Out of the rubble: The children of 9/11 victims tell their stories
CHILDREN of 9/11 victims are in Scotland for a summer camp with a difference. Stephen McGinty meets the youngsters who tell him about growing up without their loved ones.
FOR Mike D’Amadeo, a 16-year-old from Long Island with a love of rap who was disappointed to discover that his first visit to Britain wasn’t actually taking in the basketball at the London Olympics, the sight of Clanadonia was a small compensation. Smiling at the memory of the previous night’s concert when the nation’s premier band of drummers and bagpipers took over Edinburgh’s Telford College to welcome a rather special group of young American students to Scotland, he said: “That was cool.”
Early on Wednesday, the group of 25 students had flown in from New York to Edinburgh for a “summer camp” of ten days (including four in Scotland), experiencing a taste of British further education. Yet unlike other students each one would have had pause for thought on take-off, or as the plane passed over the gleaming glass skyscrapers of Manhattan. For each student lost a parent, or had a parent severely injured during the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001.
Vincent D’Amadeo, Mike’s father, was vice-president of operations at Cantor Fitzgerald, an investment bank whose offices were on the 103rd floor of 1 World Trade Centre. Mike was just five at the time, and he has no real memory of the incident: “I just remember being picked up from school by my mom and her crying. I didn’t know what was going on. She tried telling me, but I didn’t understand.”
The youngest of four boys, Mike says he has benefitted from having older brothers – Jerry, 21, Vinnie, 19 and Frankie, 18. Sitting on a sofa, with his Beats headphones draped around his neck, he said: “It has been difficult growing up without a dad, but I have three older brothers and they have always looked out for me, so they are there for me and I guess they are my father figures.”
The summer camp is an offshoot of the British Council’s UK 9/11 Scholarship Fund, which seeks to award scholarships to study in Britain for students who lost a parent in the attacks. The ten-day trips held each summer were set up with donations from the World Trade Centre Disaster Fund and the British toy manufacturer Merrythought and are designed to introduce the students, aged 15 to 18 to the possibility of studying in Britain.
On the British Council’s website there is a quote from one of the guardians who helped to chaperone the students on a previous year: “The pride of participating in a programme that honours the sacrifice of their parent is a healthy and vital process of a lifelong healing from their loss. ”
Telford College was selected to host the Scottish leg of the programme after its success with international students led to an Association of Colleges Beacon Award in 2011 in recognition of the its contribution to international learning in Scotland.
Julia Weedon, head of international development at Telford, explained: “This is a fantastic opportunity not just for the American students, to experience what Scotland has to offer in terms of education, but an opportunity for Telford to showcase our offering and what we can do for international students. We have put together an exciting programme of activities for the students, which show the range of courses we offer at the college and we hope this will really encourage them to consider studying here in Scotland.”
The First Minister Alex Salmond was unable to attend the student’s welcome party, but he sent a special video message. He said: “Scotland’s unique heritage and culture combined with the opportunity to see first hand the excellent education institutions we have here will ensure a truly unforgettable experience for these young visitors to the British Council’s 9/11 Summer Camp.”
After their welcome barbecue on Wednesday, the students spent Thursday at the college trying out a vocational session in performing arts with the Think Outside the Box Theatre Company in the college’s own theatre as well as making their own radio jingles with Telford’s creative industries team. After lunch there was the opportunity to try their hand at table tennis against a former student and Nepalese national champion Rita Prajapati or work on photography in the dark room. In the evening there was a trip along the Royal Mile and a taste of the festival atmosphere before dinner and bowling at Fountain Park.
Jill Conroy, 17, from Brooklyn is excited to be visiting a new country and is especially looking forward to seeing the Tattoo. Her father, Kevin Conroy, was the vice-president of corporate accounts at Marsh & McLennan, whose offices were in the North Tower. “I was in first grade and I was in science class when the teachers brought me out,” she said about her memory of 11 September: “That is pretty much it”. The tragedy, she believes, bound her mother and her brothers and sister more tightly together. “It brought us, well much more together and stronger and we made sure that we were there for each other.”
She has been looking forward to the trip for weeks. “I have only been here for a day, but I like it. We had a barbecue here which was great. We have the Tattoo to see and that will be fun. I’m just looking forward to everything. It is a new country and seeing what it is like over here. It is so different from New York.”
The tour, which will also take the students to Birmingham and Conwy in Wales, is designed to help them figure out what they want to do with their lives. While the tragedy will never be forgotten, the summer camp is all about looking forward. For the moment Jill, one of whose favourite books is Catcher in the Rye, and favourite film is Step Brothers with Will Ferrell, is unsure about what she wants to do: “I do want to go to college but I’m not sure what I want to study yet.”
Today the students were due to be heading on a boat tour around Loch Lomond before visiting the Xscape Arena in Braehead. While Mike was looking forward to the activities he was also keen to keep tabs on the Olympics and, despite what Groundskeeper Willie had warned about Haggis in The Simpsons, he was keen to taste it. “I’m going to try it,“ he insisted.
The trip was a surprise for him. “I didn’t even know I was coming over here. My mom just said, ‘You are going on a trip.’ I’m just looking forward to adventuring around and seeing a whole new bunch of stuff.”
While his favourite comic book character is the Hulk: “no-one can mess with him when he’s angry”, his plans for a future career are a little more controlled. “I have always wanted to be a police officer. I’m going to try and be one.”
Asked if their courage on 11 September may have influenced his decision, he said: “I guess so but it just always seemed cool to be a police officer.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
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