Observer's July 22nd bus in LRR
Thursday, July 09, 2009
The Lower River Region (LRR), situated in the southern part of the country, was once considered by many as the most underdeveloped in terms of infrastructure in almost every respect.
Of course the deplorable nature of the road along this way had been part of a nationwide predicament, and the situation had kind of exasperated the people around this end. The result had been rural-urban drift with devastatingly serious consequences for the whole region.
The region was also very much wanting in basic amenities such as electricity and pipe-borne water supply. Just a select few settlements had access to these facilities. In fact, the inconsistent nature of electricity supply in places that had it, such as Jarra Soma, Pakalinding and Karantaba, was as bad as it unavailability.
Unlike other regions, LRR hardly had any single town it could point at as a symbol of its advancement. The little that was in existence in the form of Soma and Pakalinding were gradually sinking, as it were. But these 15 years of reconstruction have brought some relief to the people of LRR in general. And expectations are that the situation is up for more improvement.
Pakaliba is at the entry point into LRR, and it is one of the biggest settlements in this part of country. It represents the dark memories of a neglected Gambia, when a people could not even be provided with the most basic of necessities. The people of Pakaliba have retained painful memories of the days when the whole village fared on only one hand pump for instance, which served as their only source of access to drinkable water. "It was not only degrading, but the feeling of not being able to access water made us feel like outcasts in Gambian society," said Lamin K Sanneh, a native of the village.
According to Lamin, the July 22nd Revolution is a salvation of some sort for not only the people of Pakaliba, but also those of Jarra, the region and the entire country. "If this man [President Jammeh] had come long since, we could have been very far from where we are today. But it is God who knows why he does things His way," posited Lamin. Today, thanks to the Pakaliba Water Project, the people of this village enjoy access to safe and clean drinking water, and, in the words of Lamin Sanneh, they will for ever remain grateful to the president, the APRC government and the Revolution for the hitherto unimaginable development initiatives.
This water project, according to Lamin Dinding Ceesay, a resident of the village, put an end to the undignified practice of scrambling for water by the people. The village now has 13 public taps, located in strategic places. Willingara Ba, another village nearby, enjoys an equal status of development its people had hardly dreamt of before the coming of the July 22nd Revolution. Momodou Jallow, a resident of this village, informed the Observer crew that their water project provided them with 16 taps. He described the intervention of the government as timely, adding that before the establishment of the project, there were only two local hand pumps, leaving the people "desperately in need of a rescue from such an unbearable situation."
Soma is at the heart of development in this region. Its significance transcends merely being the biggest settlement in the region, as the fact that it is a transit point for people coming in and out of the country makes it very vital. That liveliness of the town had gotten almost lost when the July 22nd Revolution emerged.
The Revolution, by every indication, served as deliverance. Basic necessities such as electricity supply, which the people of the town had been enjoying, were then hardly in existence. However, the situation has changed today for the good. 15 years on into the Revolution, there is quite a lot to show for this in the town of Soma.
Thanks to the Rural Electrification Project Phase Two, the people of Soma feel 'restored', so to speak. The reconnection of Soma into the electricity grid of the country is clearly responsible for the conspicuous boom in business activities, as can be seen in the multiplicity of financial institutions and the many shops that abound in the town. Petty trading had vanished in that once flourishing town, but the reemergence of electricity supply has brought the local people who engage in it back into the business.
Also serving as evidence of the development trend in Soma are the many construction works going on in the town.
Sefo Yahya Jarjusey of Jarra West District resides in the Town of Soma, and he is cognizant of the role of this government in the "rapid transformation" Soma has experienced within the last decade or so.
The AFPRC/APRC government has implemented a lot of development projects in this area since 1994, he said. The chief pointed to the Soma Major Health Centre, which is among the structures first built by the government, the reconstruction and upgrading of the market in Soma, the Soma Car Park (garage), as well as upper and lower basic schools, among others.
Especially of importance to Chief Jarjusey is the Soma-Mandinaba Road, which he described as a major project currently being embarked upon by President Jammeh's government. "As a result of all what is going on in Jarra, in terms of development, the people of Jarra West have, since 1994, been benefiting from many facilities and social amenities such as banks [Trust Bank], foreign exchange bureaus, and electricity, among others," the chief stated.
Seyfo Jarjusey seized the opportunity to thank President Jammeh, through the Observer July 22nd Bus crew, "for taking many people on pilgrimage to Mecca as well as the uplifting standard of security in the region, with the posting of personnel of the police in LRR to safeguard the lives and properties of the people."
Ongoing construction work on the Soma-Mandinaba Road is expected to boost the development trend of this region enormously, as it will effectively link it to the rest of the country, and the thought of this heightens hope in the people of this area. There are also signs of construction of the road running from Farafenni, another very important road. In addition, Soma Mini Stadium is under construction, and it will help a great deal in stemming rural-urban drift as the youth will be encouraged to stay.
Soma Major Health Centre
Soma Health Center is among the major development projects embarked upon by the APRC government in the Lower River Region, and it came at a real time of need. For a town as big as this, and so strategically placed, it was surely unforgivable not to have a health facility that matches its standard.
Health being among the AFPRC/APRC government's key development plans, Soma Town was bound to host this beautiful edifice. Established in 2000, the centre is equipped with a labour ward, reproductive and child health unit, and provides services such as antenatal services, VCT services, post natal PTTC services, family planning services as well as laboratory services. It also has an out patient department.
Robert Sambou is the office-in-charge at the centre. He told the Observer crew that they have 8 trekking stations in Jarra Central and Kiang East. And according to records, the center receives about 150 patients on a daily basis. Nearby villages such as Kabadah also benefited from the rare services of rural water supply, telephone, schools, among a host of others.
Pakalinding Village is at the center of the delight Jarra was once known for. The return of electricity supply to this village, thanks to the rural electrification project by the APRC government, has rekindled life in the village. Pakalinding almost due collapsed to the effects of the rural-urban drift. Today, life is back in the viallge, thanks to the intervention of President Jammeh. Somehow, this village is a business centre in that it has one of the most popular lodges in the region. The coming of electricity is especially important for these lodges, given their proximity to Mansakonko, the administrative town of the region.
For the first time in the history of this region, electricity is in the heart of villages in rural Gambia. Sankuya, Kanikunda, Tonyatabba and Karantab, before Soma, all have portable drinking water in addition to electricity supply, which has upgraded the living style of the peoples. In Mansakonko, there is a solid structure built by the government as part of its efforts to decentralize access to education.
Kiang, by and large, has been among the least developed area in the country. This has been a situation the government was quite aware of, and it is bound to change. The area has, from the onset of the Revolution, featured high on the government's development master plan. The Soma-Mandinaba road construction is especially conspicuous in the area of Kiang, which gives an idea of a region under construction. In terms of education, this region was also totally forgotten.
The people had to trek tens of kilometers in search of schools. The hardship involved served as a discouraging factor for the many people who could not complete their educational carreer. Imagine, in the whole of LRR, there was only one upper basic school before 1994, which was all the way in Pakalinding in Jarra. Just immediately after taking over, President Jammeh's vision was directed to problems as chronic as these, much to the delight of a people who had been at the mercy of mere chance.
Mamadi Jarju is the principal of Kwinella upper basic school in Kiang Central. The school, according to him, is among the first schools built during the transition (in 1996). "Before the July 22 revolution, there was no upper basic school in the whole of Kiang and the few students who were lucky to gain places in the limited places available had to trek almost 30km to go to the only upper basic school in Pakalinding in Jarra West," he stated.
According to Principal Jarju, who is a graduate of the University of The Gambia, another product of the Revolution, the Girl's Education Trust Fund has served as a major boost for the enrolment status of girls in his school. He attributed this to the patriotic vision of the Gambian leader and his government, a vision he said all Gambians should endeavour to uphold.
The student population in the school is at 428, the majority of which are girls. It serves a catchment area of eight villages, all in Kiang Central. Sankandi Upper Basic School which had been in existence since 1980 as a lower basic school was upgraded to an Upper Basic school in 2004 by the APRC government. The aim was to provide education at that level for the people of the area, many of whom had not had the chance to school because of neglect. Many other villages today benefit from this initiative.
Almost every village, town, district or region has a story to tell. So do the people of Kaif. Narrating his story to the Observer bus crew, Alhagie Ansumana Sanneh, the just appointed head chief of Kiang East, maintained that the coming of the AFPRC/APRC Revolution serves as a salvation for the people of the region and the entire Gambian people. "Our children can now attain senior school education within their home villages. We are blessed to have had the first government senior secondary school in LRR," he stated, with reference to Kaif Senior Secondary School.
In a marathon discussion, Chief Sanneh listed the enormous development projects within his chiefdom which he said had contributed immensely in changing the lives of the people of the area - from health facilities to boreholes. The villages include Kabada, Njolfen, where a lower basic school has been built, Sare Samba, etc.
The Observer July 22nd Bus will be in the Western Region on Thursday.
This publication is directed by
Pa Malick Faye
Kemo A.M Cham, Alhagie Jobe Lamin M. Dibba and Assan Sallah
Ebou (Taaru) Njie
Lamin Ceesay, Amie Manka and Nyima Marong
Musa Sano & Ebrima Sanneh
Author: Daily Observer