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Mar 20, 2023

Overnight Fire Displaces 190 Students at St. Matthew’s Government School

Over the years, St. Matthew’s Government School has been burglarized and vandalized by thieves who broke into classrooms during the summer vacation when teachers and students were away from the compound.  They were able to rebound from the losses they incurred when the intruders made off with valuable classroom items.  But what happened on Saturday morning is a major setback that caught them by complete surprise, they woke up to shocking news that the main school building had been destroyed by fire overnight.  This morning, News Five’s Isani Cayetano headed west and spoke with teachers, as well as the principal, about the devastating loss.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

An overnight fire in St. Matthew’s Village in the early hours of Saturday morning has displaced a hundred and ninety primary school students, as well as their teachers.  The inferno gutted several classrooms, including the homeroom of Cristina Fabro who has been teaching at St. Matthew’s Government School for the past eleven years.


Cristina Fabro

Cristina Fabro, Teacher, St. Matthew’s Government School

“I’ve invested so much and everything’s gone just like that.  And I’m happy right now, like I’m not crying anymore, I’ve cried so much since Saturday.  I think there’s no more tears left in me after this great ordeal, but I’m just hoping for the best.”


It is believed that the cause of the fire that severely damaged the building was the result of an electrical short.  While that is yet to be confirmed, school principal Shakera Berry told News Five earlier today that she was alerted to the blaze on Saturday morning.  By the time she responded to the scene, it was too late.


Shakera Berry

Shakera Berry, Principal, St. Matthew’s Government School

“I was called out Saturday morning and I was told that the building was on fire and when I came here, I saw that the building was already burnt down.  We actually have five classrooms totally damaged and the rest of the classrooms were destroyed by water.”


Isani Cayetano

“What are officials telling you with respect to, perhaps, the cause of the fire?”


Shakera Berry

“Nothing as yet.  We’re still awaiting that response from the fire department, the official response to see what caused the fire here at St. Matthew’s.”


The fire took along with it, for students in Fabro’s class, those who were struggling with literacy and writing, an opportunity to learn visually.  For Fabro, it’s beyond the dollar amount in losses.


Cristina Fabro

“I’m a dedicated and hardworking teacher.  I go [above and] beyond when it comes to my classroom.  Year after year, I invest when it comes to the painting, when it comes to the charts.  Like this year, I went to long-leave in September and I still came to school to prepare my class for the teacher that was supposed to be in my class while I am on long-leave.  I painted and then when I was to come back, it wasn’t how I expected it to be because that’s the person [I am], like I would consider myself to be like a perfectionist and I decided on investing again, I repainted the class again and then I did all my charts over again and when I saw this, I broke down into tears because it’s not only about me preparing the class, but it’s also about the students that I know that need as much time in the class when it comes to the reading and their writing.  So I feel like something went wrong and I feel like what can I do now to help the situation.  It’s like I don’t know, I’m lost.”


The damages, though not calculated as yet, are believed to be in six figures.


Isani Cayetano

“How much would you estimate the damage?  I mean the roofs are gone, classroom buildings have been gutted, if you were to quantify how much damages you’ve taken on, what would you say?”


Shakera Berry

“In the hundreds and thousands of dollars, but the value for these teachers is priceless.  Whatever they had in these classrooms, these are charts that were made years and years ago, you know, as teachers we try to hold on a whole lot.  There is no value to their personal items that they have within the classroom.  However, it’s quite an amount of money that we lost here, especially when it comes to the building.  We have eight classrooms that we can’t use anymore, a hundred and ninety-odd students out of the classroom right now.  There isn’t a value that I can put on it though.”


Fortunately, the Ministry of Infrastructure Development & Housing has stepped in to assist.  Julius Espat, who heads that government department, is also Area Representative for Cayo South.


Shakera Berry

“They came in from Saturday.  They came in with the assistance from the chairlady.  They came in and they started to assess the damage.  They came in and they started to move people, to start moving things, so they were here from Saturday doing the best that they can do.  I am really, really, I am thanking them because they did an excellent job of coming in and supporting us and now they are here today to do cleanup.  So I am really grateful to the Ministry of Infrastructure Development [& Housing].”


Cristina Fabro

“For now, we are going to look at working with packages and we know that the packages don‘t work, especially in a village like this, you know.  The parents, they don‘t have access to the internet, they don‘t have electronic devices that they can, you know, connect when we connect and so we rely on only the packages whereby the parents speak only Spanish, they can’t help with the English.  I feel like it’s a big setback.  I don’t know how we’re going to overcome this and I worry, you know, will we be ready for September”


Isani Cayetano for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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