By Mustapha k Darboe
Access to basic amenities such as education in Gambia is still a luxury in most parts but even more apparent in a small village called Mesira Toben, about 218 km from Banjul.
Seven kilometers from Kudang, the only big settlement in the area with electricity, running water, and senior school, the village of about 1000 people was only introduced to conventional education in 2012.
Outside the only classroom block in the village’s 1-to-6 grade school, a little shy Hamat Jeng, an ambitious boy, said he wants to be president “to help farmers and teachers”.
Jeng was enrolled in the school when they had no classrooms. They started education in a single classroom built of woods and straws with less than hundred students and now they are 217; 99 boys and 118 girls.
“During those times, when it rains or it is stormy, the classrooms become inhabitable. We all go home,” Jeng said.
“We come the following day because we know that whether there is a classroom or not we needed to learn.”
It was only 2 years ago when they have two classrooms built for them by a charity called Anda Ak Africa.
The charity has also raised funds to build four other classrooms.
“Currently, we have students in Early Childhood Education (ECE) class and 1 to 3 coming in the morning. Then 4 to 6 come in the afternoon,” the school principal, Agie Njie, said.
“But even at that, the ECE learn under a tree while the grade 1 occupies the veranda. In the afternoon, the grade 4 also has to occupy the veranda because we have only two classrooms.”
Even with the January deadline for another classroom from Anda Ak Africa, the education of students in this community very much depends on how friendly the weather is, Njie said.
The school serves four villages, Pateh Sam, Macca, Busura and Misera Toben, with a combined population of approximately 5000.
The deputy principal Sarjo Camara, who is among the founding members of the school, said they would have registered more students if not for their acute lack of basic facilities.
“The fact that the greater number of our students have their classes outside, under a tree or veranda, is a disincentive, in a way, for others to join us,” Camara said.
“There is no good football field, toilet, classrooms, educational materials like books and learning aids for students and even an office for the principal.”
“There has been a significant improvement in the quality of education since we have had the new classroom.”
Omar Mbaye, a native of Misera Toben who is part of the school committee, said despite improvement in their enrollment since 2012, there are more kids in homes than there are in the school.
“There is clearly a lot of interest in education in these communities and that interest is increasing,” Mbaye said.
The deputy principal said they even go out to sensitise people to send their children to school, an effort which reflected in their growing number in enrollment of girls.
According to the 2015 multidimensional and inclusive growth report by the Gambia government, story of Misera Toben is one too many.
Recent Government stats have shown that the small nation is one of the most unequal countries in Africa in terms of opportunities, social amenities and poverty gap between rural and urban areas.
According to the 2017 preliminary findings of the Gambia Bureau of Statistics, about 70% of rural Gambians are living in poverty, so do the 32% of the little over 1 million urban people, 55% of the country’s total population.
This means that not only is the agrarian rural Gambians acutely poor, but it is home to three third of the country’s poor with little or no opportunities.
Experts have argued that this trend has contributed to huge rise in rural-urban drift and about 55% of the population now resides in urban areas with an increasing number risking their lives to Italy across the Mediterranean Sea.