Lotifa Begum; Muslim Aid's Global Advocacy Coordinator reflects on our work responding to the Grenfell Tower tragedy:
"For the first time in what feels like ages I came home last night for iftar. Iftar is the meal one shares with one’s family and friends which ends the day’s fasting during the month of Ramadan. It was only when I stopped and tried to do something ‘normal’ that I realised how exhausted and shocked I was by the events of the Grenfell Tower fire and its consequences last week. What happened continues to traumatise the families I have met. It is hard enough for me, after speaking with families who have lost everything, to try to restore some sort of normality to my life, but I know for the families I have met, who have lost their loved ones or been injured or traumatised by the fire, their life will never be normal again.
As an aid worker on the frontline with Muslim Aid, where I have been since the day the fire took place, it is hard not to get emotional. I have tried to remain strong for the Grenfell Tower residents and families when with them, but, as soon as I close my front door, I have found myself sobbing and praying for these families.
In the immediate days after the tragedy, I was shocked at how little the Kensington & Chelsea council did to help and the inadequate response of the authorities to house these desperately traumatised people. That’s why a group of British Muslim charity workers and volunteers set up the Grenfell Muslim Emergency Response Unit to provide relief and assist those families in need.These volunteers and charity workers have been working tirelessly to meet the needs of the families evacuated from the tower and around. Our efforts were far-ranging from providing emotional support at such a traumatic time to proving short term accommodation to hot meals. These helpers have been a lifeline for these victims and families - they are the real heroes in this tragic aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. We have been able to get counselling and psycho-social support rapidly and engage with families swiftly and we will continue to provide help to victims.
As for myself, I have listened to heartbreaking stories these past days, including from one family who have lost five of their loved ones. I heard one woman say: “My children still have nightmares and we are too scared to go back anywhere near that Tower. I am scared to be housed anywhere above the 4th floor because of what I saw when the fire raged. People were jumping out of their windows. I don’t know how my children will recover from this. Now I feel homeless and like a second class citizen.” Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are common among the survivors and yet they are the victims of the failure of the authorities.
In coming days they will be burying their loved ones and I just pray for their strength to get through this tragic and difficult time. My heart and support goes out to these families - anyone affected by the fire should call our Emergency Muslim Response line on 0203 670 6004 to access the following services:
- Provision of cash grants families affected by the fire
- After needs assessment
- Provision of supplies such as food, clothes and toiletries
- Referral to therapists, counselling and psycho-social support
- Burial services and bereavement support
I heard of one woman resident who miscarried due to the post trauma stress she experienced after the fire, which is absolutely heartbreaking. This tragedy has led to a great number of psychological issues and post trauma therapy is needed for families. As a British aid worker, I have been to the field in Bosnia, Bangladesh and other places, but I never thought I’d be responding to a national disaster of this scale and nature here in London in one of the most affluent boroughs in the UK. This has got to be the greatest national disaster I have ever known. I have seen the grief and pain of losing a loved one but never on this scale. I must appeal to you all to sign this petition right now for a public inquest, not an enquiry, and we must get justice for the victims of Grenfell."