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Benalmádena helps a family who lost everything in a fire on the night of the Three Kings

Ngone, Mohamed, Marem and Ousmane, before the fire that destroyed their home.
Ngone, Mohamed, Marem and Ousmane, before the fire that destroyed their home. / SUR
  • The couple had to grab their children and run barefoot to safety, leaving everything behind. La Paloma school is collecting donations of clothes for the children

It was just after 7pm on 5 January. Ousmane and Ngone were watching TV with their children, six-year-old Mohamed and Maren, who is four. The Three Kings were going to bring presents that night; in fact, the parade was already making its way through the streets of the centre of Benalmádena.

Then suddenly, with no warning, they heard a series of explosions. "Boom, boom, boom! And then everything was on fire," explains Ousmane. The couple ran out of the apartment barefoot, carrying the children in their arms to safety.

When the fire brigade arrived the apartment was completely burned out and the flames had left the family homeless, without even a mobile phone to call anyone for help. It was at that moment that the people of Benalmádena came to the rescue, launching a campaign that reached every part of the municipality.

The first to react was the town hall's Social Services Department, which is paying for the family to stay in a hostel. However, the situation was much more serious than simply needing a roof over their heads at night.

"The children lost all their clothes, everything. We have nothing," said their father, with a lump in his throat. Sources at Benalmádena town hall say that Cáritas, Cruz Roja and Asís are working with the local council to help the family as best they can.

However, in addition to those associations, to whom the family is immensely grateful, there has also been tremendous support from fellow pupils at Mohamed and Maren's school, La Paloma.

When the other children and their parents heard what had happened, and learned that the family was in such a difficult situation, they decided to do something about it. Irene Becerril of the parents' association says it didn't start off as an organised campaign, and it just involved those who were closest to Mohamed and Marem.

"Everyone knew there had been a fire at their home, but they didn't realise how bad things were until they saw that poor Mohamed went to school wearing clothes with burn marks," she said.

After that, most members of the school community became aware that the family needed help.

What began as a small-scale collection expanded throughout the school, headed by the parents' association. Headmaster Tomás Rueda said an area had been allocated to receive and store donated clothing, because the family has no wardrobe in the hostel. Collection boxes have also been put around the school for cash donations.

However, it didn't stop there. "We are starting to receive help from other schools now, and from people who have no connection with us. They have heard what we're doing, and just want to help," added the head teacher.

Social values

For Tomás Rueda, the most striking thing about this case has been the response from other children at the school.

"The other day Mohamed came to school wearing a new tracksuit, and it was lovely to see the other children's faces. You could see how satisfied they were at having been able to help," he said. These values the pupils at this school are showing by helping their schoolmates "are the ones we always work on in class".

Ousmane says they have been very touched by the response. They were feeling very despondent at first, but having received help from so many people they are feeling "much better" now.

The most important thing was clothes for the children, but the couple have also lost other items which means they can't work at the moment; they have run a small business selling crafts for the past 11 years, since they arrived from their native Senegal.

The couple have said they are "so grateful" to all those who have supported them, some of whom don't even know them.

At the beginning, the Social Services Department had said it would pay for the hostel for a short period of time. That time is now almost up. The councillor for Social Welfare, Javier Marín, is following the case closely, and the council will be reviewing the situation in the near future to decide what the next steps should be.