OBSERVER's JULY 22nd bus NOW IN CRR NORTH
Friday, July 03, 2009
The Central River Region (CRR) is the largest region of The Gambia, accommodating some of the country's most important settlements.
Like other parts of the country, this region had been afflicted by a worrying trend of the effect of rural-urban migration, among other anti-progressive developments, thanks to the wanton nature of underdevelopment prior to July 1994.
If education, as it is universally acclaimed, is the key to development, then the pace for the retrogressive path this region was on within the last 3 or so decades prior to the 1994 Revolution had been set long before independence. Imagine a region as large as CRR having only one high school, which is now called Armitage Senior Secondary School! As a matter of fact, this is a vivid illustration of how generations of Gambians in that region had been denied the education they so much needed to enable them to plough back the much needed development the region and the country at large desired.
This was a trend the July 22nd Revolution was out to put an end to, and it makes a strong argument in favour of what is now an irrefutable fact that this government is one of necessity, just like the many other genuine people's revolutions around the world. Today, apart from the introduction of some basic infrastructures, many projects have been instituted which have reinstated the dignity of the people of this region. Part of the new road that runs from the North Bank Region extends into CRR North, to Lamin Koto. This road remains the most used, thanks to its appealing nature and the fact that work is ongoing along the south bank of the country.
The story here in this region is no different from the rest of the country, in terms of education and other basic necessities of life. Prior to July 1994, even primary schools were hard to come by, but today, Demba Manneh, cluster monitor 10, who is based in the area, found it somehow difficult to list the many schools that were established within a short space of time by government, among them Jahaor, Palen, Simbara, Jimbala, Balayar, etc.
The situation in this region also reveals that an efforts are being expended here in terms of encouraging teachers to stay put, to make quality and affordable education available for people in villages as remote as some of these settlements. Manneh was speaking to the Daily Observer in the premises of Balaghar primary school in Ballanghar, where we were shown buildings constructed as part of efforts to upgrade the school, to accommodate the many children around.
Jimbala, for example, has staff quarters. This, as the cluster monitor of the area said, has helped a great deal in cutting down on housing problems faced by teachers, which had forced many to quit. And thanks to the many opportunities created by government for the girl child, places like this in the CRR have witnessed incredibly high increases in female enrolment. In some cases, there are more girls than boys, thanks to The Gambia Government's Education For All policy which has provided for the free education for girls, from the age of 1 to 12.
Chief Ali Jaye Touray of Ballanghar prides himself as one of the first supporters of the APRC government in the area. President Jammeh, he said, came as leader to rescue the country from where it was. And his people, he stressed, are ever grateful to the president because of "all what he has done for us." The chief pointed to the construction of the Kerewan Bridge as a stark example of the efforts of the president in taking the people of the North Bank from the fetters of underdevelopment which had resulted in endless suffering prior to the emergence of the July 22nd 1994 Revolution. "Before, people spent the night at the river side in Kerewan whenever they missed the only ferry that was there as there was no other means of crossing. Today, it is a different thing," the chief stated. He described the Gambian leader as a caring and dynamic leader, citing his magnanimous gesture in the form of the donation of D25,000 as contribution to the village's mosque construction project. He also cited the provision of a borehole, construction of a health center and the many schools built in the area.
Today, the chief said, the women of the district enjoy quite a lot from the development achievements of the president and his government. The availability of the NERICA rice variety, he said, has enhanced the feeding situation of the people. "The government must be credited for that, for having introduced this incredibly good variety of rice," he posited. "Five years ago, Gambians almost stopped cultivating groundnuts due to the difficulties they faced in terms of marketing it. But today, it is different. There is always enough disbursement of funds at all selling points. The president has provided tractors which have eased the difficulties involved in farming. So, this means that he has done a lot for the people of the area," Chief Ali Jaye Touray said.
The chief looks forward to the establishment of the office complex of the governor of CRR North in Kaur, a plan of the Gambian leader which seems to appear very popular among the people here.
Kaur, he noted, had lost its glory when the 22nd July Revolution emerged, "but thanks to President Jammeh, the town is regaining its glory." Omar S Touray is principal of Palen Upper Basic School. He recalled his student days when the only chance they had to access senior secondary education was to be able to reach Janjangbureh. "But today, we have everything at our doorsteps," he said.
Touray however expressed regret over the fact that many people who were not as fortunate as him dropped out of school because of the difficulties in accessing education as it was not affordable, saying "and now there is free education for girls." Out of an insuppressible feeling of satisfaction for the president's development achievements in the area, Principal Touray coined a rather short poem specially dedicated to the president. It is called: '
Ballangharr health post
The Ballangharr Health Post was built through the support of the president, in 2004. Before its establishment, people used to trek kilometers, using horse carts, as far as to Kaur. There were occasional unpleasant experiences of men watching while their wives delivered on their way to the hospital. Abdoulie Jammeh is a state enrolled nurse at the health post. He is a living witness of how much the people need the services of this small health post. "I wonder what it would have been like here with ut this health post," he contemplated.
Kaur has been at the heart of Gambian joie de vivre, especially so in the early 80s, but after the collapse of key institutions like the former GPMB, the town had been on a perpetual free fall, forcing even its natives to leave. Ask any elderly person who lived through those bitter days in Kaur and they will leave no stone unturned in recounting their memorable experiences.
But the people of Kaur were destined to find solace in the 22nd July 1994 Revolution, which apparently came out to salvage an entire nation that had been engulfed in what could only be described as institutionalised denial of human rights - the result was total underdevelopment. 15 years on, the evidences are quite eye-catching to the Observer crew on arrival in the town. Like all the places we have left behind us, Kaur has also benefited enormously from the construction of one of the best roads you can find anywhere in the sub region, the Essau-Laminkoto Road.
The people here recall a few years back, when many of them reluctantly stayed away from home "because there were no means of transportation", as stated by Lamin Ceesay, a native of Kaur Touray Kunda.
Today, Lamin visits Kaur frequently thanks to the good condition of the road.
"Before the construction of the road, drivers would never think of coming here, and you can hardly blame them because even you as a passenger could not bear the suffering involved. We are grateful to the president for being a saviour for the people of The Gambia especially Kaur," Lamin stated. With the coming of the Rural Electrification Project Phase I, Kaur has taken on an exceptionally new look. If you left here some five years back, you are likely to find it a little bit difficult to locate where you may have once been. Some few years ago, hardly would one have agreed if the current status of Kaur Town had been predicted.
The main junction adjacent to Kaur Health Center, which divides the town into equal halves - Kaur Janneh Kunda and Kaur Wharf Town, used to suggest some sort of a ghostly atmosphere, but today, the high level of business activities going on within that vicinity explains how far the town has gone.
Kaur Power Station commenced operation in early 2007, supplying only Kaur Janneh Kunda, Touray Kunda and Wharf Town. With a staff of 10, the station operates throughout the week. Except for Friday when it operates from 10am to 230pm, the operating hours are 9am to 13pm and then 6pm to 1pm. According to Ebrima Manneh, assistant station manager, the difference in operation time on Fridays is to allow for Jummah prayers. Manneh highlighted several benefits the people derive from the coming of electricity supply to the area. "Many people are now engaged in petty businesses. There are metal workshops and other skills-based trades now in Kaur," Momodou Lamin Jarjursey, engine operator and a native of Kaur Touray Kunda, said.
Lamin Fatty was born and brought up in Kaur Touray Kunda. He was in school when the power station was being constructed. Today, however, he works there as an operator. Lamin told the Daily Observer that the coming of electricity has brought quite a lot of experiences and a lot of changes. From the boom in business to having the comfort and the luxuries electricity supply comes with.
Kebba Ansu Manneh is a native of Kaur Janneh, but he lives in the Kombos. He strongly concurs with the fact that the last years under the leadership of President Jammeh have seen "significant levels of development." This newly constructed road, he said, has cut down on the rural urban drift. "People used to suffer when the thought of going home came. But now we all have the hope of even relocating back home to engage in business as the stage has been set by the president and his government," he posited. As a trained cook, Kebba Ansu looks forward to the implementation of plans by President Jammeh to transform Kaur port into a modern port in the sub-region.
Kaur Senior Secondary School
Kaur Senior Secondary was among the first schools built by this government during the early days of the Revolution, in 1995, just 1 year after taking over. There was indeed a great need, and thank God the new government, headed by President Jammeh, saw this need. He wasted no time in dealing with the matter with an equal sense of urgency. There are now two senior secondary schools in CRR North alone. "This has brought immense opportunities for the children of the area to have access to higher education while staying at home and helping their parents," remarked Momodou Lamin Darboe, principal of Kaur SSS.
He added that "80% of the students today would not have had the chance of accessing higher education if this school was not in existence because their parents are poor and they can not afford to take them to faraway places." Kaur Senior Secondary School currently has an enrolment figure of 603 - 393 boys and 210 girls. Their performance, according to the principal of the school, has been good. The school has 9 classrooms, excluding laboratories for the core science subjects of physics, chemistry and biology as well as food and nutrition.
The construction of a senior secondary school in Kaur is viewed by many as timely. This view is shared by Kebba Ansu. He said that Armitage was not only far away for many of them, but their parents could not afford the cost involved in taking their children to far away places in search of education. "There are so many schools now in the area; it has reduced the burden on the people, especially those who used to trek long distances from the satellite villages around Kaur to come to school. They no longer need to come as there are primary schools everywhere," Kebba stated.
Kerr Mod Ali
From Kaur, the Observer July 22nd Bus headed for Kerr Mod Ali. As small as it may be, even that village has a water supply system, powered by solar power. The villagers have not lost sight of the fact that they owe the leadership of this country a lot for what they call 'an important change in our live style.' "The only way we can pay back the president is by continuing to support him, and this we are ready to do," said elderly Modou Mbai, the oldest member of the village.
The next port of call for the Observer July 22nd bus was Chamen in the district of Nianija. The first thing that caught our attention is the Chamen Bridge which allows access to the village. Before it was bridged, that site served as a hinderance to the people of the area.
As a security measure, the people of Chamen resorted to building the bridge every 2 months, out of palm trees. Imagine the burden! A vehicle was said to have plunged into the river at one point, after the wooden bridge collapsed while the vehicle was in crossing. The accouns of the people here reveal that a lot of lives had been lost at this place; as far as they can remember, in all 10 people have died while trying to cross this bridge. One account holds that 8 people died within a very short space of time. Some of them are civil servants who had been returning home, and on finding out that the boat was not available, they attempted to swim, and in the process drowned.
However, today, except for the dented memories of those ill-fated occurrences, all these fears are behind the people of Chamen. It all ended when the APRC government built one of the many bridges scattered across the country. The construction of Chamen Bridge, between 2001 and 2002, has not only made the village accessible to its people, but for the natives, going home has never been so easy.
The people of Chamen also benefited from a new complex of a health center, replacing the old one which barely served its purpose. The new health center was built in 2005, and it serves about 15 thousand people in the area and part of Upper Saloum. According to Musa Kebbeh, the officer in charge, they provide services such as maternal and child health cares as well as delivery. In addition, they have a team of mobile clinic that covers about 10 settlements in the region. "It would have been terrible if this health center was not here," Kebbeh said,
Chamen Health Center also has a staff quarter, with an ambulance, making it possible for the people to have medical attention on a 24 hour basis. In terms of education, Chamen Lower Basic School was transformed to a basic cycle, with the addition of a number of classroom blocks. The girls, as in the rest of the country, have free education. The people have uninterruptible water supply thanks to boreholes constructed by government.
Alssan David Cham is the 12th chief of the area, and he believes that he is the luckiest among all his predecessors as his term has coincide with more development than the rest. But he was quick to say that the difference is that he served under a different government under a president with a difference.
About 9 km away from Chamen, there is Buduck Village, one of three main villages on the outskirts of Chamen. Buduck Lower Basic School serves some other smaller villages in the area. It has an enrolment figure of about 310, with girls forming the majority. "Ours is a clear illustration of the fact that the Free Education for Girls policy is working," stated Alpha D Bah, head master of the school.
Panchang in the Upper Saloum District is presently the home of the chief of the district, Malick Mbye, who recounted how the emergence of the 22nd July Revolution has changed the lives of the people of the area. Today, according to the chief, the district has eleven schools, located in the villages of Panchang, Batti, Maka Ali Sarr, Fass, Leva Malick Mbye and Kerr Sait and other villages. Also, six villages - Kerr Sulay, Kerr Mot Ali, Batti, Njaw, Fass and Tamba have all been provided with boreholes, providing the people with clean and safe drinking water. "With such a classic road in place," the chief added, "the transportation has been immensely enhanced." And this, he added, explains the perfect services the buses provide these days.
According to the chief, the people of his district are cognizant of the role security has to play in national development, and for this reason, they are grateful to the Gambian leader for his security consciousness as is manifested by the presence of personnel of the Police Intervention Unit in the area, who, he said, patrol the area day-in day-out in their efforts to ensure a secure Gambia. This, Chief Mbai said, has resulted in the great reduction in crime in the area, compared to before.
Wassu is the biggest settlement in Niani, and it forms a very important part of Gambian history. It has also received a fair share of the development undertakings of the government in that part of the country. So far there are 10 schools in the whole of Niani District including Niani Senior Secondary School and Medina Basic Cycle School. Pierre Bah, chief of the district, acknowledged what he called the unprecedented level of development his area has seen since July 1994. "Apart from the availability of boreholes which provide water for the people of Wassu, four villages are currently benefiting from the Rural Electrification Project, namely Kuntaur, Sukuta, Wassu and Madina Lamin Kanteh.
In 1995, the first school was built purposely as a basic cycle school, and then it was upgraded to a senior secondary school. The head of the basic cycle school, Dawda Kanteh, described these developments as a "blessing in disguise". Armitage, he said, could not have catered for all, citing issues of guardianship, among others, as reasons for many people in that region not being able to get high school education. "But all that is now history," Kanteh stated.
Today, the people of Wassu also enjoy electricity supply, which has changed their live style, both in terms of how business is done there, and how people go about their individual lives. On the food self-sufficiency front, over one hundred hectares of farm land have been developed for tidal irrigation for Sukuta, Fulla Kunda, Touba, Kanjai and Kuntaur. The government has also provided rice and coos milling machines in the area.
And for recreational purposes, there is a multi-purpose center in Wassu, making it all the more possible for the youths especially to stay at home.
Kuntaur, just on the outskirts of Wassu, is speedily joining the ranks of the fast developing settlements in the country. Today the outlook of the village dispels all beliefs that once a village loses it glory it can hardly regain it. The coming of an uninterruptible supply of electricity as well as clean and safe drinking water has changed the way many people view Kuntaur. In 2002, an expansion project on the Kuntaur Health Centre commenced; it is still ongoing. "The president has promised to make it one of the best hospitals in the sub region, and given his track record, we are highly optimistic that we shall live to see this task completed," said Seedy Bensouda, Alkalo of Kuntaur.
Baba Marong, standing for the officer-in-charge at the health center, anticipates a more favourable working condition upon completion of this 'epic' project of expansion of the center. Kuntaur Health Center presently receives patients from as far as neighboring Senegal. To make work easy and the staff comfortable and accessible to the people at all times, the government, they said, has built staff quarters. There is also a brand new ambulance on standby.
Everywhere we go, the Observer crew is kind of left in confusion as to whose words to take regarding their level of appreciation of the development achievements of the Revolution, the president and his government. One thing is certain though, the difference the Revolution has brought for the people of all the places we have visited so far gives all of them a right to their religiously held views about President Jammeh and the APRC government. The people of Sami are no exception.
As remote as it is, Sami Karanta really deserves a health facility. But what had turned out to be years of dreams would not be realised until 2002, thanks to the APRC government's policy of bringing medical care to the doorsteps of every Gambian. Even the smallest of settlements has something to show now. Momodou Gai, a community health nurse (midwife) and the officer in charge of Karantaba Health Centre, explained to the Daily Observer how new structures were built as part of efforts to upgrade the center. This, he said, "has helped enhance the much needed services we provide to the people of this area." With a staff base of 5 trained nurses, the center provides maternal and child health services as well as family planning services. Apart from admitting patients, the center's staff also treks on a monthly basis to 8 places.
Karantaba Upper Basic School
Karantaba Upper Basic School is among numerous schools that emerged as a result of the July 22nd Revolution. Built in 2002, the school has alongside it a well built staff quarters, which has contributed immensely in maintaining teachers in that remote place. The school serves some 12 villages.
Sami Pachonki Lower Basic School has one of the best staff quarters in the region. Sait Saine, deputy headmaster at the school, said the staff quarters, which were built in 2008, are partly responsible for having people like him stay on. "It is quite an incentive for teachers to stay, in effect providing opportunities for the children of this area to access education," he said. The school has a total enrolment figure of 250 students, serving 4 catchments areas. Summarising the development achievement of the APRC government in the area was Alhaji Kassum Leigh, chief of Sami.
"The people The Gambia in general and Sami in particular," he said, owe this president of ours a great deal." The chief went on: "His untiring efforts in transforming the entire country is no secret to even the outsiders." According to the chief, before 1994, there was only one borehole in the whole of Sami District, situated in Banni Village. But today, "there are over 20 boreholes in Sami District, bringing water to the doorsteps of every citizen. This development alone is enough reason to warrant our unquestionable support for the president," he said.
The Observer July 22nd Bus will have a weekend stop in Janjangbureh. The tour continues on Monday.
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