He volunteered with a number of organisations, including Child Protection Alliance, Voice of the Young and Youth with Vision. Last year, he travelled to the USA to represent the Gambia at the Pan-Africa Youth Leadership Program. He has been an active member of Lend A Hand Society and is the coordinator of the organisation’s radio show. In this edition of The Hub, MJ talks elaborately on the work of one of the oldest youth organisations in the country and offers his matter-of-fact opinion on the conditions of young people.
Tell us about LAHS which celebrated recently, 20 years of existence.
LAHS started in early 1990s when one of the founders, Raymond Gibba, a student of the Gambia High School, would be sent out of class because he couldn’t pay his school fees. It’s not right to see students who are very intelligent get sent home because they lacked the means to pay school fees. Luckily for Gibba, with support from a white lady, he was able to continue his schooling. While in school, he started gathering students, after school hours, to raise awareness on the conditions of less-privileged students.
On 18 April 1995, as the gathering grew bigger, they formed Lend A Hand Society. Actually, the name is derived from the Michael Jackson song ‘We Are the World’. This is the concept of LAHS – to holistically nurture young men and women into confident, well-informed, motivated and self-reliant citizens for the ultimate purpose of nation building base on appreciation of the norms and values of society and the understanding of synergy that could be achieved through teamwork and the power of strength in numbers. I was like a year-old when LAHS came into being.
I believe the reason LAHS is alive today is that we have invested in young people. We work directly with students; encourage them to pass in class. If you are not passing in your class or not doing well, you are not welcome to LAHS. This motivated many students to do more and to do better. We are interested in the younger generation and here at LAHS we nurture them to becoming responsible people in society.
How did you join LAHS?
It was during my junior school. LAHS, being a good partner of my junior school, LK [Latrikunda Kunda Upper Basic] where I was the head boy, donated many computers to the school. Then, they invited us to participate in a training session on HIV/Aids and life skills. The training deepened my knowledge not only on HIV, but also on leadership.
What are some of the achievements LAHS takes pride in?
One great achievement I would say that LAHS has made in impacting lives is that today, almost all LAHS members are holding key positions anywhere they are.
One is Haruna Drammeh of Paradise FM. Fatoumata Ndure of the First Lady’s Office and Lamin Camara of UNFPA were members. You also have Lamin Manga of GRTS, Ma malen Njie, and X Mylz, were all part of LAHS. Even Satang Nabaneh, Sait Matty Jaw, Mariam Camara, Kawsu at Sheraton and a lot more others. I cannot remember all. LAHS members are in every sector of the country.
We even met an old man during our Ebola campaign and he was very happy. He told us he knew LAHS a long time ago. His son, who is currently a Navy in the US, was part of LAHS. In fact, we used to have a centre where we bring our members, after school hours, to train them and engage them on extra curricula activities. Indeed, there are others who would tell you they started using computers with LAHS.
Still on education, we used to offer scholarships, especially to students in rural Gambia, focusing mainly on the girl-child. Although in other areas, we registered disappointments as some girls were giving away for marriage by their parents while others got impregnated.
Do you consider LAHS to be the most vibrant youth organisation?
I would say it is the most vibrant youth organisation because most of the youth organisations that exist today, their respective leaders were once LAHS members. For example, Think Young Women’s Amie Kujabi and others were all LAHS members. Even Voice of the Young, some of its members were part of us.
Tell us about your ‘Hope, Is You’ initiative
The project was conceived to mobilise resources in the form of shoes, clothing, books and other materials to help less fortunate people in The Gambia. You can join us by helping people who are struck by natural disasters as well as those who cannot simply afford decent clothing and footwear.
Hope, is You is not asking you to contribute money or give away your wardrobe or shoe locker. Hope, is you is simply asking you to part with that dress that has been with you for so long and you do not want it anymore, but it is still decent to put a smile on a less fortunate person’s face. The project is asking you to donate that pair of shoes that does not fit you anymore but can protect poor feet from sunburns. So we are telling you that ‘you who are giving, hope is on you’; somebody is having hope in you that you can help him or her.
This is why when we celebrate our 18th anniversary, we went to Faji Kunda Health Centre and Tanka Tanka and gave materials.
At LAHS, we believe anywhere you are you can contribute your quota to our vision. We believe that if you help a child cross the road, you have helped us. We have another principle which states ‘Let the streets be littered but not by me’.
What are some of the challenges confronting LAHS
Funding remains one of our biggest challenges, which is key in any organisation. Also, LAHS today is not as active as LAHS yesterday. We used to get support from UNAIDS but not anymore. Still, though, UNDP is somehow assisting us and also some of our successful LAHS members are still helping us. They are giving back to us either in cash or in kind. These are some of the things that keep LAHS moving. Indeed, there are times when we talk to people; they say ‘I think LAHS is dead.’
What is your assessment of the conditions of young people in the country?
I have to say most Gambians are proud, so proud that they don’t want to go into menial jobs. For example, young people are not willing to take up petty jobs like the ones non-Gambians are doing in the country. Moreover, youth in The Gambia are very good with ideas but lack the powers, especially financially, to make their ideas into reality. There are others who don’t want to work. The result is that we are losing all the money to non-Gambians. I am a Fula and I have Fula relatives in Guinea. Most of them who came to The Gambia are building some big houses, feeding their families. How about us Gambians?
So, are you saying young people should stay back; that greener pastures do exist in The Gambia?
They should. And greener pastures do exist here.
But even some UTG graduates claim to be finding it tough to secure jobs here in the country. Do you, then, still believe the government has done enough?
No. The government is doing something, but it is not enough. More job opportunities need to be created. Another issue I think is hampering youth advancement is the older generation. I mean they should give chance to younger ones. In some cases you see a 63-year-old person working when the younger ones are still struggling for a job. That is not fair. We need understanding. We need more job opportunities.
Tell us briefly, about the leadership summit you took part in, in the US?
The trip was organised and sponsored by the US government. I was selected out of the lot because of the advocacy work I have been doing. I was selected with two other Gambians. It was a civic education and leadership programme which lasted two weeks. From the recommendations that we received, I feel like we have represented my country to the best of my abilities.
You’ve initiated a campaign called ‘Our Woes: Unheard’ project. Tell us briefly about it
Basically, it is to put emphasis on the plight of the girl-child; that society should not neglect the tears or cries of the girl-child. Early marriage affects the girl. It constitutes physical abuse. Teenage pregnancy is also part of it. We are showing people that if you turn a blind eye to child abuse, your child might be the next victim. It is also another way of sending a message to the government that they should come up with laws to address child rights issues. This should not be an issue of FGM or other stuff. I have done many radio programmes addressing the issue. It’s like the saying, ‘you can take the horse to the river, but cannot force it to drink’. So I hope the people I will be taking on, drink from the river.
Besides advocacy, what do you do?
I love movies. Currently I am watching Suits, a very fascinating series movie. I used to watch movies a lot when I was young. It is from movie watching that I developed the passion for reading.
Do you see yourself taking up advocacy as a life’s career?
Actually, what I want to do is study computer science. But I believe in anything I am doing. I will end up doing advocacy. I think advocacy and volunteerism is in my blood. I cannot leave it.
Do you see yourself as a role model?
Yes, I do. There are many people who look up to me from junior school to today. When I completed high school, I did two months voluntary work, teaching at Latrikunda School. I went there, to give back. I believe I am a role model to many people out there. I have people who always seek my words of wisdom. If that is not an indication of being a role model, then what is it?
Talking of words of wisdom, what do you have for Gambian youth?
A single drop of rain doesn’t make sound in the forest. It is the collection of drops. So if we want to see The Gambia to reach another level or the stage we all want to see it reach, it requires collective and collaborative efforts. All must come together in achieving our Gambian goal.