On November 14, 2022, a tsunami-like flood swept through the rural central west NSW town of Eugowra. The force of the water was so strong that it swept away homes and vehicles. Businesses, the local primary school, the town’s preschool and many homes were destroyed by the flood.
St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Eugowra was severely impacted by the flood with school principal Cathy Eppelstun, describing the devastation of losing most of the school to the flood: “We had these waves, two massive waves that came through and just devastated the town, just unbelievable. And I've been here all my life and we're used to our floods; this was nothing like what we were used to.”
Sadly, two people lost their lives and a third of the township’s population were airlifted off their roofs to safety. Yet despite the enormity of the event and the subsequent loss and grief experienced by the people of Eugowra, the community continues to pull together and support one another to move through the experience.
Local residents and parents Nicole Wallace and Shane McMillan said, “We live four kilometres out of town and there was water everywhere. There were people and animals in need of help, we had a girl stuck on a car just up from us.”
In February 2023, MacKillop Seasons Expert Trainer Fiona Hart ran a Stormbirds training in Eugowra. Stormbirds is a small group education program that supports children and young people to recover following the change, loss and uncertainty that inevitably results from natural disasters. The Stormbirds training provided an opportunity for the staff from the Catholic school, preschool and Centacare to come together and discuss the impact of the floods on their community, themselves and the children in their care.
“We discussed the importance of self-care and the best ways that they could support the children and their families as they returned to school and preschool,” Fiona Hart, who is an Expert Trainer at MacKillop Seasons, stated.
“Through exploring the Stormbirds program together, we shared some fun and laughter, shed some tears, listened to stories, ate amazing food and drinks provided by local businesses and listened to a beautiful, heartfelt song, written and performed by Nerida Cuddy, one of the amazing teachers and a Stormbirds Companion at St Joseph’s,” said Fiona.
Nerida reflected on her sessions with the children and mentioned she liked the program sessions that supported the children to think about activities that made them feel happy. "Identifying places and people they felt safe with was really helpful for the children, just to have that verbalised and drawn in their own personal Stormbirds journal."
The Stormbirds program is delivered by local trained facilitators known as ‘Companions’ for small groups of 4-7 children and young people aged 6-14 years. The peer learning process creates a safe space for children and young people to practice new ways of thinking and responding to the change and loss that has occurred in their lives because of the natural disaster. The Stormbirds program has helped thousands of children in Australia following storms, floods, bushfires, cyclones and following the 2011 earthquake in New Zealand.
Principal Cathy Eppelstun recommends Stormbirds to any school that has experienced a natural disaster because it helped both children and staff. Cathy reflected on the positive impact of the program and said, “You have a common language to use all the time. To any school, any principals, or teachers - train in Stormbirds because it just gives you another tool to help those children and adults who have experienced trauma.”
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