By Sue-Ann Wayow
VILLAGERS say that the dormitory of the Mahdia Secondary School was like a prison.
This according to Ronald Dublin, a retired education supervisor for the district and the school which lies in a mining territory for gold in Guyana’s Region Eight.
He was instrumental in the activation of the Mahdia Secondary School dormitory system in 2009. He said the dormitory was established to ease transportation woes as the area was only accessible via air.
On Monday, 19 people children died in a fire, that authorities said could have been maliciously set.
“The buildings were there but they weren’t being used. We had to get them furnished and then work out a system as to how we would bring the children into the dormitory. We did all of that and so the school year beginning 2009 September, those dorms were in use,” Dublin told AZP News via phone.
The other secondary departments at the time were also closed upon the establishment of the dorm educational system.
Dublin said, “Most of the children are not from Mahdia, that is why they have the dormitory. The children come from outlying villages such as Chenapau, Karisparu, Micobie and because of the distance, they stay in a dormitory.”
The Mahdia Secondary School houses both girls and boys in separate dormitories. The Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) has issued condolences to the families of the children who died. Currently, the CXC examinations are being written by Guyana and other Caribbean territories.
“The loss of these young people with such bright potential is shocking and painful. We pray at this time for the survivors and family members of those students whose lives were lost.”, Dr Wayne Wesley, Registrar and CXC CEO stated in a release.
According to information provided by Dublin, the pupil population could be between 400 to 500 children.
From information obtained from the Guyana media, he said, “Only the people who live near the dormitory were able to respond in a timely manner. It took about half an hour for the Fire Department to respond and then when they got there, they weren’t ready for what they met, so they took some time to get organised and during that time, the children were actually trapped in the building.”
One of his daughters went to primary school in Mahdia and a very close friend from primary school was in intensive care at hospital.
There were seven persons in hospital, three of them were carried to the capital of Georgetown because they needed specialised care and four of them were in a hospital in Mahdia, Dublin said.
He said he has been in contact with persons from the community admitting that they too lacked certain information.
“The whole town is distraught right now and even in the villages where the children came from, people are protesting saying that they didn’t know that their children’s dormitory was actually a prison, because of the bars to the windows and doors.” Dublin said.
He added, “There was the discussion about the windows but at that time we did not go that way for the same safety concerns but other administrations took other measures.”
Educational future in limbo
Dublin is concerned for the educational future of the children of Mahdia.
“I have grave concerns for the situation. If those parents in those outlining villages now decide to now not send their children back to school, the ministry now has to work out how they are going to get education to these children because these villages only have the primary schools. It has a lot of implications for the implication of the children as well as the future of education in the region,” he said.
Dublin acknowledged that the authorities did what they could do to deal with the fire that broke out after midnight on Monday morning.
He said, “What they have done at this time, I could accept because it is not anything anyone could have been prepared for but the response has been timely. They tried to do as much as they could have done from since last night.”
Dublin said, “I am in Georgetown and I could have heard aircraft overhead and I was wondering what they were doing up there at that hour in the morning. This is after midnight. Usually by six, seven o’clock, all the planes are coming in but nobody is going back out at that time because the airstrip in the interior is not geared for night landing. When you hear aircraft in the area at that time of the night, you know that something is going on.”
He also said he was not aware of any adults being injured.