Mahdia tragedy 1st anniversary: Separate memorial services planned for today


As Guyana reflects on the 20 innocent lives lost on May 21, 2023, during the tragic fire that ripped through the Mahdia Secondary School dormitory, several separate memorial services will be held at three different locations today in tribute to those who perished.

Today, we remember Subrina John; Belnisa Evans; Loreen Evans; Bibi Jeffrey; Lisa Roberts; Tracil Thomas; Delecia Edwards; Lorita Williams; Natalie Bellarmine; Arianna Edwards; Cleoma Simon; Martha Dandrade; Mary Dandrade; Omerfia Edwin; Nickleen Robinson; Sherlyn Bellarmine; Eulander Carter; Andrea Roberts; Sherana Daniels and Adanye Jerome, the son of the dorm mother.

The services which will provide the space for family, friends, and the nation to reflect on the heart-warming memories of the young souls will be held simultaneously in Karisparu, Micobie, and Chenapau, Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni).

According to Deputy Regional Executive Officer (DREO), Shawn Britton, the decision to have the services in the communities where the victims once reside was made upon the request of their respective families.

He told the this publication that the day is expected to be an emotional one as the incident is still fresh for residents who are coping with the tragedy.

“For the past year, members of the community have been coping with the emotions in various ways. In many cases, counselling was provided for persons that were in need. Anyone that needed these kinds of support services was readily available to them…some people were able to control those emotions. But coming on to this first anniversary, the memories are still fresh,” Britton said.

In addition, he noted that due to the trauma, the survivors were not kept in the nearly village. In fact, they were relocated to President’s College to continue their schooling. These survivors will also be present at the memorial services along with several government ministers.

He added that while it will be painful to attend the memorial service of their friends, the survivors will be flown into the various villages at the request of their parents.

“Apart from the survivors, several government ministers will attend the services… If not the President himself, the Prime Minister will be there,” he added. As the families reflect on those who perished, some of them are still to come to grips with reality.

On May 21, 2023, tragedy struck at the school girls’ dormitory, which had housed 56 occupants and a five-year-old boy from the communities of Karisparu, El Paso, Micobie and Chenapau, Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni).

The Guyana Fire Service confirmed that 14 children died in the inferno, while five succumbed to their injuries at the Mahdia District Hospital. Another died days later. One survivor was flown overseas for treatment and would have retuned to Guyana several weeks later. She is said to be recovering at a rapid pace.

However, a 15-year-old dorm mate was slapped with 20 counts of murder. She has since been detained at a juvenile holding facility. It was reported that she allegedly set the place on fire after being reprimanded by teachers for inappropriate behaviour. She reportedly became angry after her mobile phone was confiscated.

Following the deadly blaze, a Commission of Inquiry was launched and after several weeks of proceedings, it outlined several recommendations to improve the condition of dormitories across the country, and to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy, looking at the combined viewpoints of security, society, and safety.

The report was handed over to President Dr Irfaan Ali by the Chairman of the CoI, Major General (Retired) Joe Singh, on January 19, 2024.

From the findings tendered, the Commission recommended that an inspectorate be set up to visit the dormitories which have been or are being, retrofitted, to determine the extent to which they comply with the recommended gender-sensitive standards for dormitories. This should also apply to dormitories that are intended to be constructed.

Further, the report detailed, “The visits should allow for the inspection of fire-suppression systems, emergency evacuation procedures, and assessment of first responder fire-fighting drills and capabilities. Compliance with the statutory schedules for fire drills at schools and dormitories must also be monitored and enforced.”

Additionally, technically competent individuals should be included in such inspectorate teams, and reports on the extent of compliance achieved are to be submitted to the relevant agencies for evaluation and follow-up action.

Furthermore, grills should be replaced with a modern security system, inclusive of secured fencing and cameras, to ensure a protected environment and assist in monitoring the entry and exit of all persons using the facilities.

The Commission heard, during testimonies, that the grills were installed to prevent the girls from escaping and indulging in the nightlife of the mining town.