Lessons from those who have overcome trauma are helping pupils confront their own personal challenges
The graphic account of Darren Swift’s injuries is certainly powerful. Reactions from year 8 and 9 pupils at Blenheim school, in Epsom, Surrey, veer from concern to open-mouthed fascination as “Swifty” (as he is universally known) walks up to them on his stumps and explains that he went from being 6ft 2in to 4ft 6in in an instant, when a bomb containing semtex, nuts, bolts and rivets was dropped on his head, killing his fellow dog handler instantly.
For Peter Leidig, who runs an extensive PHSE programme at Blenheim any opportunity to give pupils real-life examples of people who have overcome trauma and challenges is a powerful resource, especially at a time when one in eight young people reportedly has mental health concerns.
“Of course teaching resilience is very difficult,” says Leidig, whose own son was profoundly affected by meeting one of the limbless veterans. “But there is a dearth of good resources in this area, and giving young people an experience unlike their own can be powerful.”
The Drive Project’s collaboration with Blesma, the limbless veterans’ charity, involves giving veterans professional training in theatre and storytelling to ensure their sessions have the maximum impact.
According to Blesma’s director of operations, Ian Waller, this is as important for the veterans as for the young people: “Our people spend a lot of time on rehabilitation, focusing in on themselves. But there comes a time when they are ready to look outwards again and want to give back.
“This is a great way for them to redevelop a sense of self worth, to tell their story, to say: look I have been in a bad place, I may not have all the answers but I came back,” he says. “The feedback we get is that the pupils really relate because they are hearing it from people outside school and working it out for themselves.”