Two new university graduates
Amadou Ceesay (left) and Ansumana Kassama (right) have formally graduated from the University of The Gambia in ceremonies held on 5 March 2022. Both have been sponsored by SSF since junior secondary school in Salikenni village.
Amadou received a bachelor of science degree in political science, with honors. He plans a career advocating for peace and human rights. He already has direct experience in this area. In 2017 he founded a group called Rise of the Young Gambia. The group conducted voter education in rural villages in the lead-up to the December 2021 presidential election. It plans to do the same in upcoming legislative and local government elections. It has conducted human rights education in schools.
Ansumana received a bachelor of science degree in accounting. Though many new university graduates in The Gambia struggle to find jobs, he already has one. He’s been working for several months for the Gambian Ministry of Finance as a procurement specialist.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seriously disrupted education at all levels in The Gambia during the past year. At the university, many students found it difficult to attend classes online. Lecturers found it difficult to complete their curricula on time.
As a result, several SSF university students who should have formally graduated on 5 March were unable to do so because of a course or a paper yet to be completed. In one case some of a student’s freshman grades went missing in an electronic system, and the student was told to make up the lost credits.
Taking this Covid chaos into account, when we published our Annual Report in November, we wrote about all the students who were wrapping up their degrees at that time, without trying to guess when they would actually appear in caps and gowns. We did so to show how hard they had worked and how much they had achieved in a wide variety of fields of learning. You can read all of their stories, and more about the two who did graduate, in our 2021 Annual Report available here.
— 6 March 2022
Ba Alagie Conteh, Esq.
Ba Alagie Conteh, the first SSF student to choose the law as a career, has been “called to the bar” in a ceremony at the High Court Complex in Banjul.
He will now start a one year pupilage, working under an experienced lawyer. After six months of this he will be eligible to appear in Magistrate Court. After the full year he can be licensed to practice law.
Ba Alagie was one of 60 students called to the bar this year, which means they have completed the bar course at Gambia Law School and passed the bar exam. Slightly more than half of these new graduates are women.
Ba Alagie comes from the small village of Banni. He has been under SSF sponsorship since grade 7. In 2020 he earned a bachelor’s degree in law at the University of The Gambia. He has long had a major interest in human rights law. (See earlier story in our 2021 annual report here.)
— 8 February 2022
Ebrima Marong Receives Bachelor of Science with Honors
In grade 7 at the government school in the village of Salikenni, Ebrima Marong was always quick to raise his hand, sometimes both hands, waving his arms eagerly to answer a question.Ebrima has maintained that enthusiasm for education ever since.
On May 8, 2021 he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Minnesota State University, Mankato, becoming the first SSF student to reach that level in a school in the United States. He begins work as an intern at a Minnesota engineering firm next month and plans to earn a master’s degree at Mankato during coming year.
Ebrima grew up in the village of Mandori, which had no government school. Its children walked 45 minutes each way to and from Salikenni to attend classes conducted in English, which is the official language of The Gambia. He is the youngest of seven children of Bubacarr Marong, a farmer and teacher of the Koran, and he was the only one of his siblings to be sent to the government school.
It would be wrong to imply there was no learning in Mandori. Young people came to his father’s house to study the Koran in Arabic. Children have long attended an “Arabic school” in the village. His father required all of his own children to have this training. “Before I got to elementary school I was able to read the Koran at a certain level,” Ebrima recalls.
“I was interested in reading and getting to know numbers,” he said in an interview in early 2020. “A friend of my dad used to come to our house. He would examine us. He would say, ‘If you can count from 1 to 50 [in English] I will give you a present.’ He would do that for all the children. I could count from 1 to 100 and I could recite the alphabet from A to Zed. And so they said maybe we should send him to school.”
His grade 1 teacher was amazed that he could count and write his name, and the principal quickly moved him to grade 2.
“I was with friends. We were learning to read. I started loving it. I started becoming a person. I enjoyed going to school. I enjoyed reading books. We had books for grade 2, 3, 4. There was a passage about a woman who was going to the market, leaving her children in the house. I don’t remember the rest of the passage. I could read fluently by grade 3 or 4. There was an SSF library in the school.”
His enthusiasm carried him through the science program at Nusrat, one of The Gambia’s best senior secondary schools. “I made a lot of friends at high school,” he said. “There were a lot of good students in my classes. We dug into our courses and we loved what we were doing. That made high school more fun. We got to grade 12 and worked on some projects. High school was a great experience. It was just a terrific place I thought.
“And I began to learn science. I was more into the physics aspect and the mathematic aspect, and that has given me motivation to explore engineering, and develop a passion for engineering.”
In 2017, his final year at Nusrat, Ebrima was chosen to be one of five Gambian high school students to represent the country in an international robotics competition held in Washington D.C. With no previous knowledge of the subject, the team spent three months in The Gambia doing research on the Internet and building a robot designed to demonstrate a way to remove impurities from water. When they took it to the competition arena in Washington, their entry won 77th position among 163 countries, beating high school students from the United States and Russia.
“It was an amazing experience,” he recalls. “It gave me the chance to explore the world, to meet people from China, Nepal, Tunisia, England. And I still know some of those people from other parts of the world. We are friends on social media. So it was a life-changing experience.”
The experience confirmed his ambition to become an engineer — and refined it. He would be an electrical engineer. But there was no way to pursue that goal in The Gambia. The University of The Gambia had no department of engineering. The country’s main technical training school was getting bad reviews from students who enrolled there.
Unable to pursue engineering, Ebrima enrolled in the University of The Gambia’s medical school and began classes. He also applied online to the university in Mankato, which he had heard about during the robotics competition.
On December 14, 2017, Ebrima emailed us that he had been accepted into the university’s engineering program. He already had a US student visa. A Gambian mentor had promised to buy him an airline ticket.
A few days later he arrived in Mankato. “It was very cold,” he recalled later. “I felt very nervous, because I didn’t know anyone in that city. I was the only one there. And it was just a terrible experience. But everyone was welcoming.” Local people took him to a store to buy warm clothing. The university arranged housing. “Minnesota people are friendly to immigrants,” he said.
The Salikenni Scholarship Fund has financed Ebrima’s study at Mankato in large part through private donations. Our budget does not permit us to finance education outside The Gambia with SSF funds.