Painting away the trauma

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Pupils given outlet for night or terror in bold murals series

If a picture can say a thousand words, then murals painted by pupils at Knysna High School tell a dramatic story of the terror, trauma and caring they experienced on the night the devastating blaze swept through their town. The school’s hostel and the homes of some pupils and staff were destroyed.

GETTING ON WITH IT: Knysna High School pupils have started painting a wall in one of the corridors to express themselves and help them cope after the devastating fires
Picture: Supplied

Speaking yesterday from the school – a few hundred metres from its burnt-out Volhard co-ed hostel – principal Mark Mosdell said pupils had been encouraged to create the bright murals as a way to express their feelings around the disaster and to help them deal with the chaotic events which unfolded there a week ago.

The paintings, which have not yet been completed, express, among other things, the pupils’ experiences of the fire, how the blazes were fought, and both religious and community caring and assistance rendered during the disaster.

Knysna High was one of six schools that were seriously affected by the fires in the Southern Cape towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, which also saw 15 teachers and a substantial number of pupils losing their homes.

The Volhard hostel, which had accommodated about 26 pupils from surrounding rural areas, was evacuated as the fire bore down on it from the hill above.

“While the boarders lost their accommodation, 10 of our staff members and 16 of our day pupils were displaced as a result of the fire,” Mosdell said.

“It has been devastating, but we are picking up the pieces and moving on.

“We are doing our best to provide our pupils with stability so we can move forward and cope with what happened, but also to ensure the children are in a stable environment so their parents have the space to get their lives and homes back in order.”

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Mosdell said many pupils from the about 590-strong scholar body had gone into the community to volunteer their help and assist wherever they could.

“In terms of the hostel, we have been in contact with the Department of Education which has responded very well to our crisis,” he said.

“An assessment will be conducted on the building soon and the next steps around rebuilding the hostel facility will then be considered.”

The principal quipped that the school’s secretaries had “become our disaster management team”.

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He said assistance from the community had been overwhelming.

“The community has been absolutely amazing, everyone has pulled together on this.”

He confirmed exams were being written at the school.

“We feel the pupils must continue to participate in their exams, particularly as this will give them the stability and focus that they need right now.” Mosdell said the school was looking for houses to rent to accommodate the boarders until the hostel was rebuilt.

Mosdell relocated to Knysna from Gauteng at the beginning of this year, and also found himself on the receiving end of the blaze.

He had been staying at the hostel while he was in the process of buying a home in the area.

The home he was in the process of acquiring was also a victim of the fires.

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