By Hadram Hydara
Nestled in the heart of Foni Kansala in West Coast Region five kilometres off the Trans-Gambia Highway lies a small historic village, Darsilameh Sheriff Kunda, popularly known as Darsilameh Sangajorr. This tiny semi-island is home to schoolchildren who must walk an exhausting 10 kilometres to and from school, burning with the ardent desire to acquire education. However, aside from the gruelling trek that leaves many children too tired to properly focus on their studies, there are other dangers lurking in the shadows and in the bushes.
On a bitterly cold morning, five young students from the village trudged along the dirty path towards the Sangajor Basic Cycle, a school that has served the district since the early nineties. Dressed in oversized, worn-out blue trousers and creased white shirts, their school uniforms offer little protection from the biting wind in the cold season. Despite the harsh weather and long walk, these determined students press on with unwavering determination, but the challenges are numerous and life-threatening, including the constant risk of snake, hyena, rape, and thug attacks in the dangerous and lonely bushes.
Abba Hydara, a ninth-grader, is about to leave the school as it doesn’t have a senior secondary. He shares concerns that walking through the thick bushes on their way to school is risky and that they are not allowed to enter the exam hall if they arrive late.
“It is not just about the distance, but it is also about the numerous dangers we encounter on our way to school. We have, on so many occasions, found dangerous snakes on our path to school.
“For us the boys, we do manage to scare them off, but for the girls, it is different. When they see these things, they return home, missing school for the day. We all want to be educated, but it is difficult to pursue education in these conditions. We need a school in this village. I think we deserve it,” Abba tells The Fatu Network.
Malaine Hydara, an eighth grader, explains to The Fatu Network the hardships they face getting to school and why a school is needed in Darsilameh.
“Getting to school is very hard. It takes us more than one hour and sometimes more, and the long distance we walk to get to school does not exempt us from punishment when we are late. Teachers do not care, and they do not consider how far away we are from school.
“Our main problem is the distance because it affects us even academically. It is very difficult to even read your books or do your assignments after walking a 10-kilometre distance to and from school. We are suffering and we call on the government and NGOs to build us a school here in Darsilameh,” he says.
The alkalo, Buyeh Touray, shares similar concerns with the students. He narrates a story about a schoolgirl who fainted in the middle of the bush this year. Due to the long distance and remote road to school, they had to call an ambulance from Bwiam Hospital to carry her. He also mentions an incident of attempted rape.
“This village needs a school. It is imperative we have one. The children of this village, including mine, go through so many trials just to get to school. Just this year, a young man attacked one of the girls on her way to school, trying to rape her; it is a police case now,” he reveals.
In the rainy season, the students must navigate through the downpour, which soaks their school materials, especially books, and makes their journey even more arduous.
“It is very difficult for the children, and equally difficult for us as parents during rainy seasons,” Buyeh Touray adds. “When it rains midway on their way to school, all of their books get soaked, including other learning materials. We buy lots of learning materials during rainy seasons. I plead with the government to come to our aid. Our children need a close school, so I would, therefore, call on the government to build us a school”.
Jaimutarr Hydara, like Abba, is a ninth-grader. Wearing worn-out shoes and combing his hair as he navigates the thick bushes that surround his path to school. Jaimutarr opens up to The Fatu Network about the difficulties he and his fellow students face due to exhaustion. He speaks passionately about the need for a school in Darsilameh, which would not only improve their overall grades but also reignite their passion for learning.
“Walking five kilometres in this cold weather to get to school is hard. No child can walk 10 kilometres a day and be able to ace all their subjects during exams.
“There is no such thing as a school bus here and most of our parents are poor and cannot afford bicycles for us, and even though we usually do well in school, we cannot compete academically with other children who do not have to walk 10 kilometres a day to get to school. The government should build us a school. That is all we are asking for,” Jaimutarr says.
Meanwhile, The Fatu Network also interviews Muhammed Faadil Hydara, the Imam of Darsilameh, after the evening prayer of Isha, which is the last prayer of the day. He expresses concern about the absence of a school in the village and urges the government and NGOs to support the education sector in the area, particularly by building a school in the village. Earlier that day, he had also spoken to the schoolchildren about the importance of education.
“There are many children who leave this village in the morning to go to school, and it is in a faraway place from the village. Forget about the distance, so many things happen to them on the road to school.
“This past rainy season, someone attacked the girls on their way to school. The police were involved, and even the governor came when he heard of the incident. Thankfully, the man was caught and put in police custody.
“For this reason, and because I have so many children who go to school, I’m always anxious and I never have peace of mind when I travel. It would greatly help if we had a school here; children would be safe, and parents would have peace of mind. I know nothing happens in the country unless it is approved by the government, so I urge the government to build a school for us here in the village”.
Amfaal Hydara, the former president of the Sheikh Malaine Foundation, speaks on behalf of the Caliph General of the village, emphasizing the need for a school that would cater to the educational needs of the children. According to him, it is crucial that the village has a school that offers primary and high school education as the children have to walk long distances to reach school, and the conditions they face while doing so pose a significant threat to their health and safety. According to him, by having a school within the village, the children would be able to receive education without compromising their well-being.
The Fatu Network takes the concerns raised by schoolchildren and natives of Darsilameh village to Almameh Gibba, the National Assembly Member of Foni Kansala. Honourable Gibba reiterates his unwavering support for every village in Foni and also confirms being aware of the difficult challenges that schoolchildren in Darsilameh face. He expresses his awareness of the unfortunate attack that occurred in the village late last year, highlighting the need for an urgent intervention to ensure the safety and well-being of the students.
“Looking at the corners of Foni Kansala, Darsilameh more so, it is about 5 kilometres from Sangajorr, and if you look at the distance from Darsilameh to Jomo Kunda where there is a primary school, it is also another long distance, so looking at the distances from both schools, it will be very difficult for these children because they will learn in distress.
“These children live in an area where mobility is a challenge as well. Road network is also a challenge, and they have to walk through the bushes to get to school.
“As the imam mentioned, I was also made aware that a girl was attacked in the bush by a man. I got involved in that discussion, and as villagers, we agreed to find solutions to protect the young children going to school”.
Honourable Gibba tells The Fatu Network that he is pushing for easier access to high schools across Foni Kansala and believes that Darsilameh village deserves to have one, even if it will be a primary school. He promises to work towards making it happen.
“As the representative of the people of Foni, I’m also pushing for easy access to high schools. Looking at the four corners of Foni Kansala, we only have one high school, which is Fatima Senior Secondary School. So, you realise that people walk fifteen to eighteen kilometres to access high school. I have once engaged the Minister of Basic and Secondary Education, and I’m still engaging her, about working on a mapping where they will look at the distance in various schools. If you look at Foni Kansala Ward, there is no high school, so therefore, I am engaging the Minister of Basic and Secondary Education to see how best they can ease the distance children walk to access higher learning.
“So, I believe if Darsilameh is accorded a primary school, it will ease their transportation burden and they will have a safe environment. I believe that villages in my constituency, more so Darsilameh, it is appropriate for them to be given access to close schooling. I will, as a representative of the people, work to see it happen.”