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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Choose your group, or your group will choose you

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Part 3

Speech by Katim Seringe Touray to graduands at the Anglican Mission Institute (formerly called ATC), Farafenni, Upper Badibu, North Bank Region, The Gambia on Saturday, July 30, 2022.

Part 3 of 4; the complete transcription of the speech (edited for clarity and brevity) is available online at https://tinyurl.com/3aad758m, and the recording of the speech is archived at the Internet Archive (https://tinyurl.com/mrytve8j).

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So what, in my opinion, can I draw for these lessons; my experiences?

One is [that] education is priority; [it] is key. You would remember, as young as you might be that one of the first instructions that the Holy Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, got from Allah was Iqra, that is “study.” You should read. It’s very important that you study, so it’s very important that you people, especially you students in the day and age we live in have been able to sacrifice and struggle and come to this point that you are graduating.

But I want … you [to] please see this graduation as a step to even higher heights; it is not the end. Indeed, education is never a process that ends. It is life-long and continuous. I’ve always said that if you see anybody who tells you that they’ve had enough education then they are not educated enough because the more you get educated, the more you realize that you don’t know anything, and the more you want to get the educated. So it’s very important that you stick with it, stick with the program, as they say, and continue with [your] education.

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If you consider the fact that The Gambia is one of … over 100 countries and that we are in competition with them [including] our neighbor right next door … Senegal. Look at China, how [they dominate] the world. China last year graduated 10 million graduates from university with their first degrees. Now 10 million graduates, is about five times the population of The Gambia. So that goes to show how in The Gambia we have to struggle. We have to really struggle hard to make sure we have as many of our people as possible [educated].

You are our hope. You are the future of this country and I want you to every day put that into your minds and drum it into your minds that you are the future of the country. We are relying on you to go study, go equip yourself so you can be productive and useful citizens later on. But I also like to remind you that it’s important to understand what matters is not really … the paper qualifications you have. What matters is how you apply [the] education you have; how you grab the opportunities.

I always remind my friends and kids especially, that when we were going to school in Gambia High School, we had our Vous where we sit down and drink our attaya [Chinese Green Tea]. But what happened was that when we graduated from school … almost all of us went for further studies. We went to do our bachelors [degrees], came back, worked little bit [and] went to do our Masters [degrees]. Some of us went to do our PhDs.

Now, you have to understand that back then it was a big deal to travel out the country to further your education because what would happen is if they say Musa is traveling tomorrow to the States for further studies, your friends would come overnight and spend the whole night drinking attaya with you to do a send-off. And the following day, they will hire taxis, and they’re all escort you to the airport. So it was a very, very big deal.

So while we were going and coming, there was only one of us who never had a scholarship to go [further his studies]. So all this time over a 10 year period, if not more than that, we’re all going and coming. He was stuck in The Gambia. As a matter of fact, he graduated with us from Gambia High School and one of the subjects he did was woodwork. He went to Saint Peters as a carpentry teacher. And then from there when they started building the Atlantic Hotel in Banjul, which is now the Laico Atlantic Hotel, he got into the construction industry. OK, maybe by now you probably have an idea of who I’m talking about. Do you know who I’m talking about? Well, I’m talking about, Alhaji Mustapha Njie that everybody knows as “Taf.”

Taf was our high school friend; we all went to high school together, but we all had our scholarships [to study abroad] and left him here. But he was serious about what he got into: first the woodwork and second the building industry, and of course Taf you all know. You all know Taf? Anybody who doesn’t know Taf, can you please raise your hand? Is there anybody here who does not know Taf? [No one raised a hand] Exactly, that’s my point. He doesn’t have a degree like we did, but look what he’s done with his life.

Look at Youssou Ndour. Youssou Ndour has never been even to high school, I think. But look at how successful he is. What’s important is what you do with your life, not the cards that life deals you. OK, it’s not important whether you have a Ph. D. or your bachelors, what’s important is what you do with the resources and the opportunities you have. I want you to keep that in mind so you can be as successful as you want if you apply yourself to the opportunities that come your way.

After education, I think it’s important to think big. One of our biggest problems in this country is that we think very small because we are small country. One of my friends once told me in Mandinka that doya mou douno letti, which means in English that being small is a load; a heavy load on your head. You can see that way we think small in our public services you can see it in [the] public sector.

Like just yesterday, I was telling somebody you know when the [Gambia Ports Authority] bought the Kanilai ferry, they bought one ferry. Why didn’t they buy two ferries? When they bought Kunta Kinteh, the bought one ferry. By the time those [new] ferries are [brought into service] the old ferries are all gone kaput, so they run the new ferries down far faster than their design life.

So I think big, if you have a budget in front of you. The other day I was at a retreat looking at the budget for the higher education sector strategic plan. I think [the budget] for like four years [was] $120 million or whatever have you. I said “This is nothing!” So you have to train yourself, get this attitude that if it is small, you need to make it bigger because at the end of the day if you’re going to compete against the rest of the world, it’s not gonna help you to start thinking in terms of small numbers. Nobody is going to talk to you.

Many years ago in the US, I tried to start an Internet company and I wrote to a company that was investing in other companies providing [them] money for them to start. So I wrote to them I told them that I wanted $250 thousand, which a lot of people would say is a lot of money. But they wrote to me and said, “Mr. Touray, what you are asking for is too small; its not worth our time. If you had asked for $1 million, we would have talked to you.” Because, you understand, these are very busy people and they have very expensive lawyers. So I thought to myself, “Oh, so people who ask for $1 million!” and that was quite a lesson. So keep that in mind … moving forward, you have to think big.

You also have to be patient.

That’s one thing I learned from the University of Life, and that’s Armitage. [When you go to Armitage] in your first year, you are nobody; they call you a Green Leaf. I can be sitting down on my bed, and I’ll call you and for no reason, [ask] you to clean [the] room because the motto of the school was: “Obey and complain.”

You have no rights over the people who are your seniors, but after the first year, you go to the second year and then a new batch [of students] comes in and you are their boss. After the second year, you go up another step and then by the by you gradually climb the ladder of importance in the school. By the time you’re in your final year, you are Top Dog. The point here is that as you grow in life, you have to understand that there are things that take time, privileges that take time, and that come only with a lot of hard work and patience.

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