Barclayville — Buah Gee City, Grand Kru County is said to be second only to Careysburg as one of the oldest districts in Liberia.
"Our lawmakers, since we elected them into power, sometimes come and pass on. When they pass by Buah, they don't even stop, they drive on to Barclayville with their dark car glass up, and they don't bother to even stop to see which of the conditions we are facing here.
"I want to see change to come because the first people that we elected here and put into power, they don't seek our interest."
"This is why we are in the political season now and we are looking among the candidates that are coming so we can make the rightful decision to elect people that will make our dream to come to past."
But you wouldn't notice from the look of the place. In this remote part of Liberia, one local resident describes the county as a country all by itself - with nothing to show.
Residents here would explain to a visitor on a recent tour of the county that they are in dire straits, their lawmakers, the government and humanity has forgotten about them.
Despite boasting a former President Pro Tempore of the Senate and several high-profile senators, representatives and officials in government, the area, by far remains, one of the only counties in Liberia without a single paved road.
Residents in some parts have to travel to nearby River Gee and Maryland counties to seek medical attention; even pregnant mothers have to make the trek to give birth most times, many do not make it back.
The way the residents here tell it, they have been abandoned, neglected and forgotten.
Ahead of this year's Presidential and legislative elections when there is no shortage of promises from politicians seeking votes, FrontPageAfrica decided to visit some of the most abandoned counties in southeast Liberia.
For returnees, nothing has changed
Lawrence B. Weh, a construction worker should know.
Only a couple of years ago, he left his job in Monrovia with City Builders to move back home in hopes of helping his county and those he had left behind.
Today, he says, nothing has changed. "We need help, badly", he says, staring at an abandoned water pumping in the Buah District.
"We need clinic, we need school building and other facilities for the children to come out and go to school, that's what we need. The road condition is bad. Imagine from the time Samuel Doe was in power, this is the road we used to reach to Monrovia."
"But now, it's not easy. The road condition is bad - I can say it takes two to three days just to get to Monrovia. It is sad that the people don't want to take care of this road business in the Southeastern region."
"From here, I pay almost hundred dollar US to go to Monrovia. This is the problem that we facing. If you using motorbike you must know you got to be money man before you can get to Monrovia."
Weh laments that since his return to the area, the conditions have been glaring and now he hopes, politicians coming by in search of votes will take notice.
"See the condition - anybody that come here we have to tell them, we need this and we need that. With this being election season and attention on our small town, maybe they will take notice of us now."
Jonah Chea, another resident in the area says the plight of pregnant mothers is alarming.
"We need so many things. The first, we need a clinic, hospital because our pregnant women are really suffering. Young women, dying from belleh, we take them to River Gee, from River Gee to Ganta so that's the problem we are facing. These are the strong facilities that we are in need of here."
"From there we need an education system and most of all we need roads, roads - the roads are not paved and it is killing us. So, anyone who God give that chance to sit in that chair, that is the problem that we are facing. We need help."
Tenth Grade the Limit for Pregnant Teens
Perhaps the most damning indictment of the county is in its education system. Many of the young women have no opportunity to complete high school because the buck stops in the tenth grade.
"Even the school building is a problem," Weh laments.
"The school is stopping to tenth grade now - when the children finish tenth grade, that's it for them. Some of them get pregnant or become breadwinners for their family."
Mary Sargbeh, 14, is one of them. She told a visitor while walking in the Buah district area with her infant on her back, that her mother died in the war and she has no idea who her father is.
She and her friend, a shy girl, about the same age, who declined to give her name were unsure about their future.
"We only take it day by day. Some days we eat, some days we don't. That's how it is here."
Mary says she has no idea if she will ever get back to school. She was in the 8th grade when she dropped out due to pregnancy. She says the infant's father is somewhere in Monrovia but has lost contact with him.
A stone-throw away, some of her peers in the same age group donning green and white jerseys are preparing for a kickball match.
Their wish list is a lot less complicated. Sieneh Tarpeh, an 8th grader says she and her friends could use football and kickball jersey with boots.
Her classmate, Mary K. Karpeh also wants the same. For them, they're not sure what the future holds in two years when they reach the limit of tenth grade this part of Liberia has forced upon them.
As Mary and her friend fade into the dusty road ahead, an elderly man parades a group of young children in the town as part of a traditional dance. The kids appear to be having fun in a town with very little in form of entertainment.
Older boys and men sit in a nearby convenient story playing checkers, drinking and venting their frustrations away - to visitors they hope will go out and tell the rest of the country what is going on here.
A Lot of Blame Over WAEC Failure
This dilemma is a major reason why the county finished in the bottom half of the recently-announced West African Examinations Council Exams.
The county, according to the result performed dismally in the 2016/2017 Exams with only two out of seventy-one candidates passed the exams.
"This is the problem that we are facing," Weh says. "No teachers and we have explained it to the District Education Officer. Myself, this is the problem that we are facing here.
The DEO promise that he would address the matter but since then, nothing has happened. In the meantime, any candidates come around this election season, we are making our voices heard - but we will send our message in the ballot box."
The WAEC failure prompted the county caucus to issue a statement at the weekend on the appointment of county and district education officers.
The caucus averred: "The appointment of incompetent County Education Officers and District Education Officers as well as unqualified instructors, lack of supervision by CEO's and DEO's of the School Districts have been a very serious problem.
Unfortunately, it is an open secret that CEO's are accustomed to spending most of their time in Monrovia while DEO's do not even reside in their School Districts. As a result there has been this perennial lack of supervision of the schools. Additionally, many DEO's were retired and are yet to be replaced to make the system much more functional."
The caucus added: "The recent poor performance by students from Grand Kru County can be attributed to the appointment of a new County Education Officer about eight months ago. His appointment coincided with his announcement of declaration to contest the representative position in District number two, Grand Kru County."
The county caucus also laid the blame on the Ministry of Education.
"Over the last three-four years, the performance of students of our county in the West African Examination Council administered examination has been poor because of very little attention by the Ministry of Education to our county."
The caucus said the issue was brought up with Education Minister George Werner, a southeasterner, who happens to hail also from Grand Kru County.
"We appealed to him to have this political CEO replaced but he refused to listen to the appeal. This issue was raised with Minister Werner on several occasions but it fell on deaf ears."
Now that the WAEC results are out and the poor performance of the students from our county is evident, the caucus pointed out that the ministry has moved to dismiss the CEO. "It is now that the Ministry of Education has decided to dismiss this CEO who is also a candidate for the ensuing elections.
The Legislative Caucus and County Administration consider the MOE action as very belated and a direct dereliction of duty by the authorities of the Ministry of Education and a huge disservice to the people of Grand Kru County."
"Had Minister Werner listened to our honest appeal to relieve the CEO of his duties, we would not have had this disastrous result.
"No wonder why our education is considered a mess and the authorities of MOE are making a bad situation worse."
A 2006 report, Grand Kru County Development Agenda, described the county as the most neglected in the country despite having vast lands and forests irrigated by many rivers with a lot of potential for a much greater share of national economic activity, given its deposits of gold and timber reserves, but this potential is largely untapped.
More than 70% of households are said to be food insecure or highly vulnerable to food insecurity.
"The county's top-most priority for development can be summed up in one word: roads. Many needed services such as clinics, schools, and WATSAN are absent only because the Government and development partners cannot not reach the targeted populations."
At the time of the report, Dr. Toga Gayweah McIntosh, then minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, trumpeted the County Development Agenda as a major shift in the history of Grand Kru County.
"Up to now, Liberia's regional development has been a major disappointment: we never had a cohesive policy and strategy; leaders lacked vision and political will; governance and planning were highly centralized in Monrovia; and institutions were always constrained by a lack of adequate human resources."
But nearly a decade later, the county remains untapped, underdeveloped and badly in need of a radical transformation.
Water pump Doesn't Work - Six Months Now
It is the very reason that folks like Anthony Chea, a Buah District resident say change is overdue.
"The living condition is bad, we are here facing bad road conditions and telephone network also, cellphone use here is very difficult.
"We are also facing problems with safe-drinking water. NGOs came here and build lots of pump and we had so many pumps here but they all spoiled. The pump you looking at now, it has a problem and the community that here they suffering from drinking water."
The pump, Chea says has been down for six months.
To put the dilemma of these residents in perspective, in the district of Buah alone, there are only four water pumps catering to the some 3,384.
In nearby Barclayville, the county capital there are 846 persons using one hand pump in an area with 4,745 with a total of 13 hand pumps. In Sasstown, a population of 1,150 persons, 365 people have access to one hand pump; In Trehn, a population of 9,871, some 1,150 persons have access to one hand pump.
In Dorbor, which has a population of 2,553 persons and Forpoh, a population of 334, there are no hand pumps and residents there have to travel to nearby Grand Cess for water. Grand Cess has a total population of 2, 902 with 22 hand pumps.
Nearby Jloh, with a population of 2,149 persons also have no hand pumps, according to a county report prepared by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
To add insults to injury, Chea says many residents here are angry that those who came to them for their votes in 2005 and 2011 have not delivered.
"Our lawmakers, since we elected them into power, sometimes the come and they pass on. When they pass by Buah, they don't even stop, they drive on to Barclayville with their dark car glass up, they don't bother to even stop to see which of the conditions we are facing here."
" I want to see change to come because the first people that we elected here and put into power, they don't seek our interest. This is why we are in the political season now and we are looking among the candidates that are coming so we can make the rightful decision to elect people that will make our dream to come to past."
George Wandah, another resident agrees.
"Our condition here is too deplorable because the people we elected to serve us in Monrovia pass here every day and don't' stop. They don't pay heed to us as citizens, since they were elected - and it is hurting us."
This is why Wondah says, residents are properly vetting those passing through soliciting votes.
"In this case, this new government that coming in, we want to make a change, a difference, great difference. And this district is the second oldest district in the Republic of Liberia."
Residents Won't Give Votes on Mere Promises This Time
Buah was originally part of Maryland County which makes its significantly crucial to the upcoming Presidential elections.
Grand Kru has a total population 58,342, and 35,506 residents are registered to vote in the upcoming elections.
Buah was part of a county transformation ushered in by the late President Samuel Kanyon Doe government following the 1980 overthrowing of the Administration of President William R. Tolbert.
On April 12 1980, Decree number 87 was published by the Interim National Assembly, declaring Grand Kru County to be the area covering the eastern portion of Sinoe County, Sasstown Territory; the community between Maryland and then Grand Gedeh, Buah Statutory District; and the western half of Maryland County along the Atlantic Ocean, Kru Coast Territory.
This is why whichever politician or political can convince voters here of delivering on their promises could make an imprint on the southeast voting block with Grand Kru, Sinoe and Maryland in play.
The town of Barclayville, which was considered centrally-located despite its lack of basic facilities and infrastructure, was selected as the capital. Its selection was aimed at overcoming the traditional and political rivalry between the two former capitals of Grandcess and Sasstown, and is seen as a union between the coastal population, mainly Kru, and the people of the hinterland, the Grebo.
As far back as 2006, the Sirleaf administration had earmarked a number of important project for the county. Among them, was the expansion of access to basic health care of acceptable quality and establishment of the building blocks of an equitable, effective, efficient, responsive and sustainable health care delivery system.
Nationally, Liberia has a health workforce ratio of only 0.18 per 100,000 people and access to health services is estimated to be 41 percent.
The government had hoped to carry out a survey of health facilities to determine the number of trained health personnel, availability of drugs, future management arrangement plans, and availability of clean drinking water and sanitation facilities
Upcoming Elections a Litmus Test
In the period 2008-2012, the Ministry of Health had earmarked as top priority, the upgrade of the Barclayville Health Center to a fully-equipped hospital, upgrade the Behwan and Sasstown clinics to health centers, construct, staff, and equip new clinics in Geetugbaken (Buah) and Nyankunpo (Dorbor). Nearly a decade later, very little evidence is there to show that these targets were ever met.
For Wandah, this upcoming election will be their time to put elected officials on notice.
"We want to see a different change in the upcoming election. Since we elected them, even the representatives, the senators, mostly the Senators, they don't make a stop here.
They don't ask us about our grievances, what hurting us, nothing. As soon as they reach they just pass on toward the place they going, when their term over, their recess over, they go back.
They don't ask our view, this is the problem that is hurting us. So, we want to see a difference in this government. So, we got to watch our eyes to see who we can choose to bring a great difference to our county and in this country."
As the sun set on a recent week day, Abraham Blamo joined the chorus of bystanders in the backdrop of a political campaign event to lament the neglect.
"No good roads, no water, we have to toilet on stick. All those things we do not have, so, we want someone who will get them for us.
When you move from here to Monrovia you will spoil your car. So, we earn our living from driving motor bikes and a bag of rice is 30 dollar US. If you not working how will you feed your family?
Most of us and our children drink creek water. So, before we put them into power we want development to come in our county because when we put them there they will turn their backs to us. So, we need them to deliver first before we cast our votes."
75-Year-old Will Die if He Stops Farming
Mary John, who runs a makeshift convenience store, agrees.
She says getting goods for her shop, one of a handful in the town is not easy.
"I sell a bag of rice for 2, 800 Liberian dollars because I have to travel to Monrovia to get goods. We pay truck to bring it. So, we really want the government to fix the road because we are suffering."
John Jaka, 75, a farmer, should be in retirement but can't because he says, he'll die if he can no longer harvest food to eat and make a living.
"Everything is hard here. So, we need good person who will come in and give us good road here because during the raining season, it can really give us hard time.
One bag of rice here is 2,800. So, we need a good person who will support us. I'm not working and there is no help but I'm still making farm because there is no supporter, nowhere.
I tire to make farm but how my children will eat. We pray that God will choose the right person. When God say, this man will go in the chair; he will go in the chair. I don't know for now who that person will be but we're watching carefully."