By: John Stewart
I Just returned from a grueling 5-day trip to the heavily forested Gainwolala District, Gbarpolu County where no roads exist and where even telephone contact is extremely difficult.
I visited the towns of Kpayeakwelle, home town of Senator Daniel Naateng, Glaingasiasue which lost 18 persons to the deadly Ebola disease and the District headquarters of Palahkwelle.
A full account follows below but suffice it to say that the people in this district are isolated, have suffered and are still suffering from official neglect.
The disconnect between the people and their leaders is all too obvious and it’s clear the people of Gainwolala District and Gbarpolu County on a whole are being short changed daily.
It is indeed a stinking shame and an indictment on national leadership over the years that such conditions of poverty and official neglect will be allowed to persist.
Before I continue with the story of my visit to Gbarpolu, let me declare that my heart goes out to the people of Burundi, particularly Human Rights activist Louis Marie Nindorera and his family who feted me their home during my brief stay in Bujumbura sometime ago. I pray that God will deliver you and your family from every mishap and that peace and calm will be restored so that healing may begin!
And now back to the visit to Gbarpolu County:
This wasn’t my first visit to Gbarpolu: in fact prior to this visit I had been up to Bopolu in 2002 as part of a UN team on a humanitarian needs assessment visit following the GOL retake of Bopolu from LURD. At the time the road conditions were terrible least to speak and so in a way, I was no stranger to the appalling road conditions in Gbarpolu but nothing of this kind of experience would prepare for the shock I would receive upon my arrival at the Waterside where the mighty St Paul River separates Bong County from Gbarpolu County.
The first shock was the realization that we had to cross the river with turbulent currents and giant rocks in a canoe sans life jackets or vests.
But the navigating skills of the canoe pilot was good and with great dexterity he guided the frail craft through the rocks and turbulent currents on to the shores of Gainwolala District, Gbarpolu County with 6 passengers and one motorcycle aboard.
Upon disembarking I discovered to my shocking surprise that there was no motor road, rather it was a footpath leading into the jungle and it was along this footpath that I was to travel aboard a motorcycle carrying two passengers excluding the driver.
I was told by local people that traveling in these parts is generally by foot and where available and affordable the motorcycle is the only option available.
After a grueling two hours enduring several painful bumps to my feet from tree stumps along the footpath, I arrived in the town/village of Kpayeakwelle.
Kpayeakwelle sits astride a hill that dominates a landscape marked by low lying brush and swamps surrounded by towering trees and thick jungle. It has a population of 2,200 inhabitants. Locals say Kpayeakwelle’s population would be much larger, if account is taken of its many satellite villages.
Kpayeakwelle has a public health clinic that provides immunization, pre and post-natal services but lacks a laboratory. It is run by Mr Jaryan a physician assistant and according to him the clinic sees between 10 and 15 persons daily and major ailments include malaria and respiratory tract infections.
According to Physician Assistant Jaryan the clinic provides midwifery services and it has a MOH assigned midwife who is assisted by 2 Trained Traditional Midwives (TTMs). Emergency cases are referred to the Phebe Hospital in Bong County since there is no motor road connecting Kpayeakwelle to the Jallah Lone Health Center in Bopolu.
In such cases the patient has to be conveyed by hammock to the river crossing to board a canoe where on the other bank an ambulance from Phebe will be waiting. Until the recent construction of 2 public toilets by the local NGO PHIDI the village lacked a public toilet aside from the one constructed
To continue, aside from the toilet at the Kpayeakwelle clinic, there was none until recently when the PHDI with support from Osiwa constructed 2 public toilets. There is no school in the village aside from some make shift mud hut with no desks or chairs which is supposed to be an elementary school that lacks teachers.
A most welcome, but recent development according to villagers is the Community Radio provided also with PHDI assistance. For now its coverage area has been limited but with the addition of a booster antenna, it is hoped that coverage area will increase to include outlying areas like Bopolu and Gbarma.
Additionally there is a critical lack of safe drinking water. A hand pump well constructed in the village has since run dry and villagers have to fetch drinking water from surrounding creeks most of which go dry at the height of the dry season.
The story is the same for Glaingasiasue where there is no school, clinic, hand pump well or even health post. Worse is the staggering reality, that there is no road connecting the village to anywhere aside from the narrow jungle footpath accessible only by foot or motorcycle.
Glaingasiasue was hardest hit by the Ebola virus disease. It claimed a total of 18 lives, eight of who succumbed to the disease while the rest died at the Phebe Hospital.
According to Mary Gotolo, lead contact tracer and meet of the burial team, the PHDI conducted Ebola awareness training and provided them with PPEs, disinfectants, hand held laser temperature devices which helped them contain the spread of the virus disease.
According to Mary, the first person to fall victim was 10 yr old Ruth Flomo, then followed by her mother and father and then others. Ebola left in its wake orphans and widows in this little village of 1,300 persons.
The District capital Palakwelle fared much better during the Ebola outbreak as no deaths were recorded in the village. But like Glaingasiasue and Kpayeakwelle, it is also inaccessible and isolated although it boasts of an elementary and junior high school housed in a well constructed modern building.
The school has an enrollment of about 435 students. While enrollment rates for girls in the beginning grades is fairly balanced to their male counterparts, school retention rates for girls is exceedingly low in this village with teen pregnancy and early marriage being principal causative factors. The village however lacks a clinic or health post and for a population of some 2,300 persons lacking access to roads and communication it is no joking matter.
Pic: crossing the Cavalla River, South eastern Liberia, www.momroviainquirer.com