Let Mahdia Tragedy be a Wake-Up Call

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AZP News Commentary


Alicia Chamely
By Alicia Chamely

THERE are some events that happen in our lives that are so horrific and unfathomable, that the word “tragedy” cannot even begin to describe the true nightmare of the situation.

On May 21, 2023, minutes before 11 pm, a fire set by a disgruntled student tore through the girls’ dormitory of the Mahdia Secondary School in Mahdia, Guyana. A school that served mostly indigenous students from rural areas.

The fire claimed the lives of 19 students and left 29 students hospitalised, nine of whom are in critical condition.

Thirteen of the deceased victims were burned beyond recognition and DNA samples had to be sent to the USA and Barbados to help identify them.

The reports are gut-churning and I do not think any of us could possibly relate to even an iota of the fear those children felt.


A lot of focus has been on the student who set the fire. Obviously, she has some troubles and it has been reported she had threatened to burn the school down after her mobile phone was confiscated.

While the blame is being placed on her, I wonder if some blame also needs to be placed on the school’s administration and the Guyana Government.

Villagers living near the school described it as a “prison” with heavily barred windows and locked doors. It would be these windows and the one locked door, whose key could not be located in the panic of the fire, that would trap the children in the inferno.

It had also been reported that the school was informed that the dormitory was not compliant with best practises regarding fire safety.


One would think a school, in which students live, would be equipped with fire alarms, emergency exits, a sprinkler system… for the least an extinguisher or two. This school apparently was not equipped and despite being warned did absolutely nothing and no one from the relevant authorities stepped in to ensure these children would be kept safe.

In developing nations such as Guyana and our own, building safety, especially in older buildings and residences, tends to be dodgy to say the least.

Has anyone noticed we have a ridiculous number of household fires? If you read through the reports, many are blamed on faulty wiring.

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Yes, many people in Trinidad and Tobago tend to do their own thing. Build where they want, with what they want and hope for the best. They do shoulder most of the responsibility when it comes to their own homes. But (and this is a big BUT), what do you expect when the relevant authorities have turned a blind eye to these practices for generations, and frankly, many people don’t know any better.

Wouldn’t T&TEC notice if a residence, which let’s say has electrical clearance to support a four-bedroom household, is now using enough electricity to power a small village? Regarding illegal connections, wouldn’t they notice if there is extra pull on the supply? But I suppose eyes are closed or we have some backwards pre-colonial regulations that make addressing the issue simply not worth the hassle.

Additionally, we need to recognise that there is an affordable housing crisis happening. When someone is faced with renting an apartment built onto the back of someone’s home that has one door, fixed burglar proofing and DIY electrical work or living on the streets, they are going to go with the roof over their heads, no matter how sketchy it may seem.

Facts are facts, not everyone has the budget to be picky about when renting and with the astronomical prices of homes, buying isn’t even an option for most people.

And people with a limited income or meagre means, who are just doing what they know or need to do to survive, DO NOT DESERVE TO LIVE IN DANGER!

It’s the wild west out there.

And what about our schools, children homes and geriatric homes? Are they inspected regularly to ensure their safety mechanisms and plans are up to date?

Let’s not even talk about the sleeping dog that is Town and Country. Homes are busy being built with no approvals all over the island dangling over cliffs, on riverbeds, over pipelines and nothing is done.

The optimist in me was hoping the Mahdia fire would serve as a wake-up call to the relevant authorities in T&T to look at the systems of safety we may or may not have. Maybe they would do outreach, set up a program to educate on how to ensure your home is safe, something, anything.

But nah, they busy fighting over who got silky new robes and local election dates.

Do we have to wait for a tragedy like the Mahdia Secondary School fire to reach our shores before something is done. I hope not, truly and deeply, I pray none of our children are taken by the negligence of the adults and bodies of authority when it comes to the most basic of occupational and residential safety.


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