Real lives

Real lives

 

Our very own ‘school horse cart’: Creating access to basic education

© UNICEF Gambia
14-year-old Abdoulie Suso and his 11-year-old brother Seiko, have to walk 2 km everyday to school and 2 km back home due to lack of transport.
In poor urban communities, parents advocate for school buses to get their youngest children safely to school and back. In the poor rural community of Njayen, in one of The Gambia’s poorest regions, the Upper River Region, parents will be much contented with a ‘school horse cart’ to serve the same purpose. The closest Early Childhood Development Centre (ECD), which caters for children aged 3 – 6, is annexed to the Lower Basic School (LBS) located in the village of Wally Ba Kunda, which is 2 km away by a shorter but perilous route, and 4 km by the safe route. Due to lack of transport, both children in the LBS and ECD are forced to walk to school and back, often choosing to take the shorter route.

 “I love going to school, and hope to become a doctor when I grow up. But, sometimes I pretend to be sick so that I will not have to walk all the way there,” said 14-year-old Abdoulie Suso, who attends the LBS with his 11-year-old brother, Seiko. “I used to have a bicycle to take both my younger siblings to school with me, but it got spoiled last year. Since then, my brother and I have been walking to and from school and my little sister has been pulled out of the ECD centre.”

Over 100 children are of school going age in Njayen, a community of about 450 inhabitants, but only a third of them are currently going to school. Parents are reluctant to have their children walk to Wally Ba Kunda because during the dry season, the route is infested with dangerous reptiles such as monitor lizards and snakes, some of them venomous, and during the rainy season, there is much erosion that leads into deep gorges, making the road quite risky for children to walk along, unaccompanied by adults. Moreover, it generally takes an hour to get to Wally Ba Kunda from Njayen via the shorter route, and while the weather is often bearable in the mornings, it is usually stiflingly hot by the afternoon, making it arduous to walk back home, especially for the little children.

Restricted access to basic education affects many rural villages in the URR and other regions around the country. Up until 2007, ECD centres in particular were mostly privately run and centred in the urban areas, excluding 74% (CSR 2010) of children of that age group in the rural area. To help address this issue, UNICEF began supporting the annexing of 30 ECD centers to existing lower basic schools around the country, including the one at Wally Ba Kunda. However, access for some communities like Njayen remains a problem for reasons mentioned.
© UNICEF Gambia
As a member of her village SMC, Jarai Jabbi understands the importance of having an education, and advocates strongly for a horse and cart to take the children to school.
“We understand that education is important,” said Jarai Jabbi, a widow, mother of six and a member of the village School Management Committee in Njayen. “But, we will not allow our young children to face dangers on the way to and from school, or come home so exhausted that they can barely stand up straight. We thought about asking for a lower basic school and ECD centre to be constructed in the village, but only our children will attend the school as the children in neighbouring villages are much closer to Wally Ba Kunda and will prefer to continue going there.” 

The village, instead, decided that having a horse cart will be the answer to their problem of access to education for their children. The horse pulled cart will not only be used to transport the children to and from school, but also used as emergency transport for the health centre, especially when pregnant women and sick children need to be rushed to the Basse health centre. 

 “We would prefer a horse to a donkey because it can cover more distance much faster, and more useful in times of emergency,” added 80 year-old Alhagie Makang Suso, the village head (Alkalo). “It will also ensure that our children get to school on time.”

The villagers intend to sustain the horse and cart by using it either to help on the farms or to transport goods to nearby villages for a fee, when they are not used as the local school bus and emergency transport. Abdoulie Suso and the other children of the village are very excited about the possibility of having their very own ‘school horse cart’, and are ready to help their parents sustain the initiative, if it succeeds, by gathering and storing the hay required to feed the horse. The commitment is there; all the villagers now need is the funding to purchase the horse and cart. 

 

 
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