Liberia: Health Workers Build Ferry to Reach Stranded Communities

Men pushing a new ferry into the Yarr River

Yarr River, a geographical barrier splitting Gbehyi Clan into halves in Nimba County, has been a serious nightmare for sick people and pregnant women in that clan over the years.

The only clinic built years back at the headquarters of the clan in Duayee is expected to serve the nine surrounding towns, but residents from the other five towns across the river mostly find it difficult, especially during the rainy season, to get treatment at the clinic when the river overflows its bank.

To address this impediment, Ms. Kerbeh Kessellee, Community Health Services Supervisor of Duayee Clinic, could not wait to advocate for the building of a ferry that would safely convey people from across the river to gain access to the health center.

On June 1, 2019 in Gbeanpa during the turnover ceremony of the newly built ferry, Madam Kessellee said she conceived the idea following a workshop held among health workers of three clinics including Banla, Duayee and Duo Clinics last year in Duo Town, Saclepea Mah District, Nimba County. The workshop was geared at exploring ideas to tackle community health issues and to plan what projects these clinics can undertake in line with mandate of the Nimba County Health Supervisor.

While deciding on which to project to undertake, the Community Health Services Supervisor said the clinics in Duo, Banla, and Duayee began a financial savings club, popularly known as "Susu", to raise funds.

"As we went around last year generating funds through rallies for each clinic, our time came and the total of L$15,000 was generated for Duayee Clinic, which was presented to the Officer-in-Charge of the clinic," she noted.

She added, "The first project earmarked was to build a porch on the clinic."

According to Kerbeh, building a porch or a staff quarter as suggested earlier did not materialize, because other residents recommended something far better than building a porch.

"It was not too long when we realized that the canoe at the Yarr River, near Gbeanpa had capsized and one of the health workers, Joe Queedei narrowly escaped death," she said, adding, "Since we could not meet our target, I suggested in the wake of the accident that we should build a ferry on the river so that pregnant women and other patients will be able to cross safely."

Canoes like this one, which have bee used to ferry travelers at the Yarr River crossing point, are considered risky, hence the need for the ferry.

The idea was endorsed by the officer-in-charge of Gbehyi Duayee Clinic, David Z. Wuo, and they began to source other means of getting funding for the project. They, therefore, commenced another phase of rally, this time among citizens of Gbehyi Clan. According to her, the construction of the ferry cost US$1,500, which the amount collected through rally could not cover.

"We collected L$98,000 as we went around the nine towns to carry out the rally and the money was spent on the ferry. We were still left with debt for these men who came from the Ivory Coast. This means that building a ferry is not an easy thing to do," Kerbeh added.

Mr. Wuo, who was honored by the health team of Duayee Clinic, also commended Kessellee for her brilliant idea and accomplishment.

Cooper Karnue, District Health Officer (DHO) of Saclepea Mah District, acknowledged the cooperation of residents in Gbehyi to help the health workers achieve their goal. He described it as a "major accomplishment" in his work, because it will enable more people to access the health facility.

"As more and more people visit the clinic, I the DHO, will have the edge among my friends, because we are evaluated by the number of people who visit health facilities that fall under our control. This ferry will help a whole lot in raising the number of people attending Duayee Clinic, and it will get my district to have a good record that our bosses expect," Mr. Karnue said.

He, however, cautioned the citizens against misuse of the ferry and said as expensive as it is, the people will only benefit for a long time if they maintain it properly. He also cautioned the people of Gbeanpa, who are in charge of crossing people, not to allow boys below the age of 18 to operate the ferry.

A prominent citizen of Gbehyi Clan, Harris Zua Saye, also commended the health workers and the citizens, but raised the concern that one of the crossing points in Nyeayee has turned dangerous for travelers because another ferry there is damaged.

Saye said the ferry was built a few years back when former Vice President, Joseph Boakai, provided US$3,000 for that purpose.

This crossing point, according to Mr. Saye has been a dangerous area with records of drowning, latest being in 2015 when three motorcyclists drowned at that point.

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