“These are happy moments”: authorities in Mansakonko react to UNICEF’s intervention

In schools and health facilities, officials shared testimonies and evidence of how UNICEF’s support to the education and health sectors is transforming livelihoods across the region.

Abdoulie Sey
UNICEF Representative in The Gambia, Gordon Jonathan Lewis speaks to students in Kaiaf, a week after they returned to school
UNICEF/UN08776/Abdoulie
23 October 2020

Regional authorities in the Lower River Region, including the governor of the region, the Chairman of the Mansakonko Area Council, and Regional Health and Education officials, have described how UNICEF’s intervention in the region has changed the lives of children and women and improved service delivery for the most vulnerable. In schools and health facilities, the UNICEF Representative in The Gambia, Gordon Jonathan Lewis, heard testimonies and was shown evidence of how UNICEF’s support to the education and health sectors is transforming livelihoods across the region.

In Mansakonko, where UNICEF is actively working with regional authorities to integrate children’s issues into their routine work, the agency handed over IT equipment – computer, printer and accessories – to the Chairman and his team.  The supplies, which will eventually also include a motorcycle, are meant to support the council’s monitoring and coordination of children’s matters and harmonization of all interventions amongst stakeholders in the region.

“These materials are very important to us because they are not just delivered to us, we asked for them,” Landing Sanneh, the Chairman of Mansakonko Area Council, said in his remarks at the handing over of the equipment held on Wednesday 21 October at council premises. “As a council, we want to assume our responsibility to complement UNICEF’s and partners’ efforts in supporting the rights and development of women and children in the region.”

UNICEF Representative in The Gambia, Gordon Jonathan Lewis hands over IT materials to the Chairman of Mansakonko Area Council
UNICEF/UN08893/Abdoulie
Gordon Jonathan Lewis, UNICEF The Gambia Representative hands over IT materials to Landing Sanneh, Chairman of Mansakonko Area Council

UNICEF has been working with the Government of The Gambia to strengthen the child protection case management system across the country in order to address children cases comprehensively across different sectors.  Lower River Region is one of the pilot regions for this programme where UNICEF is supporting the regional core coordination mechanism, a body comprising regional officials from education, health, the police, social welfare, community development, and immigration to facilitate regular meetings to review children’s matters in the region and address challenges faced by stakeholders.

“Investing in local communities has a great potential to improve the lives of children and their families” said Gordon Jonathan Lewis, UNICEF The Gambia Representative. “No single entity can address all the challenges and needs of children. We must all work together.”

Ahead of the handing over, the UNICEF Representative made a brief stop at the Governor’s office where the two officials renewed commitment to strengthen collaboration, especially in the area of children and women rights.

“UNICEF has been instrumental in our core development priorities, that is supporting the rights of women and children and their empowerment,” said Rohey John, the Governor of Lower River Region. “This is a region that is very vulnerable to abuse and exploitation of women and children due to its location as a transit point. We want to continue working with UNICEF to engage more families and communities to address these issues.”

UNICEF The Gambia Representatives address the audience during a handing over of IT equipment to Mansakonko Area Council
UNICEF/UN08866/Abdoulie

Investing in local communities has a great potential to improve the lives of children and their families.

Gordon Jonathan Lewis, UNICEF The Gambia Representative

Earlier in the year, UNICEF provided more than US$500,000 worth of life saving medical supplies and equipment to the Ministry of Health for distribution to health facilities across The Gambia. The equipment is already in use in health facilities such as Soma District Hospital and Kaiaf Health Center, which Mr Lewis visited on Wednesday.  At Kaiaf Health Center, UNICEF also provided a water supply system, effectively ending what staff described as a water shortage nightmare.

“This equipment provided by UNICEF has really improved service delivery in this hospital”, Kebba Daffeh, the Officer in Charge of Soma District Hospital, said, pointing towards a baby weighing scale, and oxygen and suction machines.

At the Regional Education Directorate in Mansakonko, the Acting Regional Education Director and his team, commended UNICEF for not only supporting the education system but also going further to engage communities and families to send their children to school.

“UNICEF has been supporting our community engagement programme through which we were able to engage with families to send their children to school,” said Musa Bah, Acting Regional Education Director, Region Four.  “It yielded many positive results because in some communities, we registered a massive increase in school enrolment.”

UNICEF The Gambia Representative, Jonathan Lewis inspects a vaccines cold storage at Kaiaf Health Center
UNICEF/UN09040/Abdoulie
Gordon Jonathan Lewis, UNICEF The Gambia Representative inspects a vaccines cold storage at Kaiaf Health Center

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, UNICEF has reprogrammed more than US$5 million of the agency’s regular budget to support The Gambia’s response to the pandemic.  Of the total reprogrammed amount, approximately US $850,000 went to the education sector to help keep children learning through distance learning programmes and provide hand washing stations and personal protective equipment to children and staff in schools nationwide.

“Without these materials, it would be difficult to reopen schools,” said Momodou Bittaye, Principal of Kaiaf Upper and Senior Secondary School, where the UNICEF Representative made a brief stop to assess the safe return to school. “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, and well before that, we have been receiving lots of support from UNICEF.  It means a lot us.”

In both Kaiaf and Tahir Ahmadiyya upper basic and secondary schools, officials described an atmosphere of joy as students returned to school after more than six months of closure.

“It has been a very fulfilling experience for me” Mr Lewis said of his visit to schools. “I am satisfied that children are back in school and learning and am encouraged by the COVID-19 guidelines in schools such as mandatory wearing of face masks, temperature checks and handwashing. We will continue to closely monitor and support the safe return to school.”