GambiaRising's primary mission is helping young Gambians stay in school through grade 12, with a special focus on girls. But some of those we help are such good students that we have gradually been increasing the number we support after 12th grade. Now word has spread, times are hard, and this year we are deluged with appeals and applications from those we haven't supported before. Some are part-way through their studies but a death in the family or other setback threatens to derail their plans. Others excelled in senior secondary school and simply want to pursue a career that requires further education and do not have the means. What do you say to a young woman whose widowed mother sold her goats to pay the $350 minimum fee for her to start classes, but has found nowhere to turn for help to pay the balance and stay in college?
Small as we are, we have to set the bar high for such scholarship requests. For the University of The Gambia (UTG), we consider only the top 3% of students. For Gambia College's Nursing and secondary Teaching program, the top 15%. For both, we also look for a clear commitment to service. (And for Agriculture, a demonstrated love of farming.) The financial need must be clear: the family must contribute what they can, and we will provide 100% support only when there is no father in the house or other clear hardship.
But if the need is there and a student has overcome their circumstances to be one of the top students in the country -- right up there with those from private schools with private tutors -- we want to help these "best of the best" to become the country's next generation of teachers, nurses, farmers, even a few lawyers and businesspeople.
We now see that there is no "off-season" for our scholarship program. (Another reason we are so grateful for those monthly donations!!) We can never close the application window.
The beginning of the year always brings emergency appeals from college and university students who have been unable to pay their tuition for the new semester. And we are getting more of those than usual this year, but we are also getting lots of applications from new students. COVID delayed last year's national 12th grade exams (WASSCE), and many students are being admitted to college and university in the new semester instead of September. And the applications for support in the last few months have been frankly overwhelming.
We are doing what we can, probably more than is prudent. But please join me in congratulating a new group of remarkable women and men who have received GambiaRising college scholarships in 2021. And also in thanking those who made their brighter futures possible!
They are going to play an important role in building a better country for all Gambians.