FOLLOWING the devastating Black Saturday bushfires which obliterated the farming valley of Strathewen, in Victoria, principal of the local primary school Jane Hayward AM used wool to help mend the broken hearts and broken relationships of the devastated community.
Thirty people perished out of a population of 220, and her student had lost parents, grandparents, siblings, and a classmate.
The local farms, most of the homes, the community hall, fire station and school had been wiped from the map.
“With so much disruption and difficulty in our students lives our school needed to play an incredible role in providing stability and security and support for everybody,” Ms Hayward said.
Remarkably, just four days after Black Saturday, she reopened Strathewen Primary School — with its two teachers and 40 students —in portable classrooms on the grounds of nearby Wattle Glen Primary School.
Her inspirational journey of resilience was shared to an awestruck room at the Women of Wool luncheon at the Australian sheep and wool show, who heard of the central role she played in the community’s recovery.
Her journey has transcended the little country school that refused to die and informed schools in crisis across the world how to rebuild devastated communities and how to promote the wellbeing of children.
She has used knitting and woolcraft as a form of self-expression and emotional release as a form of trauma recovery.
Hand knitted chickens – a tribute to the school’s pet chooks lost in the fire – were made for the children to care for, love and cuddle, was one example of this.
“There was no rule book to recovery. We used creativity to support well-being,” she said.
“We kept out usual learning programs in place, but we incorporated a whole variety of other opportunities for enjoyment, for escape and self-expression – to write to paint and create was vital for our kids.
“So many difficulties can be worked through with a creative angle.”
The Strathewen students are now attuned to any suffering they see on television and have reached out to children across the world who have been displaced by natural disasters.
“Our students have a keen understanding of what they have to be grateful for,” Ms Hayward said.
“They believe in giving back and helping others, and reaching out.
“They show incredible empathy and will grow up to be something amazing because they’ve come through the other side of a natural disaster.”
Ms Hayward was presented with the National Excellence in Teaching Award in 2010 and was also recognised with a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2012, for services to the Strathewen community.