OBSERVER's JULY 22nd bus arrives in the Baddibous
Thursday, July 02, 2009
From Kerewan, the Observer July 22nd Bus headed straight for Suwareh Kunda in Lower Badibou.
This village is one of the many settlements in the area called Badibou which have experienced developments of the magnitude of the difference between light and darkness. And its people are more optimistic about the near feature."Within three months we will feel like Buckingham Palace,'' remarked Seedy Sawaneh, a native of the village, on seeing the Observer July 22nd Bus crew. Just like Kerewan, Suwareh Kunda enjoys electricity and water supply, a clearly incredible level of achievement for the inhabitants of a previously deprived area.
"You may not accept it," added an elderly Kalilu Drammeh, "but we are equal with those of you living there in the Kombos." And Kalilu's justification, "From the confines of my room, I can speak to my child all the way in Europe, thanks to the development our village has undergone under this government of President Yahya Jammeh."
The streetlights in Suwareh Kunda are more than a source of light. As it turned out, they also serve the purpose of security, as the people explained. For instance, a previously high rate of snake bites resulting from excruciating darkness have become rare occurrences thanks to the streetlights, which brighten the streets at night, to the delight and comfort of every single villager.
Alhaji Saoba was the first person to acquire a Cash Power electricity meter in the village of Saaba, also in Badibou. He recounted the benefits he derives from the coming of electricity to his village - from lighting to preservation of food. This, he said, has changed his life and those of his family enormously.
Buramanding Bayor enjoys drinking cold water amid the high temperature in the region. And also now he can charge his mobile phone in the comfort of his own room. In Saaba, the villagers recalled once putting money together to acquire a generator, but they could not maintain it. And now the Rural Electrification Project has ''freed us from the burden", according to Bayor. One very peculiar thing about this village is that the presence of the streetlights has drastically cut down the crime rate as it sends away thieves and other criminal minded people. Its people today remain one of the most grateful of President Jammeh's supporters.
Momodou Jonk is among the thriving population of youths who are wasting no time in taking advantage of the Rural Electrification Project. He runs a metal workshop in the village of Njaba Kunda, something unthinkable in that part of the country some 15 years back. Jonk has been in the trade in Njaba Kunda for the past nine years. He said that previously people of that area went to far-off places in search of the services he now provides. "But now, they have it all at their door steps," he said explaining that these range from the making of compound gates, doors, to the manufacturing and repairing of agricultural implements as well as a vast array of services.
Describing the Rural Electrification Project as a major development undertaking that every Gambian should be proud of, Jonk marveled at the fact that there are so many jobs and contracts awaiting him. He used the opportunity to call on his colleagues, the youths, to venture into such skilful jobs. In terms of education, Njaba Kunda happens to be among the villages that benefited from the spree of construction of schools in the region. Its upper basic school was established in the early days of the Revolution, in 1995 to be precise. This has today been upgraded to a senior secondary. All in all it now has an enrolment of 482 students - 210 in the Upper Basic School and 272 students in the Senior Secondary School. There are 9 classrooms, science laboratories and a computer room. There are also living quarters for teachers with ten rooms, electricity and water supply, all of which enable teachers to teach under in conducive environment. According to Sheriff K Kanjie, the principal of the school, the establishment of the upper basic school in the area has had great impacts on the lives of the people. "Now everyone has access to education at his or her doorstep," he noted.
The Free Education for Girls policy has revolutionized access to education for many people especially in rural Gambia; and there is no place where this has been as pronounced as in Njaba Kunda, as the school's bursar, Fatou Sanyang, put it. As a result of it, she said, the enrolment level of girls has increased tremendously in the area. ''And the parents are grateful to the government for this wonderful initiative,'' she stated.
Electricity and education
There is this rewarding link between the availability of electricity and the learning process. We saw this at play in Njaba Kunda. According to Principal Kanjie, the availability of electricity has helped smoothen the commencement of computer classes. "Due to the electricity supply now, we are also set to start practical sessions on technical subjects like wood work, metal work, and others," he said.
Salikenni is the biggest village in Central Badibou. However, its people have had to go through years of neglect, as the pre-July 1994 images of the village show. The situation then in Salikenni reflected the situation in the rest of the region - over three decades of inexplicable denial of developmental project. And the result was total alienation of the people.
The emergence of the AFPRC/APRC, if anything, turned out to be a blessing for the inhabitants of Salikenni. Today, its people feel emancipated from some sort of internment, and they will ever remain grateful to the man they see as a 'saviour', President Yahya Jammeh, for the development they have so far enjoyed. "The most important thing is livelihood, and that is what this government has assured us," said Sefo Momodou Chendeh Dibba of Salikenni, a formidable opinion leader in Badibou.
And he added, "Everybody knows what has transpired in this country since President Jammeh assumed office - from transportation to communication. For over four decades we have been in politics, but we have seen the differences in between." "Electricity has enhanced our feeding situation immensely," pointed out Modou Bintou Dibba, another elderly figure in Salikenni. He said that the availability of electricity has changed the way they do business in terms of preservation of perishable goods, and also the fact that the women can engage in petty businesses like ice block selling, which kind of supplement the livelihoods of their families.
With regards to education, the people of Salikenni have not been left behind either. The education of the girl child is especially enhanced now more than ever before. Initially, the thought had been as to where to take their female children without the danger of getting them pregnant, among other issues. "But now, it is a different thing," said Dibba. "They school here up to grade 9. The danger of losing the attention of your children is no more."
Making reference to the Kerewan Bridge, Dibba, like the rest of the villagers of Salikenni who spoke to the Daily Observer, expressed delight at the fact that they can now see the dead bodies of their loved ones.
In the days of the unreliable ferry, they recalled, Badibonkas were constantly in a hurry for fear of missing it, and if your loved one died - say your father, you were at the mercy of mere chance to see the dead body before burial, because if you could not catch up with the ferry, the body was bound to be laid to rest in your absence.
This is something of fundamental importance in Gambian as well as Muslim tradition, and it partly explains the importance the people attach to it, and how grateful they are to President Jammeh, as the man who has ensured their putting all these behind them. Alhaji Yoro Bah lives in a smaller village called Naolerr, in the outskirts of Salikenni. For him border security constitutes a key aspect of national development. And this, he stressed, has been a priority for the APRC government under President Yahya Jammeh, pointing to the deployment of security personnel in strategic places across the region.
The construction of boreholes, Yoro Bah pointed out, has also drastically cut down on health complaints in his village. He recalled what used to be a fundamental problem for the people of villages like Naolerr, with Farafenni as the nearest in terms of availability of health facilities having been made more remote by the deplorable condition of the road then.
According to Yoro, drivers dreaded that route so much so that they never wanted to venture on it, not even when their own wives where in labour. "All this is now history," the old man said with delight. He went on to say that a reinforced accessibility and affordability of educational opportunities have rescued him and his children who otherwise would have been with their herds by now, and that for this, he and his family remain indebted to President Jammeh.
Yoro believes he and his sons would have been with their herds by now if President Jammeh had not provided them with educational opportunities. Many smaller settlements have benefited from similar developments which have changed the lives of the people.
In the village of Challa, for instance, there are superb teachers' quarters, built as part of government's drive to provide incentives for the retention of teachers in far-off places, ensuring educational opportunities for previously deprived communities within such areas. And a few kilometres away is a village called Sarakunda, which is in fact off the road.
Sarakunda has a minor health center. Inaugurated in 2006, the center is equipped with machines and a clearly, well motivated staff that serve the many communities within an area whose people had to trek kilometres in search of medical facilities before the coming of the APRC government. It has six admission beds, and a brand new ambulance, among others. According to Lamin S Jammeh, the nurse in charge, apart from admission of patients, they provide several services in the health center.
At Sinchu Njabo, there are beautifully built staff quarters for the basic cycle school. Sharing their views to the Daily Observer about the impact of these quarters, some of the teachers pointed at comfort as well as motivation in terms of unity that being together and closer has brought them. This, in turn, has enhanced teaching in terms of preparation or being able to prepare lesson plans.
According to Baboucarr Ndong, a teacher in the school, the structures for the teachers are a great motivation. "Had it been that there where no quarters for teachers, we would find it very difficult to cope with the situation, especially in terms of conformability,'' Ndong said. "Before, we were staying in the neighboring villages, commuting to school every day, which was very difficult. But now, since the intervention of government with the establishment of quarters for the teachers, we are no longer suffering."
Ndong expressed delight with the present government and suggested that to keep teachers in the field, such structures should be maintained. According to his colleague, Lala B Sabally, a female teacher, the structure alone is a great motivation for the teachers. She said that it has made them to stay together as one family. According to her, the difficulties "we were facing have greatly been reduced since the establishment of these quarters. During weekends, we stay in the quarters comfortably and prepare our lessons." Many other settlements like pre-July 1994 Salikenni existed in the NBR, and like the people of Salikenni, those of the other villages have had their lives transformed immensely from uncertainty to total optimism.
For a town as important as Farafenni, being the largest in the entire NBR and the second biggest in the entire country, it was a shame that its people had to depend quite a lot on neighbouring countries for basic services like electricity, not to mention the deplorable nature of the road then. This was a situation the AFPRC/APRC government under Yahya Jammeh was quick to realise, and from the beginning, it set itself the task of making the people of Farafenni feel part of The Gambia, to which they actually belong.
Today, the town boasts of one of the most beautiful, sophisticated, standard and equipped hospitals in the region. The AFPRC General Hospital, the second largest in the country after the RVTH, was built as a result of a health sector reform program guided by the statement of the health policy from 1994 to 2002. The sole aim was to improve access and quality of health care, especially for the rural people who found it hard to access the limited services provided by the country's then insufficient health services. The hospital is a two hundred and fifty beds ultra modern tertiary hospital which serves not only the Gambian population, but neighbouring countries such as Senegal, Guinea, Mali etc. as well. The hospital, which commenced operationd in January 1999, has 18 key units, providing some of the most important and critical medical services, hence its popularity beyond the frontiers of the country.
The AFPRC General Hospital serves as a referral facility for the many health centres and clinics dotted around the entire North Bank Region and beyond. For instance, statistical records show a yearly average outpatients turnout of over 32,000 people. Going by the record of cases reported at the hospital, the establishment of the facility is long overdue. A now reliable electricity and pipe-borne water supply system add life to the uplifting status of a town that was said to be going gradually down the drain before being rescued by the new dispensation.
Thanks to the Rural Electrification Project Phase I, the brainchild of the Gambian leader, President Yahya Jammeh, the town now has a new and reliable power supply system, supplying electricity to about seven other settlements in the Lower River Region, in addition to the general services it provides to the rest of the NBR. Today, life in Farafenni is no different from life in Banjul. Today, many businesses that had collapsed as a result of unavailability of electricity are proliferating in the town. These include welding and other forms of metal works, ice selling for the many petty traders, etc.
''We are very much grateful to President Jammeh for taking us out of what had been a persistent dilemma of an almost nonexistent electricity supply," stated Alhagie Ceesay, a canteen owner at the fish market. In the account of Ceesay, previously they got ice blocks from nearby border villages in Senegal, which cost them a lot in terms of time and effortand money. ''But today, we have enough for ourselves,'' he said.This fish market was built by the Gambian leader shortly after assuming the mantle of leadership of the county, in the early days of the Revolution. And today, it forms a key part of the lives of thousands of people in the area.
Mamadi Janka, who owns a welding station in Faraenni, is a living testimony of how electricity has greatly helped transform the nature of business in places like Farafenni. According to him, the coming of the Rural Electrification Project has rescued them from the hitherto erratic nature of the electricity supply. "Because of the confidence in the reliability of electricity supply,'' Janka said, ''we get so many major contracts. But before, we were not able to get such because there was no electricity and we were depending on our colleagues across the border. All we could do on securing contracts; was to in turn sub-contract them to others on the other side of the border.''
But today, according to Janka, the situation is the reverse. "Our foreign colleagues come to us now for certain jobs. It is different now," he revealed. In essence Farafenni serves as the capital of the North Bank Region, providing every need of the people throughout the region. Every sector of the society has a reason to celebrate, and all the people who spoke to the Daily Observer endeavoured to relay this message straight and clearly.
The youths have not been left behind. Farafenni houses one of the mini stadiums built by government as part of its effort to decentralise social amenities in the country. Today, the town is fit enough to host any kind of youth programme in the country. Today, the Observer July 22nd Bus crew will spend the night in Farafenni. Tomorrow, the bus proceeds to CRR.
This publication is directed by :
Pa Malick Faye
Kemo A.M Cham
Lamin M. Dibba
Alhagie Babou Jallow
Ebou (taaru) Njie
Author: Daily Observer