Students of Cotton Tree Primary School who were spared physical injuries over one month ago when their tour bus exploded after they exited are still having nightmares.
As such, headmistress of the school Lauraline Pluck-Gouviea and Civic Leader, Shazeena Seetayah took the initiative to invite Professor Daizal Samad to counsel the children and help them overcome their fears.
Samad began by putting the children at ease and encouraging them to speak freely. They related the horrors of the incident which were still fresh in their minds. He also helped their parents as well as teachers who were on the bus with coping techniques.
The 50 West Berbice students and four teachers had just exited the bus when it burst into flames.
Smoke was detected coming from the bus before everyone heard a loud “hissing sound.” This created panic among the students and they started to scream.
The driver immediately pulled in the corner and instructed everyone to “get off the bus!” They were thankful that they managed to escape unhurt but they are still traumatized. It was also observed that the “psychological scars run deep.”
The driver tried to get everyone off the bus but the door was stuck, creating further panic. He continued to “beat the door” until it was opened.
As the students and teachers were trying to escape to safety some fell in the process and suffered bruises. The teachers had even tried to break open the window to get the children out of harm’s way.
They were trying to move the children far away from the bus and when they looked back they saw the big blaze, which caused the terrified students to scream.
The eight and nine-year-old children had also expressed fears about going back on school tours.
They were returning home around 5:45 pm on February 20 from a school tour in Georgetown when the drama unfolded at Mahaica.
They were rescued by other tour buses that were passing at the same time. The children looked on helplessly as their book bags and other belongings burned. The teachers also lost their handbags that contained money, cell phones, cameras and other items.
One of the teachers who had inhaled a lot of smoke, like the others, collapsed and had to be taken to the Mahaicony Hospital for treatment.
The children told Samad they were still having nightmares of being burned alive. One child is also having flashbacks even while awake and also relives the incident in his dreams.
Other students said they can hardly sleep, while some insist on sleeping in their mother’s beds. One child who saw her book bag burning dreamt that she was the book bag.The professor was told that many of the children “react violently at sudden sounds or at sparks and at the very sight of fire. They are constantly on edge.”
Some parents also told him that they would never send their children on school tours again while some of the children are even “unwilling to travel in any bus at all.”
Samad noted that “there are key words in each child’s telling of the story; bags, fire, smoke” while they responded emotionally to the “mere mention of the word ‘tour’.”
According to him, some parents try to avoid talking about the incident in order to help their children to forget. He advised them though that if the child is willing to talk they should try to “keep the conversation going.”
He said “talking is a means of coping” and it is “important for the children to have loving and sympathetic ears.”
Professor Samad has appealed to counsellors and social workers to visit the homes of these children and monitor the healing process.
He expressed deep disappointment after learning from parents that no official has come forward with even “basic statements of sympathy.”
He lamented that if that is the case then the “Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports should awaken to the cries of these children and their parents.”
At the same time, he lauded the initiative of the headmistress, staff and civic leaders and insisted that parents and teachers should be trained to deal with such traumatic situations.