11 May 2007

First-World Education in the Third World

Author Narrates Development of The Gambia’s First University

ATLANTA – Momodou Sabally presents an inspiring account of the Saint Mary’s University Extension Program in The Gambia in his new memoir, Homegrown: The Student Experience of a Unique Canada-Africa University Program (now available through AuthorHouse).

The Gambia , located in West Africa , has faced harsh economic conditions for years, and having its own university seemed to be merely a dream, according to Sabally. In 1995, the country began a partnership with Saint Mary’s University of Canada to provide undergraduate degrees for Gambian citizens for the first time in their own country. This program was called the Saint Mary’s University Extension Program in The Gambia. Professors from Saint Mary’s traveled to The Gambia to teach, and qualified Gambian instructors were hired as adjunct professors. This partnership ultimately led to the founding of the University of The Gambia , which now operates as an independent degree-granting institution.

Sabally describes his experience as a student at the university in a conversational and easy-to-read style tinged with humor and reflection. He retraces his personal development cognitively, socially and personally, as well as the impact the university had on the entire country. “The overriding theme appears to be that round or sound education, as provided by the UEP, is the launch pad for meaningful national and personal development,” he says.

The story opens in the permanent secretary’s office at Bedford Place Building in Banjul with the sentence, “I’ve been directed to expel you from the program.” From that dramatic opening, Sabally takes readers through a series of flashbacks of the events preceding this moment. He divides his experience into three stages: initial intellectual struggles, his rise to the presidency of the university’s student government and valedictory speech, and attendance at the First International Conference of Young Leaders in Taiwan .

The captivating plot provides readers the entertainment of a novel while maintaining the authenticity of a true story as Sabally vividly illustrates his experience in this unique program.

Sabally was born in Banjul , The Gambia, and currently resides in Atlanta . He holds a bachelor’s degree from the Saint Mary’s University Extension Program. Sabally has published several articles and poems in The Gambia’s Daily Observer and has served as president of the Association of Authors and Writers. He has also written Instant Success: The Ten Commandments of Personal Achievement and the Road to Enduring Riches and is currently working on his third book. He publishes a bi-weekly e-zine, Inspirational Success Now, as well as motivational articles for www.mlsabally.com and other publications.

Made in The Gambia
A Book Review
Foday Samateh

Title: Homegrown
The Student Experience of a Unique Canada-Africa University Program.
A Memoir by: Momodou Sabally

The opening two sentences of “Homegrown,” originally published as “Janji Jollof,” read: “‘I have been directed to expel you from the program!’ the voice thundered into my ears. A brief, uneasy silence ensued as my colleagues and I stared at the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education.”

Could it have been said better? In the realm of the possible, we can say a doubtful maybe. But within the confines of the thinkable, it is doubtless the perfect. In spite of its brevity, the scene in the office of the Permanent Secretary introduces the principal theme of the story, the conflicts and the tensions of the drama, power as a role, the challenges and, yes, a sense of fear of unsolicited consequences. Putting together the Permanent Secretary’s exclamatory exercise of authority as, supposedly, harbinger of the higher-ups; the ringing horror of his words into the vulnerable ears of the author; and the collective arrested stare with which he and his fellow students greet the shocking message of the government bureaucrat, “Homegrown” has from the very start successfully fulfilled the condition of memoir as a literary form that embeds the state of society in a personal story. Of course, it is needless to add that the perspective is at the mercy of the author’s point of view.

But more than professing credibility, Sabally looks up to the audience in many instances as priest to whom he must perform the solemn duty of confessing his troubles, doubts, faults, misjudgments and needs. At the actual beginning of the story in terms of chronological sequence, he watches time offer everything but opportunity. Out of school and without a job, he hangs out with fellow daydreamers begging with earnestness some magic moment for a flight into the bliss of the West. He begins his narrative from the doldrums of his life-story with a deliberate intent. We know that progression is not only a mathematical concept even though it goes by the name arc in the world of metaphors. Upward mobility is his only path from the concave of hopelessness to the convex of his dreams. But dreams (including university education) at this point exist only in mere wishful thinking for him and most Gambian youths.

Then the University Extension Program (UEP) materializes thanks to the tripartite collaborative effort of the Nova-Scotia Gambia Association, the St. Mary’s University in
Canada, and the Gambia Government. This is a historic landmark that would be the foundation for the nation’s first (and only) university. Sabally is overwhelmed with a born-again hope when he is admitted as a pioneer in this international experiment derided and dismissed by no shortage of skeptics, critics and doomsayers in the country.

In spite of his enthusiasm, climbing the metaphoric arc proves nothing like the smooth and predictable linear progression of mathematics, his major. Unlike his fellow students, he is accepted into the program without the faintest of hopes for a government scholarship. There is his hardworking mother, who has done menial jobs to support her orphaned five children and could not wait for her last-born and best hope to land a job after his completion of sixth form in high school. She would not hear of any further education, because its potential benefits are too distant to her immediate needs. She even goes out of her way to help him find a job as a youth officer at the Department of Youths and Sports. And there are other forms of “challenge,” a word he and his classmates more often substituted with the disproportionately hyperbolic synonym “struggle:” an obvious lexical behemoth that, if it serves any purpose, truly measures the elastic exuberance of their youthful self-importance, self-assertiveness, self-idealization, and over-seriousness. The struggle almost leads to their expulsion from the program.

There are many high and memorable moments too. His mother finally comes around the idea of university education. He routinely deputizes for his boss, a divisional commissioner, at youth forums. His classmates become joke-cracking buddies, who also variously offer him helping hand during very difficult times. There are inspiring professors, Canadians as well as Gambians, who love doing what they do. And there is the highlight moment of student union presidency that earns him the privilege to deliver the graduate student convocation speech. The speech he uses to lambaste the skeptics and critics with the credentials of their success. It would also be the speech that puts him on national spotlight, sends him to an international youth conference in
Taiwan, and paves his way to the Central Bank as an economist-statistician.

His candor in telling his most depressing and joyous moments, his innermost doubts and emotional outbursts; his full disclosure of the support and favor of others are not only admirable, but make him a credible and an honest writer. Publicists create heroes; flatters make angles; and writers construct humans.

The Bard of Avon asks the world: “What stuff are dreams made of?” Sabally’s answer in “Homegrown” includes the luck of opportunity, the willingness to succeed, the readiness to face the obstacles, and most importantly, a goal born of clarity and conviction.

Would he finally listen to his mother that he has enough academic education? The answer: He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Economics in
Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, US.

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