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Five SSF Women Graduate from University


Five SSF students — all of them women — received their diplomas

at graduation ceremonies held by the University of The Gambia

on April 21, 2024.


Their achievement is particularly significant because experts

have been telling developing countries for many years that an

essential step in the development process is the empowerment

of women.


None of the five had an easy path getting to this point. Education

at the university was seriously disrupted during the Covid-19

pandemic. Some of these students had to balance education with

marriage and motherhood.  Now all of them are trying to find jobs,

in a country where jobs in the formal economy are hard to come

by without personal connections.


Kasamanding Kanteh, who received a bachelor of science degree in economics, grew up in a farming family in Salikenni, the youngest among six children. Her father died when she was five. Her mother worked hard to make ends meet, growing rice for the table during the rainy season and vegetables irrigated from wells in the dry season. Omar, the oldest son took charge of the cash crops, peanuts and millet. Later he went into business selling clothing in a market.


 “The economic condition of my family isn’t bad, because we have been able to have access to the things that are necessary for a good life,” Kasamanding wrote in a text interview.  “I believe that being rich isn’t about the amount of wealth, but rather the things that money can’t afford,” she added. “I describe my family as not poor, because we are rich in happiness, openness, and gratefulness. We don’t beg anyone for food and we don’t ask anyone for survival. We are grateful that we have been able to provide for the basic needs of life, and I believe that alone is enough for one to have a good life.”


Kasamanding is the only one among her siblings to have a university education. Omar and another brother, Ahmed, each completed high school with good grades, but for lack of money could go no further.


When Covid-19 reached The Gambia in 2020 the university closed entirely for a month and then conducted classes online. Many students, using mobile phones, had trouble connecting online and missed lectures. 

When the university later resumed in-person learning it reduced class sizes to reduce contagion. That meant some students could not sign up for all the courses they needed, so they are graduating late.


On April 17, 2022, half way through her final year at the university, Kasamanding married Yusuf Sonko, a Gambian man who most of the time lives and works in Italy. He pursued an Arabic religious education instead of attending The Gambia’s English language public education system. He left The Gambia in 2017 as an economic migrant. 


A few days after the wedding , when we called to congratulate her, Kasamanding made clear that she is determined to combine marriage with a career. “My husband is such a caring and understanding man,” she said. “He has been supportive to me in my educational career. We have made plans for the future, such as building a compound which we would own and raising our children and giving them the best that they deserve.”


Their son Safwan Sonko was born November 27, 2023. That was the same day that the university told Kasamanding that her attestation, confirming she would be part of the graduation ceremony, was ready for pickup. She already had started looking for a job, so far without success.


Jainaba S. Bah graduated with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, a subject highly relevant to The Gambia, which, like much of Africa is vulnerable to climate change. She is the first in our program to chose this field of study.


 Jainaba is married to Omar Jallow, a former SSF student who graduated from the university in 2016 with a degree in nursing. He worked as a nurse in a Gambian hospital during the worst of the Covid pandemic. Since then, with private financing, he has earned a master’s degree in Sweden in global health. He is looking for a PhD opportunity in the health field.


Clearly this is a modern African couple who both want to help help create a better world.


Both come from Dobo, one of a cluster of Gambian villages in which SSF gives scholarships to selected Their son, Abubacarr, was born in May 2021.


In September 2021 Jainaba wrote to tell us that she had completed the course work for her degree. But she had not had time to complete the research for her senior paper, so she was not eligible to graduate in the university’s convocation in March 2022. (It is held every other year.)


It took her more than a year to complete the paper. It was on flooding, which has become more severe in parts of The Gambia as global temperatures have continued to rise. Her study area was Nema Kunku on The Gambia’s western coast. “During the course of this study,” her paper says, “The Gambia was hit with the heaviest rainfall in more than 30 years, suffering its worst flooding in nearly half a century. 35,000 people were directly affected, and 11 deaths were reported. The heavy rain started on Saturday 30 July 2022 and continued for more than 20 hours. The government of The Gambia blamed climate change for the extreme weather while others blamed the government for the flooding due to the poor constructions of roads without a proper drainage system to allow free flow of water.”


 She distributed 40 copies of a questionnaire to residents asking about their awareness of risk, their degree of preparedness, and how they coped with the flooding. Her overall conclusions were that exceptionally heavy rains were the principal cause of flooding, but this was made worse by lack of planning. People had built houses in natural water flow areas. They also had dumped garbage in drainage paths preventing the water from flowing away. The paper recommended legislation to prevent these practices.


 Jainaba says she agrees that educating girls and women is an important goal. “When young girls receive the same opportunities as boys they can get higher paying jobs, and from there the labor force will continue to grow, which will improve economic stability.”


Nyima Njie (left) graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human resources management, a relatively new major offered by the university. She chose it hoping it would lead to a job. So far it has not, but she’s continuing her job search.


The teachers in her program appear to have some modern ideas about education. One of them is teamwork. The courses, Nyima told us, included giving assignments to small teams of students and asking them to figure out solutions among themselves. In recent years many scholars have said this is something that 21st Century education should include.

“I have learned about value of teamwork in education and society,” Nyima said in a text interview, “because in every human resource assignment that I was given I met different people with different mindsets and those with working experience. It really helps a lot.”


Nyima is married to Basiru Marong, a Gambian man, who completed  high school and then became part of the large irregular migration of young Gambians to Europe in search of jobs. He now works in Germany.


At the university Nyima experienced perhaps longer delays than other students.Starting in the fall of 2018 she normally would have graduated in the spring of 2022. But by the summer of 2023 she still had several courses to complete. She didn’t finish the last of her exams until January 2024. The only explanation for her achievement is sheer determination.


We asked her how she imagines her life ten years from now.  Her reply was: “I imagine my life will change, because I will be a different person with lot’s of experience in ten years to come, because if I complete my bachelor degree I plan to go for my master’s degree, by the grace of God, which will increase my knowledge and understanding. And, yes, I see living together with Basiru and our children. The two of us will support the family by working hard and give back to the family. And I see myself having a role in my community, for sure.”


Mariama Trawalley, (right), from Salikenni village, received her bachelor of science degree in accountancy. She is the first in her family to earn a university degree.


Her experience as a student during Covid-19 was similar to what others describe.

“Covid affected us a lot,” she wrote. “Among the precautions were social distancing

and avoiding public gatherings. We found it difficult to attend some of our [online]

lectures due to poor internet connection in the country.” She said most of her courses

involved calculation, which made it even more difficult.


Last February she still had two courses to complete. She went to the university for

classes three days a week, and finally completed all requirements. As a single woman

she still hopes to have a career in accounting. She is looking for a job but has not yet

found one. She encourages younger girls to pursue a university education. She would

be willing, as a volunteer, to help SSF by working with girls in our program.


 Jainaba Faye (below left) expected to graduate to from the university in March 2022. But because a lecturer failed to register her grades in one course her name was not on the graduation list. The lecturer had left the country and could not at that time be located. It has taken two years to resolve this. Jainaba finally was allowed to resit the final exam for the course. She passed it, and now has her bachelor’s degree in accountancy.


 Jainaba grew up in Banni, a village in which some families did not believe in educating girls. Her father died when she was very young. Her mother, Fiedy Cham, took charge of the compound. She wanted all of her children to be educated. But lack of money stood in the way.


Jainaba’s older brother, Kemba, almost made it through high school. But the money ran out when he was in grade 12. He was not allowed to sit the final exams or graduate. Kemba later migrated to Europe.


Gradually, village attitudes toward education have changed, Jainaba told us. “Parents nowadays have opened their eyes. They are seeing educated persons around the world, how they behave, how they're respected by the society and above all how they're helping their nation.” 


“I take my own mum as an example. Any day that my li’l brother complains about schooling Mum says, ‘If you're not educated in the future you will regret it because you will be unable to acquire a watchman’s job much less another job.’”


 Jainaba is married to Dembo Joof, a Gambian man who made his way to Europe as an economic migrant and recently was working in Germany as a gardener. Their son, Hamza Joof, was born August 8, 2023. Jainaba lives with her husband’s family in the Gambia’s urban area.


She says she has been looking for a job since her third year at the university. Motherhood has made job hunting more difficult. She has followed many leads and has had one interview, which led nowhere.


Development scholars say a country that does not educate girls and women loses the potential economic productivity of half of its population. That’s why SSF every year selects seven boys and seven girls at the grade seven level for scholarships which, if they can do their part, will carry them through the University of The Gambia.


In coming years we expect more young women in our program to graduate from the university. Five women and seven men are in the university now with one or more years to go. Others of both genders attend Gambian business colleges.


Among our students in high schools girls outnumber boys. We have 20 girls in urban high schools this year and 13 boys. This tells us something about who will graduate from the university years from now.

April 2024

L to R:  Nyima Nijl, Jainaba S. Bah,

            Kasamanding Kanten 

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A Merger of Two Cultures


It’s a long way from Mandori village to the Central Bank of The Gambia. As he looks back on that journey, Lamin Marong sees it as the combining of two cultures.

Lamin, now 27, (left) has been working for the Central Bank since November 2022. He is a senior supervisor in the bank’s Currency Management Department. He processes checks and debits involved in the bank’s transactions with Gambian government institutions and with commercial banks.

“I’m from a humble beginning,” Lamin wrote in a recent interview with SSF conducted in text messages. “I was born and raised in Mandori village. My dad is a farmer and my mum is a gardener. I grew up assisting my dad at his farm during raining season and my mum at her garden during dry season.”


“Mandori is one of the most respected villages in Central Baddibu District,” Lamin continued. “It is unique its own way. The residents of Mandori are well versed in the Holy Qu’ran. Many were sent by their parents and grandparents to go and seek Arabic knowledge.”


 “I started my educational career in Mandori Arabic School when I was very young,” he wrote. “It was an Arabic school but English and mathematics were taught there too, in order to provide a little bit of background in Western education.”


Arabic and Western education exist side-by-side in The Gambia. Many children spend several years in Arabic school, focusing on the Qu’ran, before starting grade 1 in The Gambian government’s free public school system. Classes in the public schools are conducted in English, and rural Gambians often refer to them as “English schools.”


Dobo and Banni, two of the smaller villages in the area we serve, have long had their own primary schools, financed by the government, so their youngest children would not have to walk up to an hour each way to the public school in Salikenni. Mandori had no primary school when Lamin was growing up.


“Arabic education has been dominant in our village,” Lamin wrote. “Our village elders disregarded Western education completely. They had this notion that their children would adopt Western lifestyle and ideology.”


 “As time went on, a few people among the village elders came to realize that sending your child to English school is not a bad idea. It can shape one’s life. When you have an Arabic education coupled with Western education the world is yours. My dad was among those who believed this. He is knowledgable in the Qu’ran, but he has a great admiration for Western education, too.”


After four years of Arabic education in Mandori, Lamin was enrolled in the government public school in Salikenni for grades 1-9. He was selected for an SSF scholarship when he was in grade 7 there.


He then attended St. Augustine’s Senior Secondary school in Banjul. High school was “cool,” he wrote. “The challenge I faced was traveling. I had to leave the SSF campus at 6 a.m. to catch a school bus on the highway in order to arrive at school on time. It was tough, but I never quit because to quit wasn’t an option for me.”


Living in the urban Gambia was also his first experience with other major religions. In Mandori and Salikenni virtually everyone is a Muslim.


St. Augustine’s student body includes both Muslims and Christians. “When it was time for the usual Friday assembly, the Christians would go to their church, and the Muslims went to the School Hall for their religious assembly,” Lamin wrote. “Religious tolerance was always manifested by all students.”


In 2018, still under SSF scholarship, he began several years of courses at the Management Development Institute, a Gambian business and technical college. MDI uses a course-by-course system rather than a set four years. Lamin recalls these years as “an incredible journey.” His subjects included Management, Policy Analysis, and Public Administration, with courses rising to higher and higher levels in each of those areas. He gave many classroom presentations. “MDI educates students to showcase their talents and be confident in doing so,” he wrote.


He graduated from MDI (at left) in 2022 and started looking for a job. “It took me months to get a job of my desire,” he said. Being hired by the Central Bank, he said “is a dream come true for me.”


Lamin is married to Nyima Sonko, who also grew up in Mandori. They have two young children, a boy and a girl. Lamin makes clear the couple will make educating their children a high priority. “Education is very crucial,” he wrote. “Education is the eyesight of a man or woman. If you deny them education it means you are transforming them into victims  of blind destiny.”


Lamin’s siblings have embraced education in different ways. His teenage younger brother, Ba Kawsu, spent about six years in the Arabic School in Mandori and then wanted to deepen his understanding and interpretation of the Qu’ran. So in July,  2023, their father took him to Senegal and enrolled in Arabic studies. At last report he was finishing up there.


Two of Lamin’s cousins, who grew up with Lamin in the same extended family compound in Mandori have been successful in Western education. One of them, Ebrima Marong, was also an SSF scholarship student. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Minnesota State University, Mankato, in the United States. He then got a master’s degree in the same subject there. He now works for Google in Chicago. The other cousin, Lamin B. Marong, finished high school in the public system. He then took professional courses at Grace Institute in The Gambia and now works for a financial services company.


All five of Omar’s sisters attended the Mandori Arabic School when they were young. Only two of them went from there into the public school system. One of these, Nato, is now in grade 8 in Salikenni. The other, Oumie, finished SOS high school, which helps needy children. She went on to study accounting at MDI. MDI hired her as an accountant. She began an access program to qualify for the University of The Gambia. She passed the access exam and now has almost completed a four-year degree at the university.


As Lamin has advanced professionally so has Mandori progressed. The village

now has a public primary school (right) with more than 100 students, both boys

and girls. The school opened in 2019, holding classes in the Arabic school building

when it was not being used. Almami S. Touray, a veteran Salikenni teacher, was its

first principal. Touray said in an interview that village elders opposed the school,

but younger village residents with young children supported it. So did Mandori

residents working abroad in wealthy countries.


“I engaged the youths to create a School Management Committee and sensitized them on their roles and responsibilities," Touray said. "We had by-laws and a mission statement. I, on my part focused on the task at hand, which was that the school should stay. Thank God that has been another success story.”


Saikou Fatty, who became principal of the school last year, said he and several teachers are paid by the Gambian government. The school teaches the full Gambian curriculum for grades 1-6. Recently the Muhammed Jammeh Foundation started construction on three classroom buildings. One has been completed and classes are being held there.


Meanwhile the Mandori Youth Society has been raising money for several years to build a medical clinic in the village. Several clinic buildings f are almost complete. The youth group plans a new fundraising this year for tiles and painting. Then it will ask the government to provide a clinic staff.

April 2024

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