GARMUE, Panta District – Sara Beysolow Nyanti, the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in South Sudan, drove a bulldozer on Wednesday to break ground for a 19-mile road in the Bong County town of Garmue, Panta District, near the Liberian-Guinean border.
By: Selma Lomax
Citizens of the 32 towns and villages and their Guinean neighbors raised around US$20, 000 for the “Unity Road Project,’’ dubbed “Panta Pride.’’
Signs with the names of the towns and the contribution from each community are planted along the 19-mile stretch that was primarily used as footpath for citizens from Guinea and Liberia who traveled up and down the road for trade.
Quanuquanei Karmue, a son of Panta, mobilized citizens to donate US$1.00 each and he would match $2. Citizens eagerly embraced the idea because they wanted a stake in their communities.
Some citizens agreed to break down their houses to make way for the road.
Sara Beysolow Nyanti, who also serves as UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, was clear that her role in Panta is in her personal capacity as the founder of Social Movement for Change (SM4C).
She cited the road project as an example of how empowered citizens can take charge of their own development instead of always depending on government and donors.
“If you can build a road, you can build a bridge; if you can build a bridge, you can build an entire nation,’’ she told the nearly 4,000 people who gathered in Garmue to celebrate the ceremony of the Panta-Guinea Border project.
“If you have development and you have your money in it, you will protect it.’’Beysolow Nyanti said when Karmue first told her about the project, she was excited because it is in line with the Social Movement for Change (SM4C) model that she has been advocating since 2015 as the model for development of Liberia and other least developed countries.
Social Movement for Change is based on the idea that citizens from impoverished communities can develop their own communities. She has used the model to work with citizens in Brewerville and Banjor communities to build wells, learning huts to provide counseling and educational support for adolescent girls.
The model has led to the construction of two Learning Huts that hires female teachers and female social workers. SM4C has over change agents in Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Cape Mount and Bong counties.
Nation building, she said, is not the primary responsibility of government alone. Citizens must be at the table to plan for the development of their communities. When people know their responsibilities, their rights and what it means to be a good citizen, they will love Liberia more, Beysolow Nyanti said.
Rights come with responsibilities and nobody else should be expected to develop Liberia. Liberians must develop Liberia. “We must realize that we have the power in ourselves to change our lives,’’ she said. “If you are empowered with knowledge and skills, nobody can take what you know from you.’’ This is what it is about, she said. “It is the power that you have within yourself, the power to take action, the power to overcome the actions and inactions of others, and the power that you have with others in partnership.’’
Beysolow Nyanti expressed pride in being an affiliate of those matching the funds of the communities of Panta. The people of Panta, she said, are setting the example for the rest of the country on what happens when citizens take responsibility for their own development. Panta’s Pride is Liberia’s pride, she said. Liberia will learn from Panta.
“This is the model for development,’’ she said. Beysolow Nyanti who is in Liberia on medical leave and celebrating her birthday at home said that she kept the commitment to the people of Panta because of how much she believes in this community led development approach. Liberia’s rising will happen. It is not just a dream but a vision that I have seen as clearly as I see you all here today,’’ she said.
Karmue on his part told the citizens of Panta District that he invited Beysolow Nyanti because of her experience in nation building in places such as Nigeria, Gambia, Nepal and South Sudan. “We wanted to acknowledge your work around the world because we strongly believe that Liberia also needs your expertise,’’ Karmue said.
Karmue, who lives in America, said he began working in Panta when his family adopted 44 children in the district after the civil war. He expanded his support in the village during the COVID-19 crisis, providing food and other resources to residents. His engagement with Panta’s children inspired him to create the organization, “Save More Kids Inc., where he serves as executive director.
Karmue thanked Al Fasola who leads the fundraising in the United States to help with the matching funds for all of the projects.When Liberia experienced a rice shortage last year, Karmue got citizens involved in planting rice and built a rice bank to store rice to feed the community.
His goal is to strengthen food security in the area, to reduce reliance on imported rice. He provided a rice processing machine. He has plans to build an agriculture and nursing school in the area.When the road is complete, he plans to work with the community to build a toll bridge at the Liberia-Guinean border, where people have drowned crossing the water.
A pregnant woman lost her baby while trying to cross the border, one resident said. “We believe that citizens are the most valuable assets in Liberia,’’ he said. “I have been telling the people to be a part of their own development.’’Panta citizens danced, sang, and cheered during the ceremony.
Edison P. Flomo has lived in Panta all his life. He said this is the first time that citizens have joined together to develop the district. “We are very proud that we can give back to our community,’’ he said.
Madam Towhan Owoah, a native of Panta, said she feels empowered because she is part of developing the district. “We were born here, so it is our responsibility to develop our community,’’ she said.
Alpha Sheriff, a Guinean cab driver who runs between the Liberian-Guinean border, donated 20,000LD to the project. He said the new road will be good for motorists and strengthen trade and business in the area.
“I am glad the project has started,’’ he said. “This is unity in diversity.The focus going forward is not only the road, but food security. Water is also produced from the mountain in Garmue and packaged, and community members will be engaged for economic growth opportunities.