Ebrima Jallow: From Cows to University

If you set out on almost any rural road in The Gambia you will sooner or later encounter a herd of white, long-horned cattle, most often tended by a solitary boy. He may be grazing them in a remote, stubbly field. or driving them across a highway to a new location. It’s a frequent sight, evoking loneliness, and it always makes you wonder what the boy’s future will be.

Ebrima  Jallow, now 22, spent much of his youth tending cattle. This year, sponsored by the Salikenni Scholarship Fund, he began a four-year program at the University of The Gambia for a bachelor of science degree in nursing.

Ebrima comes from the small village of Mandori, a 45-minute walk from Salikenni. Mandori has only an Arabic school that teaches young children to read the Koran in that language. Children whose parents want them to have a general education walk to and from the Salikenni school each day and are thereby eligible for the SSF program.

Mandori is primarily a Mandinka village, but there are several families there of the Fula tribe, including the Jallow family. The Fulas traditionally are cattle raisers, but they often combine this with farming.

The Jallow compound is a semi-circle of mud-brick buildings, most of them with corrugated metal roofs, one with a thatched roof. The buildings partially surround a courtyard of hard-packed sand with a wide opening at one end to the dirt road outside. When Don visited the family one April day a few years ago, he found the courtyard teeming with life, young and old. Two hens scurried about, each followed by her chicks. Sheep and goats, several with their young, foraged the courtyard sand for fallen leaves. A fine, brown horse was tethered in a shady corner. A gray steer with big horns wandered in and out of the courtyard whenever he pleased.

About a dozen adults were in residence. Several of the women had babies tied in shawls on their backs as they moved about. Some of the women sat on mats in the shade of a big mango tree with shelled peanuts spread out on the mats around them, sorting them, some for seed and some for food or sale. Many small children played on the sand.

Don was warmly welcomed by Momodou Jallow, a big, jovial man in traditional dress. He is a younger brother of Ebrima’s father, Wallem Jallow, who died in 2010. Momodou is now in charge of the compound. Several of Momodou’s brothers and sisters introduced themselves. Ebrima calls all of these “my brothers and sisters.”

Momodou  is responsible for about 300 head of cattle, some of which he owns and some he takes care of for others. The  family  also farms peanuts, millet and corn.

Ebrima attended grades 1-6 at the local Arabic school before starting first grade in Salikenni. He joined SSF in 2008 when he was in seventh grade. He said then, and every year since, that he wanted to be a doctor. In 2010 we snapped a photo of him with part of the family herd, out in the flat, dry grassland a short walk from the compound. Ebrima finished ninth grade in 2011 with excellent results. He enrolled in the science program at Gambia High School in Banjul.

He finished high school in the spring of 2014 with scores possibly good enough for the university medical school. But the medical program lasts seven years, and Ebrima felt this was a long time for his family to wait for him to begin earning money and be able to help them financially. So he made the very mature decision to apply for the four-year nursing program at the university.

Medical school “is still in my plans,” he said,. But it will have to wait until after he becomes a nurse. A nurse whom he knows recently told him that the best doctors begin as nurses.

The Jallow family believes in education, but of different kinds for various children. Three of Momodou’s brothers live in the compound with their wives and children. Some of these children will attend the Arabic school, family members said, some will attend the government system, and some may do both. Binta Jallow, Momodou Jallow’s daughter, and Ebrima’s cousin, is also one of our scholarship students. This year she’s in eleventh grade in Mindow Senior Secondary School in the metropolitan area.

Ebrima Jallow tending herd in Mandori in 2010.
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