x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Heartbroken father seeks answers

Family of a four-year-old left alone for five hours to die on her school minibus still trying to find out what happened.

Aiman Zeeshanuddin, four, died after she was left alone for several hours in an unattended school bus.
Aiman Zeeshanuddin, four, died after she was left alone for several hours in an unattended school bus.

ABU DHABI // Back in his cramped single-room apartment in Khalifa City A after a gruelling trip back home to Pakistan to bury his four-year-old daughter, Sayed Zeeshanuddin is still waiting for answers. On May 14, Mr Zeeshanuddin's daughter Aiman died from dehydration and heat stroke after being left alone for five hours on the private minibus used to transport her to school in Musaffah.

Three days after her death and once the autopsy was complete, Mr Zeeshanuddin headed back to Pakistan with his pregnant wife Sobia and surviving daughter, 11-month-old Areej, to lay Aiman to rest. "We had to go back to our family, they give us strength," Mr Zeeshanuddin said. "We want Aiman to be home in Pakistan because we will return there one day; we have to be near our daughter. When we arrived at the airport, all our family members were there, crying and wailing. It was a very difficult time.

"My wife and daughter are still in Pakistan, they will come back later, maybe in 10 days," he said. "I had to come back to work, but I cannot work. Every day is so hard." Despite regular calls and updates from the police officers investigating his case, Mr Zeeshanuddin said he still did not know what exactly was going on. "I get calls from the niaba [authorities] and the judiciary court that is near Carrefour on Airport Road, I think," he said.

"They told me the driver of the bus is still in jail, and they are still investigating. "They always ask me questions about what happened and I say the story again and again. I don't know who they will blame: the school or the driver? "It doesn't matter. Aiman is still dead." Aiman's case remains open, but there is a strong possibility that no one entity can be blamed for her death. Education officials have been investigating Aiman's school, the Indian Model School in Musaffah, to determine if anything the school did or did not do could have been a factor leading to the tragedy. The Abu Dhabi Education Zone (Adez) has sent a team to the school.

Mohammad al Dhaheri, director of Adez, is keen to follow up with Aiman's family. "The little girl's father has been away and we need him to answer some questions for us," said Mr al Dhaheri. "I am in touch with the team communicating with the school in Musaffah and as soon as we get some answers or a clear report on what happened, next week God willing, we will share it with all concerned parties."

Aiman's school did not contact Mr Zeeshanuddin or his wife when Aiman failed to appear in class on the morning of May 14, saying the school had no official instructions to do this. In an earlier interview, Ilyas Nasari, head teacher at the New Indian Model School, said the school had introduced a policy of calling parents when their children failed to arrive, but insisted it had not received an official circular to do so.

Mr al Dhaheri, however, said all schools, private and public, were under a directive to employ a "social administrator" whose main responsibility was to liaise with teachers after the first period, obtain a list of any absent students and call their parents to check on their safety. He had made it clear that as an educational zone, Adez is involved in the performance of all schools in the emirate.

Meanwhile, Mr Zeeshanuddin is waiting, trying to deal with a situation that he repeatedly describes as "difficult" and "more sad than people can imagine". "The principal of Aiman's school came to visit me," he said. "He came to give me her progress report at school; it is all high marks and A plus. She is very good student; she is the best." When Aiman's principal gave her bereaved father his condolences, and vowed to do anything he could to help at that difficult time, Mr Zeeshanuddin shrugged and replied to him, "But how can you really help me now? Can you bring my daughter back? That is the help I want."


hkhalaf@thenational.ae