On Tuesday, January, 6, Ghana recorded one of its worse school disasters.
Six children, aged between 3 and 6, were killed in cold blood and several others injured. Many are still living with the trauma.
I was one of the first reporters to visit the town. Four months on, I went back to see what has changed
Scared of the school block
It’s Thursday, June 15, barely four months since the disaster. I'm inside the Breman Methodist School where the accident happened. It’s on the outskirts of this town of about 5,000 people.
In the days that followed the disaster, the district assembly started a three unit classroom block to house the pupils. Work on that structure has come to a standstill. The assembly says it has run out of cash as its common fund disbursement- its main source of infrastructure funds- has been in arrears for a year.
The children, hundreds of them, have now been moved into a rundown mud structure. It is an old building, I’m told it was put up by the community in the 1970s- abandoned about two years ago over safety concerns.
It looks like a building that would cave in tomorrow. Showing gaping cracks and leaking roofs.
“When I sit in the classroom, I remember the wall falling on the children and I fear it will happen again”, says Dora Antwi, a JHS 2 pupil.
“Many children are now staying out of school. They are scared of the building. And those of us here, this building haunts us too”, says Fred Asare, also a JHS 2 pupil.
Like many schools in Ghana, the Breman Jamra School is already under-resourced- starved of basic teaching and learning materials. Teachers here had been complaining about the condition of the old structure that collapsed. No one listened. Now, they are complaining about the makeshift structure too.
“The children knew the condition of the old building that killed the children and they can see that what they are studying under is even worse and can kill them too. They always come and complain to me that 'Sir, as we sit here, we are just waiting for any sound of collapse so we can run away we hardly mind the teachers'”, says Jacob Amissah, the Headmaster.
School structures that are virtually death-traps are found not only in the Jamra community alone- they are spread across Ghana.
In the wake of the disaster, people poured into this town from far and near to commiserate with the families of the victims. Leading government’s delegation was Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, the Education Minister.
“Government will work to ensure that all ongoing school projects are completed to give pupils conducive and decent places of learning” he was reported to have said.
He pledged government’s support to immediately ensure the school had a new structure to house the pupils.
Four months on, nobody paid the price for the disaster that claimed the lives of the innocent pupils. No inquiry. No one held to account for negligence resulting in the disaster. Like many such disasters in the past, the entire nation moved on.
A town in pain
In the Jamra village itself, life appears normal. But the memories of the worst disaster to have happened in this small farming town weighs heavily on the minds of many. Red cloth- a sign of mourning in any typical Akan setting like this small village- still hang on some buildings.
“All is not well. When the Minister came here, he only paid for medical care of the ones who had been injured and promised to do more but we haven’t heard anything. I get a lot of complaints; children, parents, everybody,” said Frank Addei, the assemblyman.
As the sun sets, farmers dry the cocoa beans and at the community borehole, women take turns to fetch their water as they catch up with the latest gossip in town.
Gladys Ampofo, aged 3, described by her mother as a cry baby who couldn’t wait to start school, was the youngest of the children crushed to death by the school building.
She had only been in school for two weeks before the accident happened. She was the last born in her family.
Her mum, Akua Ampofo says life has never been the same since her daughter’s death.
Like her, many of the parents in Jamra are angry. Angry that not even the death of six innocent children could change the situation of the structure in which the rest of the children study and that the same disaster may happen again.
Some are also livid that government, after the initial days of commiseration, left them to their fate.
Esi Appiah had two children in the classroom who survived with serious head and spinal injuries.
“I have spent more than 1,500 Cedis in hospital bills. The government said they were going to help me. They only gave me 500. I couldn’t raise the rest so I brought them home to see a herbalist”, she said. The eldest of the two children occasionally bleeds through the nose as a result of the head injuries and is still home with not medical care.
The killing of the six children in January shocked the nation but that disaster, it seems, did very little to change the situation. It leaves one wondering; what else will?
The District Chief Executive, Isaac Odoom, is head of government machinery in the Asikuma Odoben Brakwa District where Jamra is located.
He’s been in office for barely two months. I phoned him five times. Sent him text messages asking for an interview so I could ask him when a new structure would be built in the school. He did not answer any. So I left.