Access to Yiben has greatly improved since Mallam first undertook the 15km weekly journey on foot and everything they needed was carried in.
Isolation has been the #1 barrier to basic services and development so improving access is an important part of supporting healthcare for the community.
In 2013, after the school was built, a line was pushed from the main road near Fadugu following the Mowoloko River through the jungle to a site on the Seli River near Yiben. Here the government is planning to build a new hydro dam as part of the Bunbuma Hydro Project providing electricity for the capital, Freetown and other cities to the south.
The impact studies and preliminary plans are completed and construction is expected to begin in 2021. Because of its proximity, this dam is known as the Yiben Dam and its construction will have a huge impact on the village in many ways including employment opportunities. There is also great expectation of a sealed all-weather road to the site and a ‘bridge’ to Yiben across the dam wall.
Until then, the track remains a difficult but passable route for 4WD and motor bikes during the dry season.
A bike for Mallam
In 2013, Aussie friends helped Mallam buy a motor bike to ease his travel and workload. S4LA has since helped him to maintain and upgrade the bike as it cuts down his walking distance to Yiben and gives him easier access to the bigger towns where he needs to do business. He regularly carries passengers and ‘freight’ as needed and would be a formidable motocross contender.
Local boats for each community
With the clinic under construction in 2016, Mallam and the communities in its catchment area on the other side of the river requested a number of local dugout style boats be made so that each community could have their own. Not having to share boats between communities along the river meant faster, fairer access to the services.
Mallam found a skilled young operator who put the chain saw to action and produced 6 new boats. Crossing a flooded river is always dangerous so S4LA bought life jackets for each boat. Our members gladly made use of these when we visited in 2017. Arriving at the river after dark, we were boated skillfully across the swollen waters by torchlight. Thanks to Sarah Kumba for this great memory.
With the clinic operating and Nurse Adama making outreach visits to many communities to strengthen the connections, provide immunisations and give maternal support, these boats are serving their purpose well.
A large motor boat
Wet season access from Yiben to Fadugu was upgraded in 2018 when we funded a large motor boat capable of carrying 20 people up the Mowoloko River. It lands approximately 2km from the village and cuts the travel time to just over an hour.
As the ‘Health Boat’, it carries staff and official visitors, clinic provisions and patients referred to bigger centres. It transported most of the construction materials for the birthing rooms, nurses’ accommodation and clinic well. In two trips, it brought in the highly-prized Dulas solar vaccine fridge.
As a community service the boat runs weekly to the Fadugu markets allowing the villagers to trade more easily for their basic needs. Safety rules apply and passengers pay a small fare that contributes to petrol costs. Many people have now experienced their first trip to town.
The Mowoloko is a seasonal tributary that joins the Seli as it bends sharply around Yiben. Not surprising that Yiben means ‘the place where the rivers join’. During the dry season the water level is too low for the boat and reveals masses of dead timber that in some places pose a risk to the boat as the water drops. Mallam has used the dry times to progressively clear the threats and provide safer passage and landing areas. Another job for the trusty chainsaw and experienced contractors.
In the wet season, this boat is a bus, a taxi, a lorry and an ambulance – a game-changer for the community while waiting for the road.
A Temporary Bridge
Early in 2020, with the River Seli at its lowest level, the Yiben youth partnered with a couple of friendly timber workers to construct timber tracks across the river bed in the place the dam will be built. They cleared the approaches and used this to bring in large quantities of cement, floor tiles and other construction materials needed to tile the clinic, finish the nurses accommodation and wells. This was an innovative and successful short-term solution to save carrying, a slow and grueling task that always falls to the few.
In a race against the looming wet season it allowed the work to progress quickly, before the bridge was washed away and the boat came back into service for the remainder of the year.
Until the new road is built, helping to maintain the bike and providing fuel and maintenance for the boat are a budget priority.