The fire at Mahdia was a national tragedy that tainted the year 2023 and the history of Guyana. This deadly blaze, headlined by CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post, allowed millions, if not billions, to see such a tragic disaster.
It is a tragedy that shocked the entire nation. It traumatised families and has shaken many around the globe.
The grilled building that caught fire in the wee hours of Monday morning claimed the lives of 19 children. There are no words of comfort I can say to the mothers, relatives and friends of the children who perished. I cannot lift your pain from your shoulders, nor mend your broken hearts. The pain in my heart and the tears in my eyes are certainly no match to the depth of immense heartache and hopelessness you are feeling. The death and loss of a child is known as the ‘ultimate tragedy’. Along with the usual symptoms and stages of grief, many issues make parental bereavement particularly difficult to resolve. And this grief over the loss of a child can be exacerbated and complicated by feelings of injustice — the understandable feeling that this loss should never have happened.
Grief is normal to experience; we will all lose someone that we love in our lifetime. We all go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
To the relatives and loved ones, I mourn with you. Guyana mourns with you.
To the citizens, we should refrain from political overtures. We should not participate in petty politics and misconstrued discussions. We should all share empathy and sympathy, and grieve for the loss of our children. We should think of the privacy and safety of the Mahdia children, and be mindful and respectful of the pain their loved ones are going through.
It is unimaginable, indescribable and impossible to fathom the pain of losing a child.
When we lose our children, we do not just lose them at the stage they were when they passed, we lose them at every stage missed; and our hearts will forever ache with that knowledge. There is a whole crock of crap that says grief follows a method. It stays neatly in lines: clean, tame, and strategic. There is nothing normal, neat, clean, or tame when a child dies before a parent.
Though malicious and unlawful, we should never threaten the life of a child and her parents. The mere fact that she admitted shows the immense guilt and pain that she is feeling. We should seek empathy and understanding that sometimes mistakes are made, and such consequences result in events that spring out of control.
Arson aside, a building equipped with fire safety measures and a strong safety system would allow for prevented or minimal fire risk.
As a society, we should all learn from this national disaster, and take into consideration our lack of civility, decency and development. The fire at Mahdia is something that has been fuelling for decades. It has been a common cultural crisis that has been replicated generation after generation. We need to resolve this for the betterment of our children.
We would sit in a speeding and overcrowded minibus without speaking up. We board speed boats without life jackets. Road safety is absent in Guyana. It baffles me that, at every turn, you would come across a motorcyclist without a helmet. We would hop on a motorbike or bicycle and invite family and loved ones without any form of protection to meet their demise. We construct buildings and infrastructure with little to no work safety in place. We litter and pollute without a care or concern.
How many more of our loved ones do we have to bury before we can implement basic laws to protect our nation? How much more grief and heartbreak can one endure before we abide by civilised regulations? If our society had implemented and abided by sensible and civilized standards, then the chances of those innocent little kids perishing in a building locked from the outside with no means of escape in the face of an emergency would have been prevented or avoided.
It is 2023, and we, as a nation, ought to adhere to the fire safety and prevention regulations. We must ensure that buildings in Guyana have fire safety implantations, smoke alarms, and fire alert mechanisms with functioning fire extinguishers or fire blankets and accessible fire escape and exit routes. We must also implement regular fire safety training in our homes, businesses, and places of social gatherings.
A good fire-safe building depends on three complementary systems to decrease the danger of death and other risks. They are: a detection system to warn inmates of a fire, a contaminant system to restrict or limit the spread or extent of a fire, and an automatic suppression system to limit or control the fire until extinguished.
All buildings should demonstrate and implement regular fire training and drills. At every few metres, a fire plan should be depicted in buildings for people to study and learn in the event of a fire. It should never be considered a norm for buildings to be grilled for safety reasons without a disaster escape plan instilled and implemented.
Our President, Prime Minister, and Minister of Education have demonstrated compassionate leadership in this difficult and tragic situation. Our hearts bleed for the Mahdia losses. To the loved ones, do not let anyone tell you how to grieve, do not let hurtful words destroy you further, and do not blame yourselves for what happened. Things happen for a reason, we may never understand God’s wisdom, but we must trust His plans. I wish I had words to lighten your agony.
I hope our prayers can comfort you. Grief does not end. Out of a broken, beating heart comes endless love as it ebbs and flows through the constant cycles of grief. Sometimes gentle, sometimes heavy, the reminders are always there, the love is always there. After all, a mother never stops loving the child she carried. Sleep well, angels.