SVGTU links dengue  fever to bad conditions at some schools
President of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) Oswald Robinson (right), with lawyer Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell (second from left) and other members of the SVGTU executive at a press conference last week at the SVGTU’s headquarters.
October 20, 2020

SVGTU links dengue fever to bad conditions at some schools

The St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) can’t help but draw a correlation between the unsatisfactory conditions at some schools and the Dengue fever outbreak.

Industrial Relations and Research Officer (IRRO), Andrew John mentioned this while speaking about the condition of schools at a press conference held by the Union on October 15.

Dilapidated cottage on Mayreau provided for the principal of the Mayreau Government School.

While acknowledging that there have been some improvements “here and there”, he noted “by and large”, for the majority of cases, “we are seeing conditions which are far below what is required, what we could consider satisfactory.”

John noted, that at the beginning of this term, the Union had to ask a teacher to stay off her job until the school was brought to satisfactory standards.

The IRRO said he was appalled when he saw the conditions that the Principal of the Mayreau Primary School was working in.

“I would like for us to witness this sort of… an old broken down cottage, and he has to be blocking it off with fencing wire like mesh wire, to prevent animals from going under where he is stationed,” the SVGTU officer related.
Apparently, the Principal also had to nail some boards to prevent water from entering the premises, John said, emphasizing that it was “really, really deplorable”.

“I didn’t expect when I got there to see that kind of existing building still, this being the 21st century,” he continued.

In the case of Union Island, they noted that for years, the school is operating out of a Resource Centre. As a result, the students are cramped, and the building is very hot.

He said their kitchen is very small of dimensions 2 x 4 or 3 x 6, with very old equipment.

The IRRO also spoke about doors being nailed up at a school in Bequia, the guttering having fallen in at another school, flooding at schools when it rains, and schools that are not fenced.

“When we look at the conditions of schools, we can’t help, you know, we can’t help but draw a comparison or relation to what is happening in relation to Dengue Fever,” the IRRO stated.

Broken louvres at one of the nation’s schools

In their visits to the schools, he continued, they are seeing rivers, gutters, streams, that are not running, have been blocked up, and the water is stagnant.

“If you go back to when we had the reopening press conference I would recall the President making a case for fogging of schools, for sanitisation, proper sanitisation of schools, for the removal of old bins without covers,” he noted.

“All these things were mentioned, they were stated, and we have asked the authorities to do some work on it,” the officer said, but “In most cases, nothing was done.”

Their research in some schools in Kingstown showed that, at one point, up to 20 students per day were coming down with the mosquito borne illness and, in one school, eight teachers were on leave at the same time.

Of the deaths that have been confirmed to have been caused due to complications resulting from Dengue fever, three out of the six are minors.

The most recent of these deaths was a 13-year-old student of the Girls’ High School, Kaylee Robertson.

John contemplated, “I think there might have been some decrease since the wearing of the clothing which further suggests that a lot of this is taking place within the school.”

The President of the SVGTU, Oswald Robinson also touched on the conditions of specific schools, noting that at the Mary Hutchinson Primary School on Union Island, which is operating from the Learning Resource Centre, male and female students use the single toilet unit, which he said is a breach of the Collective Agreement which was signed between the Government and the SVGTU in 2005.

“You cannot have boys and girls using the same toilet facility. And the same thing with the staff! Male and female teachers are using the same toilet,” he also stated.

The stove has to be “chocked up” for it to stand up, the President submitted, which is a safety issue.

“You can’t put the school on the Zero Hunger Program and give them a piece of stove, you take it from some other school and send it to them. The people in the Grenadines are also part of St Vincent,” the President declared.

Robinson said that they are speaking out on these issues because they must be dealt with and the Union is the watchdog.