Fire Victims Extend Forgiveness

Published Wed, Mar 29, 2023
Written by Sarah Pietryga

By: Fatu Koroma, EduNations Psychosocial Coordinator

There are many days we will never forget at EduNations and one of them was February 2nd, the day one of the dormitories of the Rokassa SSS was burned to ashes. 

The immediate concern for everyone was for the safety of the 38 students and 1 teacher living in that dorm and once we confirmed that they were all safely out of the building, we turned our attention to trying to put out the fire and to prevent it from spreading to the nearby dorms. It was by God’s grace alone that everyone’s lives were saved, and that the fire did not spread to the other dorms. 

Soon after we confirmed this, we started an investigation into the incident and one of the first questions we asked was, how did the fire start? It was at that time we learned that one of our students had taken some charcoals and kept them in a plastic bag to iron his uniforms without knowing that one of the charcoals had fire in it. At that point, our emotions were mixed to the highest degree with thoughts about consequences on the student and perhaps his parents, but the President showed me a message he received that day from our US Director which read:

“My heart goes out to this student who caused the fire. It sounds like that was not his intention. In fact, his intentions were to keep his uniform ironed. I know it must be hard for him emotionally bearing the weight of his mistake. It is a great lesson for all the students that sometimes our actions have consequences that we could never foresee. However, we have all made wrong choices in our past, and while the consequences are irreversible, forgiveness is still available.”

As soon as I read that message, I realized that regardless of our mixed feelings, I was being called upon as the Psychosocial Coordinator of EduNations to map out a plan to respond to the students and the teacher whose dorm had been burned down with all their books and personal belongings and whom I immediately considered as victims. I recommended that we replace all the personal belongings of the victims including providing a closed-door meeting with them to talk about what had happened and how they feel about that. This was very important and timely because the student who started the fire had fled into the bush when we arrived in Rokassa. Was he trying to deal with trauma or was he afraid? He would not come out of the bush until he heard my voice and then threw himself at me. “Aunty Fatu, I am tired, I am scared, I am sorry” he said when he saw me.

I must admit that I was dealing with a lot of emotions at that moment, but I needed to be there for him and for all the victims. We wept together even though I could not pinpoint what exactly we were weeping for. For the next two days, I stayed back in Rokassa spending time with each of these students and teacher and talking deeply and personally. It was interesting to see the layers of trauma each had and the healing that took place as the days progressed. Receiving the donations to replace their personal effect was also very therapeutic and, in a way, helped to restore their dignity. Within a week, almost all of what the students personally lost had been replaced and with the help of a youth pastor, we were able to look at the incident in God’s perspective and were able to prepare the student who started the fire well enough that he was able to stand before the whole school assembly to confess his negligence in not checking the charcoals properly and to ask for forgiveness from everyone. Our work also enabled all the staff and students to be able to offer forgiveness to this student and to extend a compassionate and loving response to him. “We love you Wilfred” resounded loudly over and over after he turned to the 38 students and 1 teacher and asked for forgiveness with tears.

When the President later announced that the generosity of our donors had resulted to the raising of all the funds we need to rebuild and furnish the whole building, it resulted in complete forgiveness, healing and restoration including for me who had to take it all in, champion a cause that is completely contrary to our culture to ensure the student is loved and cared for instead of vilified or punished for what he did accidently.

While we know that we will not forget this easily, we are thankful that we have completed the first phase of our psychosocial care and response and could see that the students are continuing their education in the school. We look forward to the day the dorm will be rebuilt, and everyone is standing around it praising God for his mercies which endure forever.