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As my email box filled up with year’s end pleas for donations from worthy causes, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were being naïve by vowing to send email updates only once a month, and to ask for donations only once a year. But in the end, our most valuable asset is the willingness of our supporters to stay involved, to stay committed to the students we are supporting, and so we are determined not to abuse that relationship.

Our annual back-to-school campaign came in the midst of two hurricanes, two earthquakes, and several famines. We fell short. But on Giving Tuesday, ten returned Corps volunteers, the father of another, plus my daughter, all posted fundraisers for GambiaRising on their FaceBook pages. (Two others had just held FaceBook fundraisers on their birthdays.) Then another returned volunteer got us invited to the San Francisco offices of Google for “Google Gives“ week, with a "pitch table" near the lunchroom. And finally, the last few weeks brought many of the year’s-end donations we were counting on, and it now looks like we will be close to being able to keep all the promises we have made to young Gambians who want to stay in school. And take in some new ones as well.

Some of these students have been in school for many years with (y)our support.  Some are only going back to school this week.  Since our only focus is on them, and frankly, their courage and determination is what keeps us all going, let me tell you a few of their stories:


Teddy's father does not believe in western education, at least for girls, but with her mother’s support, Teddy was able to go to school for nine years. But at the age of 15, her father found her a husband and she was married. Teddy would not give up the belief that she should be allowed to complete her schooling, and with her mother’s support, she did complete 9th grade. After that, her mother could not afford to pay her higher school expenses and her husband refused to do so. This led to constant conflict with her husband and after two years, it led to a legal divorce. Teddy moved back to live with her parents,but still lacked the funds to go back to school. But when her mother heard about GambiaRising, she walked to our Coordinator's home and appealed for support. And this week, Teddy became a proud 20-year-old 10th grader at Banjulunding Senior Secondary School.


Both of Adama’s parents have died and she has been taken in by a female relative who now acts as her guardian. Normally, a Gambian wife becomes part of her husband's family, not holding oligations to her previous family, but her husband agreed to provide a bed and food for Adama, but he stopped short at supporting her education. So Adama sat at home for the last several years while other children her age went to school. This year, her guardian heard about GambiaRising from a friend, and came to see our  Coordinator in a nearby town to ask for help. We had no funds when she came, but this week, Adama has been accepted and at age 9, she is enrolled in 1st grade at Kunkujang Keitaya Lower Basic Cycle school.


Ebrima’s parents came from the Casamance (southern Senegal) to try their hand at farming in The Gambia's lower Central River Region. They did not do well. When I first met Ebrima, their compound had just burned and the only clothes he owned was the uniform he was wearing at school that day. A GambiaRising donor supported his education for four years at St. Therese’s in Fula Bantang, and Ebrima graduated from 9th grade with high enough marks to have his pick of senior secondary schools in the country. At the time, there was no senior secondary school near Fula Bantang, so Ebrima decided to go to the Kombo district near the coast. 

 Our National Coordinator found him a house to stay in and he enrolled at St. Peter’s in Lamin. (And his family moved back to Casamance.) I remember one of Ebrima's complaints about his living situation in Lamin: “The other boys sleeping in the same room don’t want me to study with my flashlight late at night.”  But he persevered and was named Head Boy at St. Peter’s in his senor year. And Ebrima was then admitted to the University of The Gambia to study medicine.

Then last summer, after one year at the University of The Gambia, Ebrima requested funds to get passport. Why  would he need a passport?  Because it was required to apply for scholarships to study abroad that offered programs of study not available in The Gambia. We draw the line for our scholarships at the borders of The Gambia, but we decided to support his request to find other sources. And lo and behold, this summer Ebrima received a full scholarship to study bio-medical engineering at Çukurova Üniversite in Adana, Turkey. He started classes in September.


Ellen lived with her parents in the Kombo District of the west coast region until she had an unplanned pregnancy in 9th grade and was sent out and banned from the family compound . An uncle of hers is a beginning teacher upcountry at St. Therese’s in Fula Bantang, and he appealed to GambiaRising for support so Ellen could go back to school while boarding with relatives. With our support, Ellen finished 9th grade with high enough grades that she was accepted at the German-founded Bottrup Senior Secondary School in Brikama. Bottrup is 5 km away from her new residence but, in Ellen’s opinion, it is worth the walk. She is now 22 years old, in 12th  grade, and thinking about what might  come next, if she can find the support.


I hope you can see what I mean when I say it is the courage of these young Gambians that keeps us going. I once asked one of our Gambian volunteers if he was working too hard (for no pay). He sounded a bit annoyed with me when he replied: "You don't understand; I don't have the money to contribute financially; I consider it a privilege to have this opportunity to help my people."

But of course, no matter how efficiently and effectively we are able to use donated funds, we do need those funds. That is, after all, what all of these students didn't have that put their education at risk. So to those who stay with us year after year, as we stay with our students year after year, our deepest thanks. To those who joined us for the first time this year, thanks so much for doing so; and please remember we are making long-term promises to these students; we don't stash funds in our bank account for future use; we use them right away and then rely on our supporters to replenish them when the new school year rolls around. And to those who have not (yet) joined us this school year, please do. There are more Teddys, Adamas, Ebrimas, and Ellens on our waiting list. All they want is a chance.

Mike McConnell
Managing Trustee

1500 Park Avenue #PH 503
Emeryville, CA  95608