Guyanese President Irfaan Ali said confronting the challenge of the Mahdia fire has been the hardest task of his presidency. As the country struggles to cope with the deaths of the 19 children, Ali said counselling is being provided for the families of the victims, the surviving children, and the community.
Eighteen girls and a five-year-old boy were killed in a fire at a dormitory at the Mahdia Secondary School in Guyana on Sunday. The boy, Adonijah Jerome, lived with his parents, who were the caretakers, in an apartment next to the dormitory.
In a Facebook live on News Room, Ali said a full team of psychiatrists, psychological counsellors, and social workers have been assembled to provide counselling for all the students, their families, and teachers, and members of the communities they came from.
“We have four teams working every day out of Mahdia and we want to ensure these teams remain in place for the next three months. We have teams also at the hotel where we have family members and parents of those in hospital and those who came out to identify the bodies of their children. We have a high-level team of doctors that will be posted to Mahdia for the next three months to provide specialised care and support their colleagues there in the work they are doing.”
He said full and unconditional support would be given to every single family and child affected.
“This support is not only medical, but immediate financial, transportation, meals. It will go far beyond this. While we appreciate and welcome all the offers of support, I want to assure all the families of all Guyanese that the government will support all these families as needed. We have assigned Cabinet members to every single family member to give direct support and to ensure they are offered all we can offer in this tremendous hour of their need.”
He said some families had requested financial compensation and this would be dealt with, and there was no need for this to become an issue, as the families had raised it and the government would respond.
Ali said the fire service and police would release subsequent reports on their investigations.
He encouraged everyone to participate in the national night of vigil on Tuesday, and said the flower-laying ceremony at the Madhia Hostel on Wednesday would be attended by ambassadors, honourary councillors, and high commissioners stationed in Guyana.
“Our Independence Celebration will now take the form of a night of remembrance and prayers in memory of our children. These Independence celebrations will now be dedicated to prayer and remembrance of our beautiful children of Guyana.
Ali posted the names of the victims on his social media on Tuesday. They were: Bibi Rita Fiona Jeffery, 13; Sabrina John, 16; Loreen Evans, 14; Belnisa Evans, 13, all from Karisparu; Mary and Martha Dandrade, 15; Omefa Edwin; Eulanda Carter, from Chenapau; and Natalie Bellarmine; Andrea Roberts, 13; Lorita Williams; Nickleen Robinson; Sherena Daniels; Lisa Roberts; Cleoma Simon; Tracil Thomas; Adonija Jerome, 5; Delecia Edwards, 15; Arianna Edwards, 13, all from Micobie.
He said the first funeral, of victim Sabrina John, would take place on Wednesday.
Ali thanked the regional and international organizations which have assisted thus far, and the 30 heads of states who had written, called, and offered support.
Speaking at the International Labour Organisation’s 12th Meeting of Caribbean Ministers of Labour in Georgetown on Tuesday, an obviously weary Ali singled out the nations of Barbados and Cuba for their assistance.
“I want to acknowledge the immediate help of those in Caricom, the PM of Barbados. Today we have a team of experts arriving from Barbados to assist us in the DNA analysis. We cannot also not remember the generous offer of Cuba yesterday to give us full medical support in and out of Guyana, and to be a host country for any medical needs in Cuba.”
He also thanked international partners such as the US, PAHO, and all others who very readily offered full support in all that they needed at this time.
Ali said what was needed was continued prayers and thoughts for the families and the communities.
“We pray collectively that the God of love, faith and patience will continue to bless the families and communities, will continue to strengthen them in faith, shower them with love, and increase their patience through this difficult time. We pray that the god of healing will help those who are still in hospital, cause them to be fully recovered.
“It is in these times of sadness that a nation must gather strength, that a nation must gather faith and love, and understand that our collective responsibility is towards each other, and our collective purpose as a people, blessed in a land that we call home, is to support each other.”
Also at the conference, Labour, Social Security and Third Sector Colin Jordan, Caricom Assistant Secretary-General, Human and Social Development, Alison Drayton, and ILO Office for the Caribbean director Dennis Zulu extended condolences on behalf of their organisations.
The Guyanese Civil Defence Commission donated a quantity of personal items to the Mahdia fire victims who are under critical care at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation on Monday, it said in a post on social media.
“Hygiene products, clothing and other personal care items were delivered to aid the hospital's ministration. These items originated from a combination of sources, including donations from the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and the CDC Volunteer Corps, and from the Commission’s storage.
“Sister Shannon Haynes, one of the nurses attached to the Burn Unit, indicated that such a donation was heartfelt and timely. The CDC continues to render support to the town of Mahdia during this difficult time.”
The CDC also received donations from the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association in the form of a cheque worth G$250,000, while the Lions and Leos Club of Bel Air donated a quantity of clothing items and other personal care supplies.
In an Associated Press (AP) story, Deputy Fire Chief Dwayne Scotland said “the fire was maliciously set” and began in the building’s southwest corner. However, Police Chief Clifton Hicken said “initial investigations suggest that it was maliciously set.” He also said that while the girls’ dorm had five doors, iron grill work trapped the students inside.
“Authorities did not provide further details and did not share what evidence, if any, points to arson.”
The AP article also stated that National Security Adviser Gerald Gouveia said the figure was revised from 20 to 19 after doctors revived a very critical patient that “everyone thought was dead.” Gouveia said it was too early to speculate what might have caused the fire.
The Guyanese Fire and Rescue Service said the building was already completely engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived on the scene.
News Source Guyana said Guyanese Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton has called on Education Minister Priya Manickchand, Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony, and Public Works Minister Juan Edghill to resign over the circumstances surrounding the death of the 19 children.