Saturday, October 21, 2006

In the Shadow of the Breakers

It’s easy to know when you’re in coal country. The highways slice right through the hills, exposing the telltale black beds of anthracite or bituminous coal. Most of the village houses are company-built: narrow row houses crammed together on streets as steep as the famous ones of San Francisco. The streets that run parallel to the ridge are broader, lined with trees, and flanked by bigger houses where supervisors and other professionals live. The bosses’ grand houses are always to the west—upwind of the engine house, pump house, and the “patch” where miners lived.

Patches were built in the shadow of the breakers, gaunt windowless buildings that have the look of prisons. In the breakers, twelve-year-olds sorted coal from lower-carbon rock. Next to the breakers grew a mountain of waste—known in Wales as a tip, in my part of Pennsylvania as a slag heap or culm bank. Although slag is not as clean-burning as coal, it can catch fire; I’ve lived near places where old slag heaps have been burning for decades.

Forty years ago today, the tip above the town of Aberfan, Wales, gave way. Tons of waste made slick with water (the tip was located on a spring) roared downhill, through a small farm, and into the school where the miners’ children were studying.

One hundred sixteen children died. Twenty-eight adults, five of them teachers, also died.

The women were already there, like stone they were, clawing at the filth – it was like a black river – some had no skin left on their hands. Miners are a tough breed, we don’t show our feelings, but some of the lads broke down.

Remember the children of Aberfan. I was seven when they died; most of the dead were between seven and ten years old. They died for corporate greed and government indifference; the mine at Aberfan had been nationalized, but the British National Coal Board was still less concerned with safety than with productivity.

According to the official report,
The Aberfan Disaster is a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude by many men charged with tasks for which they were totally unfitted, of failure to heed clear warnings, and of total lack of direction from above. Not villains but decent men, led astray by foolishness or by ignorance or by both in combination, are responsible for what happened at Aberfan.

In people who bear great responsibilities, ignorance and complacency and the refusal to listen can cause terrible tragedies—and, in my opinion, make them just as culpable as if they acted with willful malice.

ETA. Another miner died in an underground accident today. That makes 42 for the year. This one's in Tremont, Schuykill County, PA.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Helping the Amish Community

The murder of the little Amish girls has caused me a great deal of grief and anger and helplessness. This morning, a friend let me know there was something practical I could do to help.

The Mennonite Disaster Service and Mennonite Central Committee are accepting donations to help the Amish community that suffered in the recent schoolhouse shooting. The survivors of the shooting will be amassing huge hospital bills and their families will require costly transportation to and from the hospitals for a long time.

One thing you may not know about Amish folk is that they generally eschew health insurance. Without doubt, this community will cover and support their wounded family members; this is what they do because they see it as an extension of their faith in Christ to live in community.

We have an opportunity to join the community and help in their healing. Take part if you can.

Donate here.(They accept Visa and Mastercard, and it's tax-deductible.)

I grew up near a Mennonite Church, and my sister Libby graduated from a Mennonite college. I can absolutely guarantee that the money will be used wisely. Moreover, the site is genuine.

Moreover, two funds have been set up by the Old Order Amish community to accept donations. One is the Nickel Mines Children's Fund. The other is the Roberts Family Fund, for the Children of the Roberts Family.

The Roberts Family is the family of the gunman.

I think that speaks volumes about what kind of people the Amish are.

Donations to both funds can be sent to:
Coatesville Savings Bank,
1082 Georgetown Road,
Paradise PA 17562

Gift cards, teddy bears and other material, non-cash donations, gifts or condolences should be taken or mailed to:
Georgetown United Methodist Church,
1070 Georgetown Road,
Paradise PA 17562

Amish Elders will pick up the items there and distribute them to the families.

The Amish have also suggested several other ways to help.

You may prefer to channel your giving through other charities or toward other causes. But if you have been looking for a way to help, these are some practical things you can do.