Gambian Grad Learning about the Power of an Education
A University education has opened up more doors for Omar Mbowe than he could ever have imagined. When he graduated with his bachelor’s degree he was offered two jobs – one as a senior credit control officer for the national hydro and power company, and a second as a statistician for the major bank of The Gambia.
It was tempting. “In both jobs the salary involved was two times that of my mum who started teaching at an elementary school here before I was born in 1974,” says Omar. But he had something else in mind.
Omar is one of 62 graduates who are the first group of Gambians to ever earn a university degree on home soil. In February 1999, Omar received a fully accredited Bachelor of Arts degree from Saint Mary’s during his country’s first ever convocation exercises. It was a day of national pride for this west African country with a population of 1.5 million and no university of its own.
Before Saint Mary’s and the Nova Scotia Gambia Association got involved, students like Omar were going abroad (those who could afford to), to attend university and many would never return home. Saint Mary’s lent its expertise in helping to establish the infrastructure for the recently launched University of The Gambia.
This is what compelled Omar to pursue further studies abroad. He is currently working towards a master’s degree in computer science at Alabama A&M University. He wants to go on to complete a doctorate after this, and then work in academia and research. And where else would he do this other than in his home country of The Gambia.
“I want to see full fledged universities with highly qualified faculty and staff so that future generations of young Gambians will not have to travel abroad to pursue their education – be it undergraduate or graduate,” says Omar.
Omar says the Saint Mary’s program was intensive but liberating. “I will always be thankful to Saint Mary’s for giving me this opportunity.” One of the reasons he wants to see more educational choices available at home in The Gambia is because studying abroad will not be easy for Omar. “Things are hard away from home. Although I have an assistantship that covers my school expenses, I still have to work weekends to supplement what I get and cover my living expenses.” In order to shorten his time abroad, Omar is taking a heavier course load than normal.
But as a member of his country’s first graduating class, if anyone has what it takes to reach his goals, it’s Omar.
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