Lexington, Sinoe County – Locals in the township of Lexington in Sinoe County are enduring the daily risks of commuting by means of old canoes due to the lack of a bridge connecting their communities with Greenville City – the county’s main city.
Sinoe County is located in the Southeastern region of Liberia, a region that has been plagued with massive road challenges over the past decade.
The main road linking Greenville to Lexington Township is in good condition but the absence of commercial vehicles to transport marketers and their merchandise is compelling commuters to opt for the route via the river because commercial motorcyclists charge a hefty LD$250 as fare per person travelling without luggage.
A trip on the canoe for residents cost LD$10, non-residents are charged LD$15 while students pay a weekly fare of LD$20.
The township authority monitors to ensure the price is never hiked.
The canoe is a donation to the community from representative aspirant, Clinton Donkan and proceeds are reported to the town chief on a daily basis.
These travelers, mostly business people, prefer using the canoe because it limits cost and saves travelling time.
It would take a traveler leaving Greenville to Lexington twenty five (25) minutes on car – which is rarely available - while it takes just five minutes riding a canoe to the same destination.
There are risks riding on these canoes, however; most people in the area ignored them because of its advantages which includes absolutely no charge for goods being transported.
One canoe operator, James Slawion - otherwise known as Gbongar, admits that canoe transportation is risky, but insists he has limited options and has to abide by the instructions of the township.
There are looming fears of disaster when a canoe capsizes. Although there have been incidents, he said there has not been a casualty so far.
“Yes, nobody has ever gotten drown or died because the canoe turn upside-down,” Slawion said.
“People have fallen in the water before but we managed to rescue them and nothing happened to them.”
Hired by the township to operate the canoe, every day he reports LD$300 to the town chief but during the rainy season plying the river becomes riskier for Slawion and his passengers due to the increase in the water tide.
“When it rains, the water becomes aggressive and during that time the water can be deep and the current high,” Slawion said.
Several persons have fallen victim to the aggression of the river during the rainy season including student Jerry Farley of the Sinoe Public School. Farley was once on the canoe when it capsized.
“I lost my phone in the water one time and my books all got wet, even my scientific calculator I bought with high earn money got damaged by the water when the canoe turn-over everyone felt in the water,” Farley recalled.
Connecting towns and villages with roads and bridges remain a serious challenge for government.
Like residents of Lexington Township in Greenville, several other rural towns across the country are experiencing similar challenge every year.
In some incidents, lives are lost and properties are destroyed when commuters’ canoe capsized.
Using canoes without life jackets exposes travelers to danger, and this is what happening in Lexington.
FrontPageAfrica observed that kids as young as five and their parents are without life jackets while riding on the canoe.
It is almost impossible to limit the influx of commuters that depend on using these canoes since it remains the efficient means of transportation for them.
Students seeking senior high education after attending the only junior high school in the area must attend in Greenville City, while patients seeking advance medical care out of the only clinic in the township must also use the canoe en route to county’s capital.
“If the only clinic in the township cannot handle a sick patient and there is no one with a vehicle or motor bike residing in the Township, such patient has no option but to use the canoe to cross to Greenville,” a health worker in the town said.
A resident, Peter Clay, remembered how he almost lost his only child when she got sick at night.
“At that night Gbogar (the canoe operator) has gone home and there was nobody to operate the canoe to cross my daughter, I was running all around looking for help, I had to called my uncle in Greenville before he brought car to take my daughter to the hospital,” he explained.
Despite the risk associated with using the canoes as transportation, residents are however grateful and hailed aspirant Donkan for the gesture especially in the absence of a bridge that would connect their township with the county’s capital.
“We have two canoes here brought in by Clinton Donkan,” Sabbastine Brown said.
“One of it has been used by his boys working for him while the other is being used by the residents in the community.”
Locals say the construction of a bridge will reduce the risk the community faces and empowers local economic activities in the township by limiting challenges traders experience.
There have been failed promises from politicians. Some residents claim former presidential aspirant, Dew Mayson, back in 2011 while on his campaign trail promised to construct the bridge which was a failed promise.
Some residents are hopeful that a pending conversation with former Central Bank Governor, now presidential aspirant, Dr. Mills Jones and representative aspirant, Clinton Donkan will successfully lead to the construction of a bridge.