It has been over 5 years since sixteen-year-old Shadisha Arnold, sixteen-year-old Anna Carlos, and fourteen-year-old Elizabeth McKoy died in a horrendous fire at the Youth Hostel in Gracie Rock Village on the George Price Highway. The minors had been locked inside the room where they perished, as a form of disciplinary punishment for running away on the previous day. Investigations had revealed that protocol for the hostel had not been followed and an official report was to be delivered on the matter. Today the Minister of Human Development, Families and Indigenous People’s Affairs Dolores Balderamos was asked to comment on why a report has still not been released.
Hon. Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Human Development and Indigenous People: “There was an erroneous report I think it was in the Belize Times, there was an erroneous report that I had said that we would definitely release the report I didn’t make that statement. I believe I may have been asked and I said that we would look at it, I didn’t make that commitment but certainly it is something we are keeping in mind and I will not forget. There is actually a little memorial to the girls who died in that fire at the hostel and when we visited in the last two days of December of last year I made a commitment that we would do our best within a period of about four months to improve the physical infrastructure of the hostel but also to look at the systemic problems that we are having there and I’m pleased to say to you that our legal subcommittee of the National Committee for Families and Children is looking at the legislation on certified institutions to see how we can make that legislation more child friendly.”
The tragic incident had sent shockwaves throughout the nation and many had called for a complete overhaul of the hostel. In December of last year, the Minister told the media that upgrades would be made to the deplorable living conditions. Three months later Minister Balderamos spoke on the progress of those upgrades.
Hon. Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Human Development and Indigenous People: “A lot of fixing up of the bathrooms for the children. A lot of refurbishing. We don’t want it to look as much like a prison as it does now so there’s a lot of physical work that is happening. The changing of the pump, the hot and cold water for the children finally, looking at the whole sewage system and the waste water system of the place. We have made significant improvements already but remember that it’s not just the physical aspects for children it is also their mental development and one of the things we want to do is to involve the parents more because the hostel must never be seen as a warehouse for children who are giving trouble. We must always try to integrate those children back into the family. As one of my staffers said the hostel should a last resort and for the shortest period of time so let’s look at our children and bring them back into the context of the family so that we can have better homes and better communities.”
Balderamos noted that changes may be made to the way the hostel is operated and managed in the near future.