Pupils to get counselling as Abu Dhabi school mourns 'loved' Filipino teachers

Principals pay tribute to staff members killed in Philippines ferry disaster

The teachers on their holiday, before disaster struck. Andrew Valenzuela is on the left, next to Eden Perales. Jaquelyn Alferez is third from the right. The three died in the tragedy.
Powered by automated translation

A UAE school community is struggling to come to terms with the loss of three “joyful and warmhearted” teachers who drowned after their ferry capsized in the Philippines.

Senior teachers at Al Ittihad National Private School in Al Ain told The National that pupils would be offered counselling to help them come to terms with the deaths, while discussions about a memorial to commemorate the popular staff members are under way.

Andrew Valenzuela, Eden Perales and Jaquelyn Alferez were among eight current or former Filipino staff members at the school who met up for a summer holiday in Boracay, an island popular with tourists.

They died when their ferry capsized in bad weather on Saturday, during a crossing between Guimaras and Iloilo.

“Everyone is extremely upset by the accident and everyone is going through a hard time comprehending it,” said Manal Al Shannag, primary principal at the school. “We are very saddened to lose them. They were always positive, they always gave everything unconditionally. They were very joyful and warm-hearted.

“This morning, I was just looking at the joyful activities and events that we used to do all together as a group; they left so many good memories behind.”

Ms Al Shannag said Valenzuela was “loved” by his pupils. Perales was affectionate, popular with parents and “used to treat the students as if they were her own children,” she said. Pupils had also “really missed” Alferez when she left Al Ittihad for a new job.

Plans are also being put in place to support the surviving staff members, once they return to the UAE. Valenzuela, 39, and Perales, 37, worked at the school with primary-age children.

That the group were keen to go on holiday together during their break showed how close the teachers at the school were, survivors of the tragedy and other staff at Al Ittihad said.

School counsellors will be available for pupils once the new school year starts on September 1 and will discuss the tragedy sensitively, said Najat Al Dhaheri, the school principal. She pledged that pupils would have “all the emotional support that they need”.

She said all of the teachers were “extremely close” with their pupils. Valenzuela treated them “like he was their big brother,” Ms Al Dhaheri said, while she recalled Perales making a special effort to help a special needs pupil, leading to drastic improvements in their behaviour and performance.

“Teachers, parents, students and members of the administration, everyone is deeply affected and upset,” she said. “I can’t imagine how the students feel now that they aren’t with them.

“We are planning for [a memorial] even before the year starts. We are just waiting for everyone to return from their holidays so we can get everything into place.

“We called their families and offered our deepest condolences. We will continue to support them in every way, mentally, emotionally and financially.”

In total, at least 28 people died when three boats capsized on Saturday, including eight teachers in total, although some Filipino authorities have put the death toll at 31.

The UK Government has advised its citizens to avoid taking sea travel in the Philippines in the wake of the disaster. “There are frequent accidents involving ferries and other forms of sea transport, resulting in loss of life,” updated guidance issued by the UK Foreign Office said.

Questions have been asked about why the ferry with the UAE-based teachers on board was allowed to depart just hours after two other boats capsized.

Mark Angelo Subaldo, one of the Al Ittihad teachers who survived the disaster, has said the coastguard declared the route safe just minutes before the ferry was blown over, leading to the death of three of his colleagues.