Observer's July 22nd bus arrives in Western Region
Friday, July 10, 2009
Unlike the North Bank Region of The Gambia, where we saw work already done, in terms of the classic highway that runs from Essau to Laminkoto, the provision of clean and safe drinking water as well as the exceptionally wider coverage of the rural electrification project, and the many, many schools that have been erected in that part of the country, among others, the picture here in Southern Gambia depicts a nation under a rigorous reconstruction exercise.
The Soma-Mandinaba Road, on completion, will give a massive boost to the infrastructural status of this country. This road will no doubt usher in a turning point in this country's 15 years of revolutionary transformation. Apart from reconnecting people to their native homes, the road also has the potential to re-establish much needed lost business prospects along this stretch.
The pre-July 1994 underdeveloped status of the Western Region was especially pronounced here in Foni. There was hardly any serious learning institution, not to mention other basic life-supporting necessities like water, etc.
Kalagi is the first village in Foni, bordering the Western Region from the Lower River Region. Prior to the coming of the Revolution, the people here barely lived as life was unbearable. "Before Yahya Jammeh came, our people experienced unbearable hardships that cannot be expressed in words," the chief of Foni Jarrol District, Kutubo Sanyang, told the Observer crew.
Due to its strategic location, Kalagi serves as a connection point for the scores of remote villages within the Fonis here. Accessibility to these villages had been near impossible especially during the rainy season. The roads were so worn-out that the thought of traveling to one's village, if you were from this end, was itself an uphill task. Today, however, there are so many feeder roads linking major settlements here.
In the words of Alkalo Jul Sanyang, brother to the chief, today the community of Kalagi has witnessed more developments than it could imagine some decades ago. The village was among the first to have a junior secondary school, which came two years into the Revolution. "It was during President Jammeh's time that we got a telephone network, clean and safe drinking water, the provision of extension services to farmers - thereby boosting agricultural productivity - and milling machines, which have helped our women in their daily lives," stated Alkalo Jul.
Chief Kutubo Sanyang said that in the past, their women fetched water from the well, but that the quality of water was so deplorable that they had to ensure regular decantation before consumption. "But now, the situation is different. Living in the rural area no longer goes with a life of indignity. We equally have clean and safe drinking water at our doorsteps," the chief stated, pointing to the standpipes in the vicinity.
The people of Kalagi described the establishment of Kalagi Junior Secondary School in 1996 as a wonderful idea, considering the number of students who dropped out after reaching grade six previously. The reason had always been the unbearable cost involved in sending one's child to the urban areas to be able to pursue secondary education, or the difficulty in getting hold of a guardian for one's child somewhere in the Kombos. Some of the people who spoke to the Observer crew at the compound of the chief highlighted how the construction of the school has arrested the phenomenon of rural-urban drift. It has actually encouraged many families to send their children to school, thus boosting the current level of school enrolment of Gambians in this part of the country, an area that had suffered greatly from the unavailability of schools.
"What is amazing is the fact that even children under five in Kalagi all have access to early childhood education," Chief Sanyang said, thanking the Gambian head of state for putting his life on the line to rescue the people of The Gambia. "What this Revolution has brought us, the mouth cannot finish saying, and the eye cannot finish seeing. You will just have to say what you know about and keep quiet about the rest," remarked another native of the village, Banbanding Darboe.
Holding his bicycle with one hand, and flaunting his mobile phones with the other, Darboe said "I am currently using two mobile phones, which I could never have dreamt of before. This is all possible thanks to the enabling environment created by President Jammeh." An old man, Babanding, was apparently on his way from his farm.
"We are behind the president in whatever he says, because we have seen the benefit of whatever he asks us [Gambians] to do," he said.
On our way to Sintet from Kalagi, some members of the Observer crew had their first ride through that road; the experience was implausible. But for many of us, it was not just the mere ride; it was the sheer feeling of satisfaction of having such a development in the heart of rural Gambia. And for the people of Sintet, it is even more than just that. Thanks to the construction of this road, quite a lot has been changed in their lives. "Previously, the thought of coming home was a nightmare," said Landing Tamba, grandson of the Alkalo of Sintet.
Landing is based in Serekunda, but today he frequents his native village especially on weekends. He recalled when drivers would never want to talk about venturing on that road as a result of its deplorable nature, forcing villagers to trek long distances, or at best board donkey carts to reach their villages.
Perhaps the largest village in Foni Jarrol district, Sinteti is located in the southern part of Foni, and it is just one of the cluster of villages in this area that have benefited from the assortment of roads constructed by the APRC government.
Sinteti also has a health centre for the first time, providing easy access to health services to its people. The people also have access to portable water thanks to a borehole established by government as well as a threshing machine. This machine, according to the Alkalo, Sarisang Tamba, has been instrumental in making life acceptable for farmers in this part of the country. "Thanks to the threshing machine, our women no longer go through the hardship of manually pounding their farm produce, like coos, rice and all the cereals they cultivate," Alkalo Tamba said.
Sinteti health centre
Sinteti Health Centre, built in 2000, receives patients throughout this part of Foni, extending to as far as villages in Kiang, and, in the words of Malang Kujabie, community health nurse in charge of the center, even in Cassamance in Senegal. The health facility has a water supply system, and it accommodates up to ten beds for patience as well as a delivery ward.
Sinteti Basic Cycle School
Although Sinteti Basic Cycle School had been in existence since before the Revolution, it has received major boosts over the years, transforming it into a modern basic cycle school by the APRC government. It is one of the oldest schools in the district.
The authorities here still maintain the oldest building in the school, a classroom block occupied by people such as the current chief of defense staff of The Gambia Armed Forces - Major General Lang Tombo Tamba, Alkali James Gaye, GRTS' Kebba Dibba and the current managing director of the AMRC, Abdoulie Tamba.
Mayork-Sangajor feeder road
Another feeder road, running through Mayork, links the village to settlements such as Sangajor and Bantanjang. The construction of this road, according to the villagers here, put an end to years of seemingly unending suffering as a result of bad roads. "This road came as dream to us," said Landing Kujabi, Alkalo of Mayork. This government, he added, came to liberate Gambians.
Like Kalagi, Mayork, in the Foni Bondali District, also boasts a substantial number of development projects, all of which came during the July 22 Revolution. Mayork is also the lucky host of the first government built senior secondary schools in the whole of Foni.
Established in 2006, this school enrolls students from as far as Jarra Soma in the Lower River Region. "Before, we used to suffer a lot in terms of sending our children to other parts of the country in pursuit of secondary education," Alakalo Landing Badjie said.
He recalled how getting hold of guardians for their children in the urban area had been an uphill task for many parents, resulting in many youths dropping out from school. Mayork also has portable water supply for the first time in the history of the village. It has a health care facility, which is said to have a coverage area of up to ten satellite villages in the districts. This clinic, which only provides out patient services to the people, has clearly improved on their health status.
Kanilai, the home village of the Gambian leader, is at the heart of ongoing development in the country. Its people, according to Alkalo Ebou Jammeh, had been facing an inexplicable suffering when President Yahya Jammeh emerged at the helm of affairs of the country. "Sometimes when we think about it, we find it impossible to imagine how it would have become for us at these difficult moments if Jammeh had not come," Alkalo Jammeh remarked.
About eight kilometers off the main road from Kangfenda, on the Trans-Gambia Highway, Kanilai, up until July 1994, hardly had anything to show. The only primary school which provides access to education for the children, up to grade 4, now Saint Anthony's Basic Cycle School, was built in 1947, long before independence, by missionaries. It was upgraded into a basic cycle by the APRC government. This was the school President Jammeh attended, from grade 1-4, before moving to St Edward's Primary School in Bwiam, approximately nine kilometers away from Kanilai, where he completed his primary school education.
Today, Saint Anthony's Basic Cycle is up to standard both infrastructure wise and, as a result, in terms of academic excellence, thanks to The Gambia Government's education policy. The school has an enrollment figure of about six hundred students, with twenty-eight teachers. Saint Anthony Basic Cycle School enrolls students from at least twelve satellite villages in the area. Its students come from as far as villages in neighboring Senegal. "This is because of accessibility and affordability," said Anthony Jarju, a senior master at the school. According to the villagers, the eight-kilometer feeder road that connects Kanilai to the main highway was in such a dilapidated condition that it made the village largely inaccessible, and consequently made life 'unbearable'. "We, the people of this community, suffered a lot before the coming of this government, due to a lack of attention from the then authorities," the Kanilai Alkalo, Ebou Jammeh, said.
The old man narrated the solemn tale of the suffering his people went through as a result of the absence of medical facilities in the whole of the area. His own wife, he said, gave birth in his presence on a donkey cart, on the way to the hospital. "That was the situation for the rest of the people of Foni at the time," he noted. The people, he added, used to hire horse or donkey carts as means of transportation to the nearest health facility when emergencies arose. And the nearest health facilities were tens of kilometers away, with the roads barely usable. It was clearly a matter of life and death.
But according to Alkalo Jammeh, those bitter memories have been wiped clean by the unprecedented developments brought about by this government under President Jammeh. Today, the people of Kanilai enjoy all the basic social amenities - electricity, pipe borne water, telecommunication facilities, a health care facility, as well as a fire and ambulance service station.
All these infrastructural developments have come along with a boom in business activities in a village which just a decade back had nothing to show. All these vital social amenities, according to the people who spoke to us in Kanilai, have impacted positively on them by way of improving on their socio-economic lives.
Agriculture, which is the back bone of The Gambia's economy, has largely been mechanized in Kanilai, thanks to the great attention given to this sector by President Jammeh, who is himself an active farmer. According to the villagers, the president serves as a tangible encouragement for them, and they said he has been doing so through his numerous interventions in the form of mechanized farm inputs.
There are many other developments project ongoing in Kanilai. They include the proposed Maths and Science Academy, a new structure for the health center, and others, the completion of which will catapult Kanilai into a modern settlement.
One of the challenges this government tasked itself with has been decentralization of basic necessities in the key areas of health, education, agriculture, etc. The Gambia's health policy, fortunately, greatly favours bringing health services to the doorsteps of every Gambian, and this is a situation the Observer July 22nd Bus crew has seen in reality throughout the places we have visited so far. And in every region, there is a major facility for referral. In the Western Region, Bwiam is the host of one of the most acclaimed health facilities in the sub region.
This multimillion dollar modern hospital, named after Sulayman Junkung Jammeh, father of the Gambian leader, is among the many referral hospitals built by the Jammeh administration across the country. It provides the much needed health care services not only to the people of the host village and its satellite settlements, but also the country and the sub-region at large. Like other present day modern hospitals, the Sualyman Junkung Jammeh General Hospital, which officially started operations in 2003, is equipped with facilities one can find in modern hospitals around the world.
It has four main functional departments, namely, department of surgery for both major and minor surgeries, a pediatric department for children, medical department for adult male and female, and obstetric and gynecology departments. The hospital also operates a labour and maternity ward, and does caesarian surgery.
Apart from these major departments, this hospital also has minor ones such as ophthalmic department. It also offers a number of laboratory services, having a theatre, a pharmacy, which is reported to be one of the best one can find in the public health sector. According to the chief executive officer of this hospital, Kebba S Badgie, their services are quite numerous. "We receive patients from as far as Brikama Ba in the Central River Region, Jarra Soma, Banjul, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Mali and so on," stated CEO Badgie.
The reasons for this wider coverage in the country and beyond, according to him, is simply because of the fact that the hospital, which is one of the best in the sub-region, provides accessible, affordable and available services. "This is the only hospital that goes out to see patients in its nine satellite stations every month. Every month we see between 20,000 and 25,000 patients in stations within the Western Region," CEO Badgie said, revealing further that they see between 4,000 - 5,000 patients at the hospital on a monthly basis. Due to its standard medical services, according to CEO Badgie, the Medical Research Council in Keneba, WEC Mission in Sibanor, Jarra Soma Health Centre, and health facilities in Benjiouna in Cassamance, all refer patients to his Hospital.
Badgie went on, "We have now been able to cover 80 percent to 95 percent of the hospital's electricity and water problems, which is made possible through our initiative of raising 300,000 dollars for the solar energy tracking system. This type of project is the first of its kind in Africa."
The authorities at this hospital have also has instituted a very important project called the 'Goat milk project.' This, as revealed by its CEO, provides for nourishment of children in the hospital. Going by its services and the amount of patients it treats monthly, it is easy to gain an idea as to how the people in this part of the country might have suffered prior to the 22nd July Revolution. It also gives an idea as to the responsiveness of this government towards the wellbeing of its people.
President Jammeh recently inaugurated a landmark development project in the form of a community market complex, costing ten million dalasi. This market is situated at the heart of the village. The president is said to be the sole benefactor of this market, which is expected to accommodate at least three hundred women petty traders. Accordingly, the market, which has an area of 140 by 70 meters, on completion, will also accommodate sixty canteens, a restaurant and a mosque. While the market will serve as a source of encouragement for the youths to stay and venture into self-reliant initiatives, it is quite obvious that it will also go a long way in arresting the menace of rural-urban drift.
The Observer July 22nd Bus will have a night stop at its base. The tour continues on Monday.
This publication is directed by
Pa Malick Faye
Kemo A.M Cham,
Hatab Fadera, Amadou Jallow & Musa Ndowe
Author: Daily Observer