For me the worst day of the Cape Town fires was on Wednesday 4th March 2015.
I had hardly slept the night before – from the balcony of our house I watched as the fire raged across the mountain. Large areas that had already burnt were eerily beautiful and sparkled like millions of city lights in the blackness of the night. When the Tokai pine plantation caught alight trees exploded sending tornados of flames high into the sky. Just after midnight I woke again to the roaring sound of the fire as it moved closer. It sounded like bombs going off each time a tree exploded – lighting up the night sky with a bright orange blaze. I felt helpless and quite ill at the thought of the poor animals that were trapped unable to escape, the people whose homes were threatened and the constant danger that the firefighters were facing. Sirens from emergency vehicles screamed around us throughout the night. By 2.30am the smoke became so thick that the horses had to be evacuated.
As it started to get light the sounds of the helicopters filled the air for the third day, Smoke hung like thick acrid fog and the news started trickling through of all the people that had been evacuated during the night and of those who had lost everything their homes. I knew I had to do something to help.
I was reminded of my intention to set up a TRE disaster management team about a year ago and had that happened we would have been better prepared and this task would have been so much easier.
However, here was an opportunity to firstly share TRE with people who have been affected by the fire, secondly it was an incredible opportunity to raise awareness about TRE and thirdly this was an opportunity for the TRE community here in the Western Cape to collaborate and unite in taking TRE forwards.
With the amazing help of Jess Avidon on that Wednesday within hours we had made a host of invaluable contacts. Minister Lechesa Tsenoli put me in touch with the command center of Cape Town’s disaster management. Jess wasted no time using her social media skills and set up a Whatsapp group to connect with TRE Practitioners and we used the TRE Connection Facebook page to keep people updated about the various events and contact details of TRE Practitioners who volunteered their services.
We were blown away by how quickly TRE Practitioners got on board and offered their services. The same day we met with Fire Departments, Community Volunteer groups and had made contact with various organizations to find out where and how we could offer TRE to the community. Within two days 3 TRE workshops had been planned in Steenberg, Hout Bay and Fish Hoek. Jess created flyers and over the following two weeks about 5,000 emails were been sent out and about 2,500 people were ‘reached’ on Facebook.
Emma Williams very kindly organized the golf club at Steenberg Golf Club for the TRE workshop held on the Thursday 12th March. About 30 people attended – facilitated by myself and assisted by the following TRE Practitioners – Jess Avidon, Tania Bownes, Emma Williams, Monika Hayes, Nikki Boyd, Gillian Warren-Brown and Julie Petrie. The feedback that I heard was very positive with many people wanting more information so that they could pass it on to others. There were a number of people who requested another session and went on to attend the Hout Bay or the Fish Hoek workshops.
Julie Petrie organized and facilitated the TRE workshop in the Hout Bay library on Tuesday 17th March and was assisted by Nicky Pullinger and Metka Zurman. Although it was a fairly small group the participants were very appreciative and found it to be an invaluable experience and were eager to spread the word. Julie has also made contact with the Fire Department in HoutBay and once things have settled down they are keen to participate in a TRE Introductory workshop with her.
Frances Ward organized and facilitated the TRE workshop at the FishHoek Community Hall on Friday 2oth March. Verona Rochat, Sandra Ansorge and Sandy Burls assisted her. The feedback from the participants was also very positive. Several of them had already been to Steenberg and were so impressed that they wanted another experience. It was wonderful to read how much the TRE Practitioners enjoyed the workshop and how impressed they all were with the way Frances facilitated the workshop.
I have had a number of people request individual sessions with me – mostly from the families who lost their homes or who were evacuated from their homes during the fire. There have been some volunteer firefighters, but also people in the community who were struggling with the after effects. Again and again I was moved to observe how they were able to release and they all commented on how much better they felt after doing TRE. Most of them were keen to continue and want friends and family to also experience it.
On reflection there have been many realizations and so much learning. To summarize the essence:
Firstly, TRE works!
This was reinforced by the people who gave positive feedback having benefited in some way after attending the free workshops, classes or individual TRE sessions. I am reminded over and over when I share TRE what a powerful technique it is and it needs to get out there – so that people can use it.
Secondly, there is a dire need to create more awareness around TRE. We all need to work together to the spread the word of what TRE is and how it relates to stress, tension and trauma. We also need to find creative ways of demystifying trauma. I was fascinated to observe with so many people in so many different situation – the constant theme: “needing to appear strong, and in control”; “I can cope”; “I don’t need help” definitely “don’t show vulnerability”. It is understandable that we have developed this façade of bravado at all costs but in the long term everyone suffers more.
Thirdly we came together as a TRE community. Within hours of putting word out we had many responses from TRE practitioners wanting to be involved. Our challenge now is to keep the motivation and enthusiasm going – “burning” in Emma’s words. We are a passionate bunch who cares about others and want to make a difference.
What is needed moving forwards is for us as a community to get more organized so that we as a group can more effectively spread TRE to communities that can benefit.
If you are working in Emergency Response, Health Care or Disaster Management and would like to assist us in raising awareness of TRE, we would be glad to hear from you !
Contact Ingrid 082 925 0076 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org