Rabat – North Kensington residents are coping with trauma and trying to rebuild their lives in the wake of tragedy. Last Tuesday 18th July marked the third public meeting in the last six weeks following the fire at Grenfell Tower, which will transform their lives forever.
The sense of community and the leadership that has been by the demonstrated by volunteers in the aftermath of the fire can serve as a lesson to us all. Those who have stepped into these leadership positions needed neither validation nor consent from anyone. Their guiding principles are their compassion and humanity, coupled and the strong desire to provide solace, show solidarity and aid their neighbours who have been affected.
The first people who need to be recognized are those who died because of their values and convictions that made them put their trust in a system that would fail to do the bare minimum to protect them. Though the victims were subjected to years of neglect and discrimination, they still had confidence that the British authorities would uphold British values of justice and fairness. They believed in the unfair system, which eventually revealed itself unjust and caused their demise. The local authorities and its agent Tenants Management Organisation are the main culprits, as they failed to inform the fire brigade or the police of the changes to the building and the recent facelift in 2015 . Similarly, they failed to recognize requirements that called for rigorous health and safety checks or a proper fire hazard inspection.
The second mention belongs to the survivors, who have shown a great deal of courage and bravery. Not only did they demonstrate grit on the night of the fire, but they are still fighting every day to move forward with their lives. They have received no emotional support or help from National Health Service or the local Authority . The lack of support was cited as a one of the main concerns for those who have been impacted, including school-aged children, young adults, parents, family members, friends and neighbours. Adding to the horror, a number of those affected were speculating about suicide and two have attempted and were rescuied. Still, Many who have been impacted have been shown a high level of resilience in the face of such adversity.
Here, I offer a salute to those who defied and challenged the police officers and firemen who were rigorously enforcing “Stay Put” Health and Safety policies. They all exhibited a high degree of bravery and some perished in the fire. The death toll would have been much higher without the sacrifices of those willing to endanger their lives to save others. In addition to that, I also extend my heart felt gratitude to the firemen, who have not received correct equipment due to government austerity measures. They are also victims of a government that has unnecessarily brought risk to their already risky jobs. As a result, some of them are still on life support machines and others are struggling with post-traumatic disorder after witnessing those dreadful scenes of suffering and deaths.
The third category of people I hold my hat to are the community of donors, who continue to show solidarity and compassion. So far, the amount of money raised exceeds £ 20 million, not counting the donations that Red Cross will be selling in their shops to raise money for Grenfell Residents . Of course, this money should be spent to rebuild the lives and community of Grenfell and support the victims of the tragedy.
Finally, the community volunteers are, in my book, the essence of a truly unsung hero. They have been working tirelessly under the radar, acting as lifelines for those in need for the last six weeks since the fire on the 14th July . The media may have reduced coverage in favor of other news stories, but they stayed behind and are working for 24 hours a day every day of the week. Listening to the extent of their success takes me to the highest level of happiness, whilst hearing them recount the harrowing stories of the people they are supporting take me to the lowest of level of sadness .
There are many examples of work that I have been involved in and witnessed first-hand in association with the volunteers. A family of an Ethiopian Christians, for instance, who are grieving and needed to wear black clothes during this period to uphold their religious duties . As the had lost their belongings, the family was at a loss for what resource to turn to in order to provide clothes for the mother and her two sisters.
I received word of this conundrum from a Somali volunteer who has been supporting the family continuously through my Whats’up group . I proceeded to contact Almanar- Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre to check if they have any abayas or black long dresses, skirts, tops and scarves for the three sisters. This happened on a Sunday afternoon, so we agreed to meet up on that Monday in the early afternoon so they could select from the load of brand new clothes that were to be delivered that morning. They were very pleased to find the clothes they liked and to be able to uphold their traditional values and cultural traditions, which gave them dignity under the dire circumstances.
On Thursday 6th July at noon, I received a call about an urgent crisis at the Tara Kensington Hotel after a Grenfell resident with mobility problems collapsed. It turns out that the woman had an anxiety attack as she was talking to the outreach mental health workers about the trauma she experienced on the night of the fire. The interpreter called the ambulance but left by the time that I arrived at the hotel. The mental health workers had also vacated the scene, as the responding paramedic was unable to find anyone to help him understand what had happened. I talked with the woman to help her calm down, as she had reach a high level of distress.
The example of collaboration between different grass root emerging organisations can be seen in the work to support a lady who needed an urgent emotional support with specific European language for which they are only few interpreters. The lady had two children and has been on her own and completely isolated and finding difficult to deal with her new life in the hotel without any one supporting her or explaining to her what is going to happen to her and her children. It came to the attention of Real Community who have contacted Grenfell Hope Project who are providing Trauma counselling and made the referral. While the GHP had the counsellor who was available to do the intervention, they couldn’t find the interpreter. The latter post it on the Grenfell Trust What’s App group. The Grenfell Trust has been coordinating Emergency Interpreters and Hammersmith and Fulham Language Service provision free interpreting and advocacy for the residents of Grenfell Tower residents the day of the fire. It has been set up to think in an imaginative and comprehensive way and serve as a resource to victims and their families and provides wellbeing counselling to community leaders.
In the short term help build resilience and recovery through providing practical help to victims and their families facing considerable emotional and financial problems and harsh realities/
- Help for people to clarify their rights and remedies and negotiate their way through the various layers of bureaucracy
- Signposting to sources of support and assistance, financial help, dispute resolution etc
- Form networks and alliances
- Encourage people to exchange materials, videos, photos etc
- Contribute to the achievement of longer-term outcomes by advocating for better understanding of and sensible responsiveness to communities’ needs, issues and future challenges.
These community volunteers and leaders have shown a high degree of collaboration and partnership building that enabled them to work effectively and with agility to respond to the immediate needs of the people affected by the fire and their families and friends. These are not concerned about blaming but healing and have been working non-stop to the detriment of their own health sometimes.
The them I an sending my best wishes for happiness, health, wealth and for success for a job well done. These are the unsung heroes of the Grenfell Tower.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity.
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