Staff and volunteers of the Grenfell Muslim Response Unit (GMRU), and other faith and secular organisations that collaborated with GMRU, were honoured at a gathering last week.
Survivors, bereaved families and friends, and the wider Grenfell community affected by the Grenfell Tower fire of 14 June 2017 spoke with deep gratitude of the support they received from the coalition of Muslim charities, including Muslim Aid, set up in the wake of the disaster which claimed 72 lives.
Mariko Toyoshima-Lewis, a young disabled mother who lived at No 9 Grenfell Tower with her three small children, spoke movingly of how the GMRU family representative Donna Karimah Stacey turned her desperate situation around: “When I met Donna, I had really bad health, I think mentally I was starting to feel ill. No one was listening to me. I am a wheel-chair user and, although I was in a nice hotel, there were no facilities and my wheelchair wasn’t adapted for me to move around or leave the room so I couldn’t even get to the bathroom. I was stuck and felt helpless”, Mariko said.
“But Donna was willing to listen and to start helping me and looking for solutions for me”, she continued. “She came to see me regularly and, if she couldn’t come because of looking after her own family, she phoned me to check up on me and my little ones.”
The event entitled Grenfell Together and sponsored by the National Zakat Foundation, Muslim Aid, Human Relief Foundation and Maria London, was held at Porchester Hall in Bayswater, London, to mark the closure of the GRMU.
Hanan, another survivor of the fire, said: “They’ve always been there. Called to see how we are and supported us with funeral arrangements. We’d lost everything and we didn’t know what to do, so I can’t thank GMRU enough.”
As well as survivors, panel sessions featured, campaigners, individual social media advocates and charity workers discussing the events and lessons learned of the past 19 months. Mayor Sadiq Khan handed out awards.
Those commended with awards included Mohamed Omer from the Gardens of Peace cemetery, Grenfell lead coroner Fiona Wilcox, and Shahin Sadafi, former chairman of Grenfell United.
Mr. Khan praised those who received awards and spoke of the “kindness and compassion” of GMRU’s work.
“There is no doubt that your selfless actions have been instrumental in helping people to piece their lives back together. You have also demonstrated the true ethos and values of the faith of Islam. At a time when many non-Muslims may have a negative view of what it means to be a Muslim, you exemplified what it really means”, he said.
“So as Mayor of London, as a Muslim and as a fellow Londoner, I would thank you on behalf of our city for your amazing efforts and for making such an immense difference, not only to the lives of your neighbours but to complete strangers”.
In concluding his speech, the Mayor said, “too many questions remain unanswered.” He pledged that as long as he is Mayor, City Hall would support the Grenfell community to discover the truth and attain justice. “The only way to truly honour those who died is to find out exactly how this tragedy occurred so that we can avoid it ever happening again.”
The GMRU, which stepped in when the disaster struck, played a key role in co-ordinating food distribution, money, counselling, and even helped to arrange funerals for Muslim victims. It was all done in culturally sensitive ways. In all it helped 539 unique individuals, delivered 3,000 meals, engaged with 62 organisations and used the skills of 250 volunteers.
A full report on the work of the GMRU is to be published in the Spring.