...As Refuse Engulfs Saema Takoradi -- About 500 school children from two schools in the Sekondi-Takoradi metropolis in the Western Region have boycotted classes ever since school re-opened last Tuesday.
Information gathered up by The Chronicle indicates that the children are protesting against stockpiles of refuse on their school premises, which they see as a threat to their health.
The Chronicle gathered that teachers of the affected schools are also threatening to close the schools down in solidarity with the children should the Shama Ahanta East Metropolitan Assembly (SAEMA) fail to salvage the situation before the end of the week.
"We are concerned about the health of the school pupils and ours too, so if nothing is done to remedy the situation, we will be left with no option but to close down the schools," a teacher from one of the schools told The Chronicle.
Some of the teachers who spoke to The Chronicle at the affected schools at Effia and Effia Kuma Zongo, said they had protested several times about the health hazard from the mounting refuse but nothing appeared to have come out of their protest.
According to them, whilst some of the parents had refused to allow their children to attend school in such a poor sanitary condition, some of the children themselves had also refused to attend school for fear of contracting a disease.
At both the Methodist JSS and Primary, near the Effia cemetery, the authorities told The Chronicle that out of over 400 pupils of the primary section, only 50 had so far reported to school when they resumed last Tuesday.
The situation was not different at the JSS section.
The Chronicle discovered that because the metropolitan authorities were not evacuating the refuse, the residents had dumped the refuse to cover the entrance of a footbridge that leads to the school.
This means the teachers and school pupils have to climb the mountain of refuse before gaining access to the school.
As a result of this, flies have virtually taken over the school, and thus compelling food vendors to also boycott selling food to the children.
This reporter was told that following the severe pressure that was brought to bear on the assemblyman for the area, he also went and set fire to the refuse.
Though his action has somehow helped to clear the way for the children to have access to the school, it has also led to another problem - the school has been engulfed with smoke.
Teachers at the Methodist Primary and JSS at Effia told The Chronicle that because of the way flies have taken over the school, they themselves do not eat in the open at the school for fear of contracting a disease like cholera.
At the Al-Azharriya Islamic Primary School at the Effia Kuma Zongo, the situation was at its worst. The bad odour emanating from the mountainous refuse that had not been cleared for months now was enough to scare any first time visitor, but innocent school children were seen playing on it.
The headmistress of the school told the Chronicle that to avoid the situation where she would be accused of by-passing administrative procedures, she had decided to inform the assemblyman and his unit committee members about the health hazard being posed to the children and their teachers in the school.
She warned that if by the end of the week, nothing had been done to clear the refuse, she might consider the possibility of closing the school down.
According to her, the children had turned the refuse into a playing ground and using their hands to pick up any object they came across. "This has also given us a lot of problem because we have to constantly drive away the children and then give them water to wash their hands," the headmistress, who described herself only as Hannah, told The Chronicle.
She noted that the unpleasant smell coming from the refuse that is just about 10 meters away from the school was a great worry to her and her staff.
"Look at the flies around us, but people are sitting in them selling food to the children," she lamented.
Some of the Zongo people who approached this reporter after spotting him taking pictures of the refuse, said they were being treated by the SAEMA authorities like animals.
"Do you think that if they were the people living here, they would have allowed the refuse to pile up like this?
Look 'massa' we are finding it difficult to enjoy our meals because of the bad smell coming from the refuse," a resident told me.
When the metropolitan director of education, Nana Nketiah, was contacted, he confirmed that he had received complaints from his teachers threatening to close the schools down due to poor sanitary conditions.
"But for my intervention, the schools would have been closed down by now," he added.
He gave assurance that he had taken up the matter with the metropolitan authorities because he was also concerned about the health of the school children and his staff.
Speaking in a radio interview in Takoradi yesterday, the metropolitan chief executive, Mr. Kwesi Nkrumah, said the problem had arisen because their pay loader and bulldozer had broken down.
He said the repair work, which cost the assembly over ¢200 million, was almost over and that very soon, they would start clearing the refuse. According to him, his outfit was subsidizing the refuse collection in the city to the tune of ¢180 million a month and therefore called for support.
The Chronicle's visit to parts of the city revealed that refuse had piled up at almost all the suburbs.
At the Sekondi station, which could be described as the heart of the city, refuse has piled up, with the residents not knowing the day or time it would be cleared.
Some of the residents told this reporter that they did not know what was going on and that should there be any outbreak of cholera, the worst things would happen in the city.