Wuyeh Keita, an SSF student since seventh grade, this year began classes in medical school at the University of The Gambia.
He is the second student in our program to be accepted in the seven-year medical program. The first, Mariama Ceesay, is now in her fourth year there.
Wuyeh, 23, (his name is pronounced WEE) comes from Dobo, a quiet village about an hour’s walk north of Salikenni along a dirt track that passes between peanut fields and areas of wild grass and scrub brush. Dobo is one of several small villages whose children attend the government school in Salikenni for at least part of their education, and who therefore are eligible for SSF scholarships.
Dobo is visibly poorer than Salikenni. It has only a primary school, covering grades 1-6. When they reach seventh grade, most of its children walk to and from the Salikenni school each day. You see them on the dirt road in the early morning and late afternoon, walking in irregular bunches and dressed in a motley assortment of uniforms.
The Keita family compound in Dobo is a cluster of mud brick and cement block buildings arranged around a sandy courtyard. Wuyeh’s mother, Oumie Keita, is in charge of the compound, along with Wuyeh’s older brother, Fakanda.
Oumie is a small, thin woman who obviously believes in education. Over the years she has expressed great pride in Wuyeh’s academic progress. Three of Oumie’s seven children are currently in school – one in Arabic school, one at the Salikenni school, and one, Ismaela Keita, in tenth grade at Kotu Senior Secondary School in the metropolitan area. He is sponsored by SSF and has said he wants to be a journalist.
Wuyeh’s formal education started very late, as is true of many of our students. His father made no effort to enroll him in school. Wuyeh and other boys often went out into the bush and hunted small animals with sticks. He helped with the family’s farming.
When he was about 11 he began to feel unhappy because many of his friends were going to school. He asked his mother to send him to school, and she agreed. He began school in second grade in Bani, another village near Salikenni. But almost immediately his father died. The family was destitute, and he had to drop out. Eventually, his mother was able to enroll him in the Salikenni school, which quickly jumped him to sixth grade. He joined our program in 2008 in seventh grade.
For some time Wuyeh was in the afternoon shift at the Salikenni school. He walked to Salikenni during the late morning and spent an hour or so in the SSF library at the school before his classes started. I found him there one day reading a book about airline pilots. He said he wanted to become one. Later he wanted to be a journalist. His interest in medicine came years later.
At the end of ninth grade, Wuyeh achieved excellent results in the West African Examinations Council exam that determines eligibility for high school in The Gambia. He was accepted into the science program at Masroor Senior Secondary School in the suburbs of Banjul. This was before SSF opened its student residence in Serrekunda. Our high school students at that time had to live with relatives in the metropolitan area. But Wuyeh had no relatives who could help him. Fatou Janneh, our manager at the time, allowed him to live in a small shed in her compound in Sukuta, a suburb of Banjul. SSF gave him fare to and from school, an expense normally paid by relatives.
When Fatou Janneh left our program in 2012 to pursue a master’s degree in England, Wuyeh stayed on in her compound, even though he was at times the only person living there. She arranged with a neighbor to bring him one evening meal every day. Wuyeh usually left for school in the morning with no breakfast. He often had no lunch and did not eat until he returned to the compound around 5 or 6 p.m.
Over the years we have noticed that many of our students from Dobo and other small villages near Salikenni have been among the most serious and hard-working ones. When Wuyeh was in high school we asked him about this. Viewed from Dobo, he said, young people in Salikenni are privileged. “Here we have only mud houses. That’s why we are doing our best to learn.”