OBSERVER's JULY 22ND BUS ENTERS URR
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
The Observer July 22nd Bus is now in the Upper River Region (URR), at the extreme west end of the country.
Its prominence as a hub for business activities is evident in the town of Basse, its administrative capital, the biggest town in The Gambia after Serekunda. But other activities such as agriculture are also predominant in the adjoining settlements that surround Basse Town. Very importantly, however, being a point of entry into The Gambia by people from as far as Guinea Conakry, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, etc, makes Basse a very vital settlement in the country. All indications are that The Government of The Gambia has not lost sight of this regional significance attached to the town. This is evident in the fact that this region continues to influence government's decisions greatly in terms of its development master plan for it and the rest of the country.
Thanks to a religiously guided policy of decentralisation, today, the people of URR can access almost everything you can find in Banjul, both in terms of personal needs and general needs. More amazing is that the Observer crew discovered development achievements of an unprecedented level in settlements whose people had, prior to the July 22nd Revolution, ruled out any thought of ever reaching this level. Everything here indicates that URR is on track as part of the overall efforts of transforming this country into a city state.
Entering into Basse Town especially so in the middle of the night, suggested a durable feeling of accomplishment for a region so far, far away from urban Gambia. The view of the town was spectacular in nature. The streetlights gave a mesmerising outlook.
One thing very obvious from the look of things here is that the Rural Electrification Project has set the pace for the current sprawling trend of Basse's transformation. As the regional headquarters of the URR, it is quite a fitting idea that crucial infrastructures are intact. This explains why Basse Health Center has been upgraded to a major health centre. The town also benefited from the construction of a mini stadium, a youth centre, among a host of other facilities vital to keeping life going.
Governor Omar Khan of the URR is happy to announce the stemming of armed robbery in his region, describing it as a menace that had troubled the region for years. The governor pointed out that the presence of the various security units in the URR, which include the military, police, immigration and customs are all indications of government's commitment towards the safety and security of the people of the region. The flourishing business environment in the whole of the Upper River Region also caught the URR governor's attention.
In the views of both Aji Mariama Jaw and Neneh Darbo, elected ward councillor and national women councillor for Basse respectively, the women folks of The Gambia have more reason to uphold the ideals of the Revolution. They cited the uplifting status of women thanks to the respect and motivation extended to them by the leadership of this country.
Ensa Kanuteh, a youth activist and native of Basse Santa-Su, is of the strong conviction that his native town was once a forgotten city, but, according to him, since the advent of Revolution, "Basse has now regained its glory." "We are more hopeful than ever before," Essa told the Observer crew.
A tour of the area gave an even more touching feeling, with life-changing projects scattered across the region. The people of Wuli Madinakoto in the Wuli West District boast of the luxury of access to clean and safe drinking water, thanks to a borehole established by the APRC government.
The health center at Yorobawol is undergoing a massive rehabilitation process, which, it is anticipated, will improve immensely the service delivery of the center. At the village of Kollibantang, government built an upper basic school which offers the chance to the once forgotten people to access basic education. That school was built in October 1996, just two years into the Revolution.
Kalli Bah, a resident of the village recounted the impact the school has had on the lives of the people in the area. He recalled that before the establishment of the school, their children used to trek some four kilometres to Touba Upper Basic School. "Because of the long distance, many children could not make it through. And unfortunately many of them dropped out of school. But today, students come from all over Yorrobawol, Sareh Tenenng and other villages to attend school here," he said.
Like other villages in provincial Gambia, Chamoi Bunda is at the thick of things in terms of development achievements. The village also benefited from a lower basic school, established between 2001/2002. It presently enrols 133 students, with two blocks of six classrooms and a staff quarter. According to Ousman Camara, head teacher at the school, the school serves four satellite villages namely - Drammani, Kossi, Jaha Madina and Saho Madina.
He noted that before the establishment of the school, the few children who were in school had to trek kilometres to the village of Sutukuba. "Even then, the enrolment was very poor but with the establishment of the school, the number has increased steadily and it has relieved us of the burden of trekking over 10 kilometres to attend school," Camara said. Other schools that came as a result of the emergence of the Revolution include Limbamboulu Bamba Lower Basic School, Moreh Kunda Lower Basic School and Wellinghara Yarreh Lower Basic School.
Wuli Baja Kunda
The people of this village are especially appreciative of their ability to produce food for their needs, and they dedicate this to the Revolution and President Jammeh.
Alhagie Amara Bajahar listed a number of projects the people of Wuli Baja Kunda have benefited from between 1996 and now, among them a rice project, a livestock facility, the NERICA rice project and, just recently, the construction of a borehole which provides them access to clean and safe drinking water. The NERICA rice project, according to Bajaha, has had a great impact on the lives of the community of Basse.
Saihou Bajaha, the youth leader in the village, said that between 1994 and now they have experienced an enormous change in their style of living, "in all aspects of our social needs, thanks to the APRC government under the leadership of President Jammeh." He cited communication as one of the major improvements in their lives. "Before, we had to walk long distances to a neighbouring village in Senegal called Nedebou, to make telephone calls. But today, everything is at our doorsteps," he said.
This village is in fact the remotest of settlements in that part of the country. Its people painstakingly recalled being forced to travel to Basse for whatever they desired. Their living standards have been enhanced thanks to a genuine show of a strong realisation of this by government. Government first built a basic cycle school in 2000, making it possible for the first time in the history of the whole area for the children to access education without having to go through such hardship. With five classrooms and a staff quarter, the school currently enrols 163 students. It serves settlement such as Boro, Baja Kunda, Moreh Kunda, Kanapeh, Passamance and Sakouly Kunda. Acording to Fafa M Touray, the vice principal of the school, the impact of the school on the lives of the people cannot be over-emphasised.
Regarding the staff quarters, he pointed out that it has helped teachers a great deal in terms of not only timeliness, but also comfort. "They are now free to do their work without any hindrance, in the most conducive of environments. Definitely, the benefit of the school cannot be highlighted so simply. In short, it has eased the difficulties of parents taking their children to schools as far as Fatoto and Nyakoi. Now they have education at their door steps," Vice Principal Touray said.
Minor Health Center
Apart from education, the people of the village also benefited from the construction of a minor health. It was established in 2004, and it deals with labour cases, admission, out patients, among others. According to Ousman Nyang, the assistant officer-in-charge of the center, a number of other villages also currently benefit from the center. They include Tabanding, Passamance Mandinka, Bani Bakar, Kambeleh, Sakounlu Kunda, Sari Modou, Helli Kunda, Darboe, Manjang, etc. Before the establishment of this center, Nyang revealed, the people were forced to trek over 14 kilometers in search of medical attention. "Some patients even died on their way, whilst on horse carts. Now they are taken care of here, and in the case of complications, we have an ambulance ready to take them," he said.
Sandu is a district that is located right next to Wuli in the URR. This area has also benefitted a lot from development projects embarked on under the Revolution.
Very many villages in this area, whose people had never dreamt of having their own schools, benefited from schools, among them Darsilami. According to Baba Chatty, principal of Darsilami Upper Basic School, the institution has proven quite beneficial for the communities around here. He recalled that previously, the students would trek over 7 kilometres to Nyakoi to attend school. But now this burden has been neutralised by a structure with a staff of 10, and 9 classrooms with stores and offices.
Perhaps the most striking spectacle for the Observer crew in the URR was our discovery in the village of Diabugu. Diabugu Senior Secondary School is arguably the most expensive and valued structure of its kind in that part of The Gambia. This village is in fact the largest settlement in the whole of the district of Sandu. This edifice of a structure, one of the largest schools in the country, cost D33 Million, and it is 250 meters square.
It has an enrolment of 313 students - 194 male and 119 female. It has three blocks of nine class rooms, fitted with laboratories - physics, chemistry and biology as well as workshops for wood, metal, technical drawing and arts and craft. There is also a standard football field and a basketball lawn. The school also has a computer laboratory, which has 31 computers, alongside a school canteen. There are standard staff quarters which enhance the work of the teachers in the school.
However, with all these, enrolment figures revealed a disheartening reality. A task force comprising the governor, chief and the school authorities has been set to work to improve the enrolment figures. According to Babou Joof, vice principal of the school, they have been doing all they can in mounting community sensitisation for parents to send their kids to school as the enrolment rate is very low despite the size of the school. He said the establishment of the school in the area has greatly eased the problem of mobility that the students used to face.
It has also given access to education to those who previously only had Nasir Ahmadiyya Senior Secondary School in Basse and Armitage Senior Secondary School in Janjangbureh as their only hopes of attaining higher education. Jaharr Juwara, councillor of Diabugu ward applauded the efforts of the government in establishing the school in the area. He claimed that the structures at the school can even be turned into university structures because all the facilities are there.
The Observer July 22 Bus crew had a night stop in Basse. The tour of the URR continues today.
This publication is directed by
Pa Malick Faye
Kemo A.M Cham
Lamin M. Dibba
Ebou (Taaru) Njie
Musa Sano & Ebrima Sanneh
Author: Daily Observer