Otcherbleku: A small village with big problems (Monday, February 10, 2014) spread

A herd of cattle viciously attacks grasses while trampling  on other plants on the vast swathe of land.

A cane-wielding herdsman lashes some of the recalcitrant animals getting out of line or delaying.

 Not far away, lies estate houses under construction. Occasionally, trucks carrying sand speed past, kicking up a whirlwind of dust on the already dusty, bumpy road.

A stone’s throw away rests a school---a primary school with only three classrooms instead of the conventional six; seven teachers, including the headmaster, and a weedy football pitch.

This is Otcherbleku, a predominantly farming community in the newly created Ningo-Prampram District of the Greater Accra Region.

Located seven kilometres off the Dodowa-Afienya road, Otcherbleku is a village with problems bigger than itself.

Apart from an Elite Kingdom signpost on the Dodowa-Afienya road directing people to the community, there is no sign of any community existing beyond the dust and green vegetation.

The vast stretch of fallow land has attracted the interest of real estate companies to the area with Elite Kingdom taking a huge chunk of the land. That notwithstanding, water is a scarce commodity.

No Water
Access to potable water is a big challenge in most rural communities including Otcherbleku, which interestingly  means ‘Caller of Water.’

The main source of water is a muddy stream located under a canopy of trees.

The villagers harvest water in the rainy season, buy bags of sachet water and when the rains stop falling, the stream is the lifeline for the about 500 inhabitants and herds of cattle and other domestic animals.

Those who can afford it rely on water from a delivery truck, which sells at cut-throat price.  A bucket of water at the nearest community-Mobole-which is about five  kilometres, costs GHp 80. The cost is almost four times the price in Accra.

An alternative, a borehole, has been out of service for the past three years but the water is said to be salty.
Abibata Mohammed, a resident, told the Daily Graphic, the situation was dire.

“We depend on this water for everything and share it with animals. It is not healthy but we don’t have a choice. Our fear is what happens if we don’t have money to buy water outside the community? We may be in trouble with diseases,” she said.

In a community where there is no access to potable water, the pupils of its only school-the Otcherbleku D/A Primary School-also suffer for it.

A class five pupil, Gifty Nartey, is among the pupils who had to trek about 400 metres to fill the family pot daily as part of her daily chores before making her way to school. As a result, she is late most of the time.

 “When they come to school and we don’t have water, they (pupils) have to come here and fetch the water.

We then keep it in the school for them to drink,” the Assistant Headmaster of the school, Mr Augustine Senyo, said.

 “It is the water we use to cook, bath, drink and others.  Sometimes we have to share our sachet water with them,” he said, pointing to a pool of water covered in weed and nestled under a forest of trees and tall grasses.

“We now have a water crisis here. We can’t get water to cook. We are planning to leave the classroom to go in search of water. We need a polytank so that we can store more water. Please help us to get an NGO to give us a helping hand,” he pleaded.

 Statistics suggest that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) drinking water target, which calls for halving the proportion of the world's population that lacks sustainable access to safe drinking water between 1990 and 2015, was met in Ghana in  2010-- five years ahead of schedule.

But tales from rural communities, including Otcherbleku, is a pointer to a much-needed investment in the water sector.

A school on knees
Inadequate classrooms at the school have compelled authorities of the school to force six classes into three classrooms.

While about 100 pupils are sharing three plywood-partitioned classrooms, another group of primary one pupils sweat under a shed. They are easily distracted by activities in the immediate surroundings.
Challenges with classroom  means some of the pupils have to study under a shed.Challenges with classroom means some of the pupils have to study under a shed.Challenges with classroom means some of the pupils have to study under a shed.
An obviously unhappy pupil, Isha Abdulai, lamented the poor state of the school. “We are easily distracted from noises in other classes because our classes are divided by just plywood and the classrooms are small too.”

Currently, the nursery, kindergarten and primary two pupils share one classroom. Though they are separated by plywood, access to the nursery is through the primary two classrooms.

The school started in 1987, in a pavilion which was later demarcated into three classrooms in the hope that extra classrooms would be built as the school’s population increased.

Until three years ago, the school was operating a multi-grade system, Mr Senyo, told the Daily Graphic.

He said two grades of pupils shared a classroom, explaining that classes two and three, for instance, shared a class, while sometimes one teacher taught classes four, five and six.
Currently, the classrooms have been partitioned.

The headmaster’s office is a narrow space which is further crowded by his desk, chair and the school’s sports equipment.
 
The various classrooms have no lockers or cupboards for books so all the school books are put in a small storeroom.

Domestic animals and herds of cattle often stray into the school compound, leaving behind trails of animal droppings because the school is not fenced.

“There was a time a snake entered  our office. Mostly, goats enter the classrooms, especially the class under the shed, distracting the students who are already being scorched by the sun.”

If education is on its knees in the community, healthcare is nonexistent.

Health Care

There is no health post in the community. This means women in labour have to be rushed to the nearest health facility which is about 45 minutes away on a bumpy, pothole-filled road to the Tema General Hospital or a clinic in Dodowa.

Madam Mary Tei-Kodjo, a trained traditional birth attendant  for the past four years, observed that the lack of health facility had not helped in reducing child mortality in the area.

Three babies died during delivery in the last two years.

“When complications arise during delivery, they (pregnant women) have to travel about 18 kilometres. Our women find it difficult to attend antenatal, as most of the time, they don’t have money to charter vehicles to health facilities.”

“This leads to loss of babies during birth as the mothers do not get enough medical attention before their time is due,” she said.

Ms Mariama Kwao, who is currently pregnant, shared her frustrations, saying: “I have to walk seven kilometres to Mobole to pick a car to the hospital. The bad nature of our road makes it worse.  It is so tiring.”

They, therefore, appealed to the government to build a healthcare facility in the community to reduce the burden of expectant mothers and the sick.

Places of convenience

Like most rural communities, Otcherbleku is without places of convenience. Apart from a toilet for the school and teachers, almost the entire village defecates in the open.

Only a few households have toilets in their homes; a situation the assembly member for the area, Mr Gabriel Kofi Doku, said was unfortunate.


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