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The BGS Blog

The power of empathy

One year after the Grenfell Tower fire, BGS pupil Belnice gave an assembly on the need for empathy with the Grenfell community. Two years on, Belnice has written this blog to reflect on why that remains as important as ever today.

As we mark the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, the recent tragedies amidst the global pandemic have undoubtedly left many of us thinking and reflecting. I am reminded of the assembly, held two years ago, in which I stood with a friend and told the story of a Grenfell Tower survivor, based on the experiences of those affected that night. Now – in 2020, surrounded by uncertainty – it may be difficult at times not to feel overwhelmed by it all. However, it is important not to suppress the feelings that come at this time, as their presence is what allows us to empathise with the Grenfell community three years on.

The challenges faced by the Grenfell community unfortunately did not end in 2017, and today there remain hundreds of tenants who are still recovering from the trauma of the fire. The devastation felt by those who lost homes, friends, and family members, is a feeling which may seem distant and unimaginable for many of us, but it is important that we try to understand the victims’ realities. This month, there are over 17 households without permanent housing, and the tenants’ feelings of vulnerability are only heightened by the uncertainty of the pandemic. Over 20,000 still live in houses with flammable cladding, and during this lockdown period, residents are left with no choice but to isolate in unsafe buildings. Although these numbers may seem like distant figures, they are only a minor reflection of the heartbreaking reality for so many individuals: hoping for safer living conditions, only to be let down and housed in buildings which are far from real homes.

Every month on the 14th, people in the Grenfell community take part in a silent walk around the area, paying their respects and remembering the 72 lives that were lost. Lockdown has meant that the walks have been temporarily discontinued, and both the COVID cases and racial violence across the world, have brought back feelings of grief and fear, which are all too familiar to the Grenfell survivors: ‘Seeing the trauma playing out on a wider scale over the country is really, really difficult.’ a survivor stated last week. Another survivor described her children’s struggles to sleep at night, too traumatised to sleep on their own in what has been a ‘three-year nightmare’.

Although it has only been two years since the assembly, time has never passed more slowly for the Grenfell community, and many of their circumstances remain the same. It is now more important than ever that we stand in solidarity with victims of injustice. A large majority of the 72 dead were of minority communities, and a lot of the necessary changes start with uncovering the truth and understanding the experiences of others. As a BGS student, I am proud that we are an institution that not only believes in humanity and empathy, but whose core values are at the heart of everything we stand for. It is undeniable that we are living through history, and although this is a time that will be remembered, it is also important that Grenfell is never forgotten. Our ability to empathise means we can speak up for those who experience injustice, and challenge discrimination without fear.

Belnice Helena Nzinga