On the first day of the winter break, my granddaughters’ school was gutted by fire. It started in the middle of the night, and by the time firefighters reached the scene, the hundred-year-old heritage building was well ablaze. Whoever set this fire – and it was certainly arson, with three separate ignition points – not only destroyed a lovely old building, but also tore the heart out of a community.
Teachers lost priceless resources. Students lost art work, stories and projects. In the principal’s office was heritage material collected for a centenary display – all gone. Student records, sporting equipment, musical instruments, photographs and archives showing the long and proud history of the school – all lost. Air conditioning units and other infrastructure, much of it acquired through years of community fund raising – destroyed. Remarkably, the books in the school library survived.
So there we were, with only two weeks until the new school term, and nowhere for our 400 students to go. What could be done? On the morning after the fire, the principal called a crisis meeting, at which shocked and weeping parents and teachers attempted to comfort one another and come to terms with the loss. For a teacher, losing your classroom and all its contents is a bit like losing your home; it is no easy thing to set such a loss aside and get straight back to work. Parents, too, were stunned. This school had been the venue for many wonderful community events, and had a highly active and involved parent body.
The principal, in tears himself, vowed that the school would be rebuilt, and reminded people that while a building could be destroyed, the school community lived on, as strong as ever. As for the immediate future, it would depend on what could be achieved in the scant two weeks available. Perhaps the students would have to be split up and placed in different venues. It was clear the old school would require a complete rebuild. People left the meeting still shocked and sad, but heartened by the words of hope. At home, parents struggled to find the right way to explain what had happened to their children.
If the mindless act of arson dented our faith in the goodness of human nature, what happened next restored it. [Read more…]