Momodou B. Dem
The Gambia Teachers’ Union Cooperative Credit Union [GTUCCU] began construction of a fifteen-room staff quarters at Bolibana Basic Cycle School.
The structure is meant to comfort staff in the border settlement in the Kantora District in the Upper River Region.
The foundation stone of the building was laid by the Minister of Basic Education, Claudiana Ayo Cole, and witnessed by the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, General Manager of the Gambia Teachers’ Union Cooperative Credit Union, among others.
For the Minister of Basic Education, Claudiana Ayo Cole, the intervention by the GTUCCU is a clear manifestation of the cordial ties between the Union and the Ministry. She extolled the efforts of the union officials in cementing the relationship. Hon. Minister Cole enjoined teachers to be proactive in service delivery, saying, “To whom much is given, much is expected”.
The General Manager of the GTUCCU, Baboucarr O. Joof, said the intervention is timely as described by many and it is based on a cardinal principle of cooperative societies, ‘People Helping People’.
He recounted the journey that culminated in the intervention by the GTUCCU came at a time when the body is about to clock twenty-five years.
“Twenty-five years of existence, Twenty-Five years of trial and error, trial and error because when GTU decided in 1992 through a resolution to form a cooperative for its members, little did we know that the pioneers had a vision that we will at some point be able to do this for ourselves. This is important. This is significant,” GM Joof stated.
Bolibana is approximately 400KM from the capital Banjul. The predominantly farming community lies a few kilometers away from the Gambian border with the southern part of Senegal. With seemingly inaccessible roads and poor communication network, the community has been designated by the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education as a hard-to-reach area.
The Principal of the school, Alhagi Jawo, said the retention of teachers posted to the school has always been a challenge due to lack of basic facilities such as accommodation to keep them in the school.
Mr. Dembo Mendy is a teacher in the school. Dembo has been in the school for the past two years. He narrated that life in the school is challenging.
“We face many challenges here, from accommodation, feeding, access to health facilities to even communication,” the young man revealed.
To many, it is patriotism and sheer admiration of the job that keep them in communities like Bolibana. Unlike those who came and left due to the living conditions in the school, Dembo and his colleague stayed to inspire the innocent children who come to seek knowledge from them on a daily basis. Under the scorching summer sun, Dembo revealed that when temperatures are high, the excessive heat switches off their mobile phones. Dembo uses the school library as his room. This he said is because he could not cope with the temperatures in the stores they occupy.
“We sleep in offices. In fact, for me I have my bed in the library that’s where I sleep,” he said.
According to him, access to health facilities is also a challenge for them. The nearest health facility accessible to them is Fatoto. Fatoto is several kilometers away. He recounted his first days in the school as ‘very terrific’ as a result; he ‘felt sick’ and could not access medication in the first days. In addition, he was later taken to the Basse Health Centre, where he was admitted for days.
Dembo was full of praise for the GTUCCU for coming to their aid. The intervention, he believes, will change their accommodation nightmares. He revealed that before the staff quarters intervention, the GTU had helped them with solar powered radio sets and bicycles for some of the students.
“Before, when we used our mobile phones to tune to radios, we only had frequencies of Senegalese radios. We were cut-off from happenings in our country. But when the union brought us the radios, [now] we are able to tune into Gambian radio stations…,” Dembo said.
The provision of quality education is crucial in the advancement of any nation. However, it is a widely held belief that for quality education to exist, the welfare of service providers such as teachers is instrumental. It is on that basis that the Gambia Teachers’ Union Cooperative Credit Union has begun the construction of a fifteen-room staff quarters at the Bolibana Basic Cycle School in the Kantora District, Upper River Region.
When completed, the floors of the staff quarters will be tiled and fitted with solar panels, a flat screen television, and beds. According to the General Manager of the GTUCCU. A “Bantaba” to serve as a relaxation spot for the staff will also be constructed, upon the completion of the quarters, according to GTUCCU.