This article was a commissioned piece by a local charity.
Grenfell Triumphs at the Grassroots via the Power of Self-Help.
'An Eye Witness Account: African Women Get Involved.'
Yishebah Baht Gavriel Member of the African Women's Forum.
From the smouldering ashes, cindered belongings and the incinerated remains of those individuals and families who perished in the Grenfell Tower Block Inferno; has arisen one of the most powerful self-help momentum in humanitarian responses to a modern-day tragedy. This national tragedy took place in the backyard of the sterling history and grassroots activities of the Vince Hines Foundation.
Yes, West London's famous post code has been the catchment area of the Foundation's pioneering programme, 'Partnership on the Streets' where the Outreach Youth Programme went way into the night to engage youth where they were, literally on the streets.
The scale of the tragedy captured, in some of the most horrific superlatives by the journalists in the printed press and oral commentaries were equally matched by those adjectives reaching for the descriptions of the best of the human spirit. While some of the sensationalist media machine went for the headlines and sales competition, we avoided the news fray and went along to get at the pulse of people and Community organizing at the heart of the Self-help momentum and organizing. No scrap with the local and national media, just to garner an honest eye- witness account. Armed with nurturing energies, instincts and ethos of the African Women's Oganization, we unobtrusively melted into the crowd and comforted the bereft, traumatized and homeless.
Ordinary people took to Social Media and blogs to set up appeals, report the organizing activities on the ground and counter some of the 'fake news' and expose of the some media machinations. They also came together in huddles, street conversation, hugs of comfort and tears as well as collecting and sorting of supplies for the homeless and destitute.
As the bus passed through the leafy areas of the wealthy Royal Borough, people were trying to get back to a life of routine. Pubs were open, people were sipping their beers and shoppers mingled with others who were clearly in fugue- like states, meandering to see the area and catch a view of the scorched tower. Immediately arriving into Notting Hill at St. Marks Road and the junction with Lancaster road leading to the Grenfell burnt out tower block, we began to see posters of missing women, men and children pasted on the wall of every shop front in the area. Barclays Bank was plastered with missing people's posters, along walls, on post box and every available space.
Our mood, sombre as we stumble into people of all London's ethnic diversity looking at the posters, searching the faces, using head coverings and shawls to stem tear-stained faces. Strangers were hugging and patting one another's shoulders. One could not miss the large number of women from the Ethiopian community in traditional attire, both young people and their elders teaming the area.
Arriving at the entry to Lancaster road, we encountered the Police roadblock to traffic but giving pedestrian access to the crowds heading toward the end of the street. People were sitting on the sidewalk and walls. One of the most moving sights we witnessed was an elderly Afrikan man sitting on the pavement within the sight of the tower block lost in his thoughts as walkers paused to check how he was.
We meandered along with the intention to interview people but it was neither opportune nor necessary. People were in huddles, small groups or in crowded, close proximity spaces, alone, but in shared emotional and comforting human crowds. Approaching the sight of the tower, were steady streams of people heading toward the tower. At the point where they were congregated the access to the tower was blocked and manned by fire brigade officers, police and other security personnel. These emergency personnel were unobtrusive as the people we given the sense of security to seek solace within the sight of the tower
At the end of the road, the other residential properties in the shadow of Grenfell Tower formed a kind of concrete border shrouding the main body of the scorched building up to three-quarters of the structure. Embroidered at the top were the tip of the trees, leaving just the head of the skeletal remains if the building for viewing.
At this point, we were well enveloped into a stationary crowd outside the Notting Hill Methodist Church where an open-air Multi-Faith service was in process. While the crowd was diverse culturally, there was a noted predominance of people of the Ethiopian community. We entered as the Ethiopian Priest was chanting his mantra in Ge'ez to a call and response incantation from the women, men and children there. This evocative, plaintive homily was a healing shared expression as the sonorous tonal sounds of men, women and children's voices blended as the colours of the cultural attires and diverse cultures present.
We had seen and experienced the SHARING, heard how the Council were WARNED; the evidence of ENCOURAGEMENT was most apparent and seen how people PROTECTED one another to borrow a motto from the Vince Hines Foundation, in giving voice to the voiceless, and advocating for those not strong and confident enough.
Discretely, we were able to assess how the Women's Forum future work can be integrated into the community's momentum and vibrant self-help culture in the region. Out of the humanitarian response to the tragedy and from the ashes of emotional exhaustion from mental and emotional distress; has arrived the healing womb of the African Women's Forum and serving hands. 16th June, 2017.