the worst. But she also knows that after such a collective traumatisation the school plays a central role for the mental health of the children. In order to solve their traumatic stiffness, they must first be able to develop a feeling of security again.

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