Giving people the tools to heal

If all had gone to plan in Tegan Moore’s life, she would still be working in the Federated States of Micronesia as a mentor for mental health workers helping vulnerable young people there. However, five months into her assignment with the Australian Volunteers Program Tegan was evacuated by the Australian government due to coronavirus. This meant that she was staying at her family’s home in Melbourne with all her belongings still in storage and at a loose end when she saw Mallacoota P-12 College’s advertisement for a Bushfire Recovery Practitioner. 

This position, which trauma specialist and social worker Tegan took up in June 2020, was the result of a consultation process between Vinnies Victoria and the school’s principal, Tim Cashmore, about how we could support students at the school with their emotional and psychological recovery after the devastating bushfires that ravaged the area.

Vinnies has been in constant contact with communities in the affected areas and developed a number of key initiatives, thanks to the significant financial backing of the Jewish Community of Victoria. Along with helping students to pay for school and college fees, travel expenses, laptops and uniforms, Vinnies is also rebuilding a major sports facility in Mallacoota and Tegan’s year-long appointment has been a boon to the town.

The length of Tegan’s appointment was critical to establishing trust with the community. “The first thing children asked me was, ‘How long are you staying?’ They were really pleased to know I would be here a whole year. It’s allowed me to begin building those relationships that are so important.”

The sense of displacement, ongoing uncertainty and struggling to reorientate one’s identity in their new world are common experiences of people experiencing trauma, says Tegan, who has found parallels in her work at the school with her previous experience supporting refugees. 

Since remote learning began, Tegan has been offering a range of therapeutic support working with students and, sometimes more so, parents via online sessions or phone calls. She has collaborated with staff to continue developing wellbeing and positive behaviour practices. 

Children are exhibiting anxiety and some are struggling with engagement, says Tegan. “Some students are finding it hard to focus and concentrate, so those issues are impacting on their learning. Older students are more able to talk about feeling stressed.”

“Trauma work isn’t necessarily talking about the traumatic experiences. It’s about giving people the tools to do the processing themselves and understand their feelings,” she says.

Tim Cashmore says: “We are incredibly lucky to have Tegan, thanks to Vinnies Victoria and the Jewish Community of Victoria. She not only has great knowledge of frameworks and programs, but Tegan also has a magnificent calmness and supportive nature, which shines through her daily work. She is making a huge difference to our school and the community.”

Tegan is confident that the children’s future is bright. “Natural disasters can have many knock-on effects, but most of the students here have had solid lives leading up to this point, which is a really strong protective factor. They also have good networks in the community and supportive adults around them. Along with the work we are doing, it all gives me a lot of hope their lives will be successful. I love the work we are doing and I am really grateful to have been welcomed so warmly by the community and to have the opportunity to get to know these amazing kids.”