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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Surely those of us with the luxury of stability can do more to help the uprooted

While most parents can't wait for their children go back to school, lets pause and remember that tens of thousands affected by natural disaster don't have schools to go back to, says Deborah Williams

Hurricane Irma left a trail of destruction in its path that will be felt for weeks, if not months, to come. AP
Hurricane Irma left a trail of destruction in its path that will be felt for weeks, if not months, to come. AP

Did you feel a strong breeze earlier this week and worry for a minute that one of the many hurricanes whipping through the Atlantic had somehow found its way to the Gulf?

Don’t worry. It wasn’t a hurricane, just an enormous sigh of relief from parents whose children finally went back to school on September 10. A few schools had started their year before Eid Al Adha, but for many children, this summer holiday was the longest of their short lives. It felt even longer for their parents.

A long summer holiday sounds delicious at the outset: no one yearns for the early mornings, or the hunt for the missing PE kit in the 30 seconds before you have to walk out the door, and the absence of homework-related griping creates a blissful silence.

It’s all great, those first weeks, when everyone is full of plans and activities. That energy lasts maybe three weeks, maybe a month, but then enthusiasm wanes. Even if you’re travelling to new cities or spending time visiting family, the absence of routine starts to wear thin, as does spending time in the close quarters often necessitated by family trips. A family trip, just to clarify, is not the same as a holiday. The former usually involves children and frequently restaurants that serve things like “chicken fingers”. A holiday means you’re travelling on your own schedule and don’t have to get anywhere near a chicken finger (for the record, chickens do not have fingers, they do not even have opposable thumbs).

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This summer’s holidays went on for so long that one of my children was heard saying that he couldn’t wait for school to start. When that first day finally arrived, my kids went off without grumbling, crisp and tidy in their new uniforms, their satchels stocked with pencils and pens.

I won’t lie. I was delighted to see them go. And then as I wandered through my empty apartment, revelling in the fact that no one was asking me for a snack, for a ride to the mall or for another snack, I realised how lucky we were.

You may remember that in the weeks before school started, Nature seemed intent on showing humanity how quickly all that we take for granted can be erased: wildfires burned from Los Angeles up into British Columbia, the strongest earthquake in a century shook Mexico, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma decimated islands in the Caribbean and walloped the southern United States, monsoons in India, Nepal and Bangladesh killed thousands.

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That’s just in the last three weeks and hurricane season is only just starting. Luckily, the US Environmental Protection Agency has removed any discussion of climate science from its website, lest anyone link the increasingly ferocious hurricanes to the rising temperatures of the oceans. Clearly, then, we should continue to pave over all the possible wetlands we can find, because houses and resort complexes make great buffers against flood waters.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in recent weeks due to extreme and unexpected weather and many of those people may discover that they don’t have homes to return to when the floods and fires recede. Are we facing another stream of refugees – weather refugees – who will join the world’s rising tide of displaced humanity? These uprooted people have to drift according to whims of governments, but all they want is a safe harbour, a way to re-anchor themselves to the world.

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It was against the backdrop of these climactic upheavals that the simple fact of going to school – of having a school to go to – became something to be grateful for: the ease with which we were able to move from the aimless summer holidays and into the stability of a school-day routine. As we settle into our school-year rhythm, I am reminded of what Simone Weil once said: “Being rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul.”

I can’t afford to send all the displaced children to school, but surely those of us with the unremarkable luxury of stability can do more to help those who have been uprooted?

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