Children and their parents enjoyed an adventure in the heart of the countryside as they escaped the turmoil of trying to rebuild their lives following the tower block fire eight months ago. Many are still living in hotels and temporary accommodation as they battle with authorities to find new homes and restore their lives.
A party of around 20 parents and children spent four days far away from their neighbourhood where the blackened shell of the tower acts as a constant reminder of their trauma. They visited a farm – and for some it was their first time feeding animals – walked in the woods and tried archery, climbing, campfire and den-building and woodland skills in the trip organised by Al Khair Foundation, a leading UK Muslim charity and its implementing partner Hear Women Foundation.
Florent Caillibotte, European Refugees Programme Officer of AKF said: “We wanted to lift the survivors’ spirits and take them away from their area which is still a difficult place to be in for them. They are all trying hard to deal with the tragedy and to rebuild their lives but it is around them every day. We have been in the community providing practical and emotional support since the fire but felt the children would benefit from having a break in the countryside.”
Hisam Choucair, who lost six family members who lived on the 22nd floor, came on the trip with his children, Zahraa aged seven and Muhammed five. “The outdoor life and the greenery are natural therapeutic things to bring joy to people at difficult times, especially for the children,” he said. “My children found this trip enjoyable. Everything has been taken away from them and they must feel empty and lonely.”
“I lost my mum, my sister, all her children and my brother in law. I feel very empty, it’s not easy not having people around you. No support, family, or someone you feel you can come and speak to. “It’s really difficult. Although I smile, I’m being cut up inside. I’m broken but I have to stay strong for others especially my children. There’s not a moment that goes by that I don’t think of my family.”
Hisam, who lives seven minutes from the tower, alleges that the authorities wouldn’t let children visit the tower to pay their respects. “It was only after I challenged them for a month on this matter that they changed their view and are allowing the children to visit the tower at a later stage. This has only been confirmed verbally via the authorities to myself but nothing has been confirmed in writing.”
“They were saying before that the children couldn’t even visit the outside perimeters to pay their respects,” he said. “What I saw on that day, is no different to what my children saw. There’s no reason why they can’t visit. It’s very sad that we have to challenge them. “To say to one that you can come in but another can’t is an insult to my family and me. They should make it as easy as possible for people to overcome this but they are putting obstacles in the way just to make a visit.”
Mahad Ali Abdullah, who lived opposite Grenfell Tower, took his two children, Mohamed aged 18 and Safa 12, on the holiday, which was run by Surrey Outdoor Learning and Development at their centre near Dorking. “It’s very beautiful here and we are disconnected from the outside world so it’s giving us full tranquillity. My children really enjoyed it,” he said. “It was very positive and exciting. It meant a lot to me and to my children. We have been praying together and talking together.”
Hisam’s sister Sawsan Choucair, who also lost six members of their family, said: “It’s a lovely place. It’s brilliant for the kids. There are lots of activities and people here are very friendly. We get together, have a talk and watch TV. It was a change and something different outside of London. I’ve never been down this way. There’s a nice atmosphere and the children loved seeing all the animals and riding ponies. The organisers and the workers were lovely, so friendly, everyone was fantastic and did anything to please us. We have all been traumatised since Grenfell. The people from Grenfell tower have gone through a lot. They need something for them. This has let the kids have a good time.”