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The goal of the Salikenni Scholarship Fund is to help meet the education needs of young people in the village of Salikenni and several nearby villages in a rural part of The Gambia in West Africa. These needs now are changing, and our program is changing with them.

SSF was founded in 1996 in response to a specific problem: Children were dropping out of school because their parents could not afford the fees charged by the government school in the village.

The Gambia, like most poor African countries, lacked the resources to provide free public education for all its children. The fees were small in primary school, but in grades 7-9 they rose to levels many families could not afford. High school and higher education were even farther out of reach for most families.

To meet this need SSF began providing scholarships to a few talented boys and girls, from especially needy families, in grades 7-9 at the Salikenni school. Since there was no high school in the village, we paid for them to attend high schools in the metropolitan area. We promised all our students that — if they could make it — we would pay their way through four years at the University of The Gambia or other higher education within the country.

Following that model, the program has grown over the years, and other elements have been added. Here is a snapshot of SSF today:

• This school year, 2019-20, we are sponsoring 100 students. Their levels range from grade 7 through university. We now have 15 student enrolled in the University of The Gambia and another 11 attending colleges or other institutions within the country. One of our students is studying engineering at Minnesota State University, Mankato, in the United States.

• SSF is managed in The Gambia by a board composed entirely of our higher education students and alumni. The board members have all been educated under the program. Now they are working — almost all as volunteers — to keep SSF going for younger generations of students.

• Each year we select an equal number of girls and boys to join our program in seventh grade at the Salikenni school. We select them by two criteria: financial need and academic ability.

• SSF maintains a library at the Salikenni school, designed to encourage a culture of reading. It is open to the entire school and to village residents.

• For our high school students in the metropolitan area we have rented a large compound where they can live in a supervised environment conducive to learning and with access to the Internet.

• We provide tutoring for our students in English, mathematics and other core subjects.

The education landscape in The Gambia has been changing in recent years and our program is adapting to these changes. The Gambia is working toward a goal to provide free public education from preschool through grade twelve for all of its children.

Since 2004 tuition has been free for girls through grade 9. In 2014 this was extended to boys. In the 2015-16 school year student fees were reduced in government-supported high schools throughout the country.

As a result of these changes, SSF now spends less on tuition through grade 12 but more on other aspects of the program. These include tutoring, books and computers in order to better prepare our students for higher education. And, as more and more of our students qualify for higher education, we are spending increasing amounts on tuition at that level.

Our basic purpose remains the same: To give young people from a very poor, rural area of The Gambia the opportunity to achieve a university education.

Our librarian, Fatou Darboe

Our librarian, Fatou Darboe

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Students studying in the library

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