New York ; May 31, 2023 (tarkeen e watan) : On Sunday, Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar (D-AD 38) brought the community together at Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto Park for a vigil mourning 19 children who died in a dormitory fire in Guyana. The fire, which was intentionally set, occurred last week at the Mahdia Secondary School girls dormitory in Mahdia, Guyana. The tragedy shook the nation, whose President declared three days of national mourning. It devastated the entire Guyanese American community, some of whom knew children who died.

The vigil was held in Richmond Hill, home to the Guyanese American enclave known as Little Guyana that Assemblywoman Rajkumar represents. Memorializing the children, she conveyed the profound grief that had come over the community. The Assemblywoman pledged to help the families of the children who died as well as 29 who were injured, one of whom was medevacked to Staten Island University Hospital.

The Foreign Secretary of Guyana Robert Persaud made a special appearance to join Assemblywoman Rajkumar in reading aloud the names of the 19 children who perished. The Consul General of Guyana, Ambassador Michael Brotherson, also attended for the entirety of the vigil.

Assemblywoman Rajkumar opened the vigil with the following words, “The fire that ripped through the dormitory in Guyana ripped through all of our hearts. It ripped through the hearts of the entire Guyanese diaspora, and it ripped through the hearts of Little Guyana. For us in Little Guyana, losing these children was like losing members of our own family. We also gather today to commit to action. We will do what we can to aid the families of the children that have been hurt and to aid the children that are recovering from their wounds.”

Guyanese American clergy of different faiths offered prayers at the vigil. Pandit Lakhram Maharaj of Shri Tulsi Mandir—where Assemblywoman Rajkumar gathered the community last year following the destruction of its Mahatma Gandhi statue—as well as Imam Abdul Azeem Khan of Masjid Omar Ben Abdel-Aziz and Apostle Lionel Etwaru of Global Christian Ministries all prayed for the children and their families.

Also speaking were Consul General Amb. Brotherson, Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, Community Board 9 Chair Sherry Algredo, the Mayor’s Community Affairs Office South Asian Community Liaison Sookranie Dhanpat, United American Hindu Leadership Council treasurer Naidoo Veerpan, NYPD Desi Society President Ravi Narayan, and Guyanese American Law Enforcement Association President Fayette Jafferali. They all expressed their grief and thanked Assemblywoman Rajkumar for organizing the event.

The event co-sponsors were the Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club, the NYPD Desi Society, the United American Hindu Leadership Council, the Guyanese American Law Enforcement Association, and Community Board 9.

Guyanese Consul General Amb. Michael Brotherson said, “I would like to thank immensely on behalf of the government and people of Guyana Assemblywoman Rajkumar here, who I know all of you will agree is a true friend of Guyana’s. She has stood with us at our time of tragedy. Here she is amongst us, sharing our grief and our pain. I want to thank the religious leaders for bringing faith in our midst of the time of trial. I want to thank the community leaders. I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the action you’ve taken ever since you learned of that tragic night. It is during times of grief that the best in us comes out. I ask you to keep in your thoughts and prayers these 19 beautiful people who have perished. To keep them in our memories and continue to show how compassionate we are as a people.”

Councilwoman Lynn Schulman said, “I want to thank the Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar for putting this together, and she and I are going to collaborate. I want to be helpful to the families. We’re all together and I’m one with you today, and I just want to put my heart out to you and let you know that whatever my office can do, I can do, and the Assemblywoman and I will be working collaboratively.”

Sookranie Dhanpat, herself Guyanese American, said, “I want to say thank you to our Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar. As a mom myself, every day that goes by my heart is hurt and saddened. I can’t imagine what those families are going through. I can’t imagine the healing that has to take place with the surviving students and the communities. Our nation is hit so hard with this. Moving forward to honor the 19 angels that we lost. It’s a national tragedy. Their deaths should not be in vain. Our destiny is to uplift our community. To make healing possible.”

Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club President and Little Guyana community leader Romeo Hitlall said, “Myself and many members of the Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club are from Guyana. Whenever a tragedy occurs there, we respond by doing whatever we can to help. I will do anything to bring solace to the childrens’ families, the people of Guyana, and the entire Guyanese diaspora. If they need help, I will work with Assemblywoman Rajkumar to bring them whatever they need. It was my privilege to work with her on this moving vigil where we stood with all the people in mourning.”

United American Hindu Leadership Council treasurer Naidoo Veerpan, himself Guyanese American, said, “I want to thank Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar for how quickly she got into action to help bring relief to the people of Guyana and Guyanese Americans. I cannot imagine the pain of the families who lost children in the Mahdia fire. It is now time for all of us to join forces to help each other pull through the grief of this period.”

Community Board 9 Chair Sherry Algredo said, “This tragedy was deeply personal to the Community Board 9 District. Some of my neighbors knew children we lost in the fire. Some are graduates themselves of the Mahdia Secondary School. I extend my thanks to Assemblywoman Rajkumar for gathering the whole community together in this time of grief. I am a mother of two and I cannot begin to imagine what these parents are going through losing their children. I want all the families in Guyana and Little Guyana to know that we are here mourning with them and will always be at their side.”

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