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Two truly inspiring Gambian educators are leading our scholarship program on the ground in The Gambia. Father Moses Drammeh and Kebba Sanyang are qualifying students, handling funds, keeping accurate records, and making making as many short videos as they can. But as we tell the stories of the incredible impact that just a few dollars a month can have on a young Gambian's life, and our friends and returned Peace Corps volunteers pass the word along, we have been able to help more students each year. So rather than limit our work to what Father Moses and Kebba can personally handle, we have introduced what I call “franchising” to The Gambia. In four specific locations where we didn't work before, Father Moses and Kebba are now working through Neighborhood Coordinators; people well known to us, who are trustworthy and commmitted, who know the people in their communities well, know the schools too, and who are in a perfect position to make recommendations to Father Moses and Kebba, and then handle funds for the students living and now going to school with our support.

Isatou Camara

In January, we introduced you to one of these Coordinators, Ebrima Sanneh, who works in the community of Sinchu Alhagie. Today, we’d like to introduce you to Isatou Camara, through whom we support 20 students from Kayimu (or Kaimo), Sibanor, and Ndemban in the Lower River and Western regions along the south bank of the River Gambia. Isatou’s home is in Ndemban, but she is teaching 12 miles away at St. Matthew’s Lower Basic Cycle School in Kayimu, just south of Sibanor, where she also lives during the week with her daughter Kassi. (Isatou’s husband, who is Kebba Sanyang, is stationed much further up country in Fula Bantang). 

I first heard of Isatou from Elyse Yeager, a returned Peace Corps Education volunteer, who saw a photo of Kebba in one of our emails and said she had worked with him when she was stationed at Mt. Carmel school; his wife Isatou, she added, had been her best friend in country.  

The Kayimo "franchise"

If you follow us on FaceBook, you already know that we are supporting one of Isatou's fellow teachers at St. Matthew's, Kaddy Bojang, in a three-year program to get her degree at Gambia College during school holidays. Kaddy is a another remarkable story, teaching early childhood development, the mother of several children, and ...one of the local imam's wives. With limited funds last year, we began a small program for 9 students in need of support to stay in (or start) school.  This year, when new donors joined the program in the fall, Isatou asked for and receive support to expand to a total of 20 students (plus Kaddy). 17 of them are girls.

One of these students, who is in school this year for the first time, is Awa Sanyang. She lives in Kayenga, about 5 km from Kayimu, near the border with Senegal. Awa and her siblings live with their mother only; their father is absent and thought to be in prison. When it came time for Awa to start school two years ago, she did not go; her mother had no funds, and even if she had the funds for uniforms, shoes, books, and other expenses, the school was also 5 km away. But his year, with funds from our fall campaign, Isatou recommended that Aaw become one of the new students accepted into the program. She spoke with her mother, met Awa, and then visited them in their home to tell them the good news.. And that is when things got interesting.

RPCV Elyse Yeager writes:

When I was a PCV, Isatou was living and working at a school just a kilometer away from my village. She has a keen intellect and a gift for instruction, teaching year after year of students despite lacking formal training. When I met her, she was studying to gain her formal qualification, working through her precious free time in the evenings and over school holidays.

I strongly believe that most good teachers are good people as well, and Isatou certainly fits the bill. She described to me once how she was teaching her young daughter Kaddy to cook, and her pedagogical methods at home matched her prowess in the classroom. She started with plain rice, being sure that Kaddy had a chance to fail safely, and not pushing her beyond her abilities. When she was ready, channeling her child's natural passion for imitation, Isatou would allow her to try more and more complicated recipes. Kaddy learned to cook fantastic meals and, just as importantly, enjoyed the learning.

Isatou was beloved by everyone in her adopted community, and by me as well. The community respected her humble demeanor, and she always spoke to her friends and neighbors in their (but not her) native language, Pulaar. (She coached me in Pulaar, too.) She took me into her home as a friend and colleague. When I missed home or felt overwhelmed by cultural differences, Isatou was the empathetic friend who would comfort me. She was always ready with an insightful comment, a kind laugh--and a delicious dinner.

Awa, it turns out, has a twin sister, Adama.  And Adama had what may have been a spinal injury at birth, and had never walked. She was crawling around the compound and never left its walls. So af ew days later, Isatou trekked up the road the other way and spoke with the excellent German clinic at Sibanor, and Adama and her mother hitched a ride with a local man with a motorbike to go and see them.  There the clinic gave her a physical exam, massaged her legs, and… gave her a simple wheelchair.

For the first time, Adama could move about the compound and the village. It was transformative. But of course, she still could not come to school.  The road to Kayenga is far from wheelchair-ready, suitable only for 4-wheel drive vehicles or donkeycarts. So Kebba and Isatou brainstormed and proposed a solution: could GambiaRising purchase a donkey and a donkey cart and give it to the girls’ mother. She would be respsonsible for its care. All the students from Kayenga could then ride the 5 km to school on the cart, … including Adama.  5 km (3 miles) is a long way for any young child to walk to school, so this would benefit all the children from the village.  We always prefer long-term solutions to those that require ongoing support, so a donkey and a donkey cart seemed to meet that goal. But wouldn’t it be expensive?  Yes, it would be: 15,000 dalasis, a small fortune.  But with the strong dollar yielding 40 dalasis to the dollar these days, we did the math:  $375.

And so, today, Adama is in school. And each day, she and all the children from Kayenga ride to school in may be the region’s first (donkey cart) school bus. (See photos below.)

GambiaRising's system is simple: all the work is done by volunteers like Isatou. Each year, to the exent that all our donors renew their support, we can commit all our funds to support the students who we supported the previous year. When some graduate from 12th grade, we pool the amount of funds we had used for them, to support the "best of the best" for further study. And so it is when new donors join our small band of 152 donors that we can assist more students such as those in Kayimu, ...and sometmes literally go the extra mile.

Mike McConnell
Managing Trustee
GambiaRising Charitable Trust
1500 Park Ave., Apt PH503
Emeryville, CA  94608-3578

Adama is going to school!

Kayenga kids getting on the "bus"

Adama and others riding to school

Adama in school

Kaddy Bojang, Kebba Sanyang, & Isatou Camara

Isatou with St. Matthew's scholarship students

Isatou with Hawa, now in 8th grade at Sibanor