Foundation provides for Tuesday’s Children

IN the darkest hour of one family’s grief, the funeral of a Twin Towers atrocity victim, a eulogist asked: “Who is going to look after the children, sitting only feet away, who have had an innocent parent ripped from their grasp?”

It was a rhetorical question, one which was only meant to highlight a point, but slowly, each mourner rose to their feet, explaining to the church that they would take up the responsibility.

It is a scene of unity which should dominate the foreground this weekend, but instead has been pushed into the periphery.

In a decade dominated by war, death and destruction masquerading as just acts, it has been easy to lose sight of how the people directly affected by the events of September 11, 2001, the real victims, have coped in the intervening years.

Few groups have put aside political or religious views to genuinely help the children who lost a parent or parents on that fateful day, making the scene in the church 10 years ago — the moment when the Tuesday’s Children foundation began — all the more relevant when the eyes of the world again focus on New York tomorrow.

“It was completely unexpected [the funeral reaction], but everyone wanted to help,” Kathy Murphy, a senior member of the group who worked on Wall Street when the disaster occurred and lost close friends in the tragedy, told the Irish Examiner.

“It just started with trying to get the family members out of the house, things as simple as going to a ball game, just making sure they were okay. Family members and friends got together and said we have to do something for these families.”

As a result of the attacks, thousands of children — the majority of whom are based in the Tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — lost one or more parents. Their average age was just eight.

Almost 200 more children, today in primary school, were born after their father died in the atrocity. These people are the 9/11 generation. While financial, counselling and educational support has been there from groups such as Tuesday’s Children, in wider society the views of these victims have largely been ignored.

“Because what happened was so public, it has been very hard for these kids to grieve on a normal timeline. A lot of people don’t understand that, they think ‘well gee, they should be getting over it by now’,” Ms Murphy explained. “You have to remember that there are different stages of development, and coping with loss aged eight is a lot different than if you’re 12 or 15, particularly when there are reminders on TV all the time.”

As the overtly politicised “War on Terror” raged in the foreground, in the background non-politicised programmes were set up by Tuesday’s Children for a group more concerned with the daily grind of coping with grief.

Mentoring groups were set up, counselling sessions catered to specific needs were provided, and the Helping Heals programme — involving building homes for less affluent families — was established.

As the group’s work continued, others moved away — while 400 support organisations were in place in the aftermath of the attacks, today there are just six — the now-teenagers made an unexpected request. They wanted to reach out to people affected by terrorist attacks in other countries — including Liberia, Spain, Northern Ireland, England and parts of the Middle East — indirectly helping to prevent history repeating itself.

Since 2008, more than 200 children directly affected by these events have met under Project Common Bond. These vital meetings, supported by Harvard University’s law and international studies schools, have received little to no attention in the wider media.

“We focus on conflict resolution and the concept of dignity for all people at these meetings,” said Ms Murphy, “rather than just getting angry about what has happened or not. There’s an immediate comprehension and trust, they want to bond.”

The consequence of this level of understanding of what happened is not simply theoretical, it has had a clear influence on how these people cope with the tragedy 10 years on.

When Osama bin Laden was shot by US military personnel in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2 this year, large sections of US society celebrated by waving flags and throwing street parties.

The majority of those taking part were young. Ms Murphy said few, if any, of those directly affected by the attacks agreed with these events.

“I don’t think too many family members were outside waving flags,” she said calmly. “It was a solemn day, it was never a day of celebration. Did they feel justice was done? Did they feel closure? What they felt was that it wouldn’t bring back their loved ones.

“You want to end the concept of terrorism, not just one man.”

*www.tuesdayschildren.org001-516-562-9000

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