Much Love, Healing and Justice for All Victims in Mahdia, Guyana

20 children dead after a 15 year old child lights a fire in her school; allegedly her phone was confiscated after teachers hearing an adult man was having sexual relations with her. This same child retaliated. She is now being charged with 20 counts of murder.

I was deeply saddened to hear of this atrocity, the loss of so many young lives. My heart aches with the parents whose children were lost in the fire. I ask myself would I be writing this piece if my baby was dead due to one of her classmates lighting a fire in a fit of rage. i write this because my heart also aches for the 15 year old girl who set the fire, as well as her family. This child is also a victim.

As someone who works with youth in various settings from schools to communities to detention centres to online programming within the field of conflict resolution/community peacebuilding my heart aches knowing so many of our youth have not had opportunities to learn skills, tools, strategies to tend to their rage, their uncontrollable anger; so many youth sexually violated and no one to turn to; so many youth in abusive situations because at least someone is paying attention; so many youth dealing with mental health challenges hide, deny, or shame themselves for struggling with dark emotions. So many of our schools do not operate from a trauma-informed lens; nor do they teach emotional literacy, or conflict resolution skills or mental health awareness or root causes of gender based violence or or or….

This young woman’s response to rage was fight back. And fight back she did. Did she know the school would catch on fire and kill twenty of her school mates? Did she deliberately light the fire with the intention to murder her school companions? Did she subconsciously think a fire would finally get someone’s attention? Did she think? Did she think? Did she think? When someone loses their heads, bodies, hearts, intuition they/we do not pause to consider, we just do, we fall prey to our highly charged emotions; all thinking done and that’s where unthinkable, unintentional, unwarranted violence ends and shatters lives.

The evening I heard the news from Mahdia, Guyana I was on the verandah sharing with Theo and Maya the session I facilitated that morning; sharing how powerful it was co holding space for 15 young men and exploring with them different conflict styles (trauma responses) through sharing various scenarios and getting them to reflect on three conflict styles (trauma responses) controller (fight), avoider (flight/freeze) and accommodator (fawn). Various scenarios were read out and the young men reflected on what conflict response they most likely would use. Some of the scenarios were: a man is talking to your girlfriend at a party; a conductor on the bus just gave you the wrong change; someone thief your phone; you are accused wrongly of damaging a teacher’s car; an elder man is sexually harassing your little sister. Some of the youth’s immediate responses: ‘I busting his head.’, ‘I giving her one slap.’, ‘I walking away.’ ‘I telling someone.’ ‘I cussing him.’ The discussions turned from immediate impulsive responses to taking time to pause and think through context, perspective, boundaries and consequences. We discussed getting to know the signals our bodies give us when we start feeling activated; when we start to lose our footing, the intelligence of our gut, our intuition and our emotions. We discussed the potential to commit violent acts we never imagined we could do when we lose ourselves to highly charged states of being. We also shared various practices/strategies/tools needed to pause and listen to our bodies, hearts, minds so we can calm our nervous systems down and move from a place of conscious deliberation rather than violent eruptions that could land us in jail, or dead, or chopping someone, or sexually violating another.

The youth I’ve worked and work with have made some terrible choices/violent choices landing them in prison. What does accountability look like in a trauma generated world, in a profit making over human caring system?

Are we willing to crucify this child who lit a fire causing 20 deaths or can we dive deeper into the complexity of this story and hold systems, structures, people in power accountable for failing our children and youth over and over?

Sending much love and healing and justice for and to all the victims of this tragedy.

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