Faith Suzannah Regina Cole was born in The Gambia, studied at Gambia High School and now works and lives in the heart of the British capital, London. In this edition of Bantaba, the anything-but-diffident lady explains to Standard editor Sainey Darboe her rags-to-riches story and what patriotism means to her.
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Faith Cole. I am a Gambian and proud to be a Gambian and always will be. I was trained originally as a nurse in Scotland and I now work as a company director in London. I am running my own company. It’s in the health industry and I have what is called a nursing agency. It is also a clinic. My nursing agency is an employment agency which employs health care assistants, nurses and doctors who I place out to people’s homes and in hospitals and doctors fly out for me with patients to different Arab countries. These countries include Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.
Impressive, how did you get there?
Basically, it is what they call a selfish drive; to have a vision and be hungry to win. You have to want things you want to achieve. Because I come from a poor country, I decided all of us cannot remain poor. We have to have people with examples. And when I was in Scotland at the time as the only black nurse in my class, I felt that I shouldn’t be the underdog. I felt that I should be above them in my determination to be a successful person. I had a determination to be known and to leave a legacy in this world. I want to be remembered as a Gambian who was born with a single parent, went abroad to further her studies and became a successful woman. I want to be remembered as a person who feels sorry for her neighbour, who wants to help humanity, who loves life, who loves to work hard, and who wants to reach heights. That is the legacy I want to leave behind.
Could you share with us your odyssey from Gambia High School?
My aunt had a husband who was a Nigerian and a doctor in Scotland. I wanted to be a veterinary doctor because my mother had a poultry farm in The Gambia where I used to give the chickens Paracetamol when they had eyeache or something like that. I used to measure the Paracetamol, crush it and put it in their mouth which I thought was really interesting. But then it so happened that being a vet doctor, I didn’t achieve the grades that I was supposed to achieve because I left O levels. So I went to Glasgow to do my O levels. But a year-and-a-half after going to Glasgow, my mother fell sick and died. So there was nobody to pay my studies for me. It meant I had to go into a lesser category where I will do the same nursing. At that time, I was getting 150 pounds a month and this was enough to pay for my accommodation. I used to save 50 pounds in the post office and used the other 50 pounds for my own spending but that was a lot in buying clothes and everything I needed. I graduated after three years with my nursing qualification but I was alone with no mother, father, sister, brother or family in Scotland. Then, I said to myself ‘why do I have to waste my time here alone; let me work hard’. So when I was off from work, I used to work with agencies and supplementing my income. I used that as a learning tool. Even when they call me to go into a cardiovascular ward, even though I did not do that specialty, I would go. When I go in there, I used my basic trainig which is my foundation of nursing and if you use that the rest comes after because it is a learning curve. So I was earning money and I was learning as well. Just as I was increasing my knowledge, I was also increasing my wealth by saving my supplementary income. At the age of 23, during the time of Margaret Thatcher, I bought my first flat for 17,500 pounds. This was a one-bedroom flat next to Glasgow University. I rented one of the rooms to a student and I stayed in the lounge. So it meant that the rent money I was getting was paying for my mortgage and I got supplementary income as well because my mortgage was not large. Through that I paid for the mortgage, had extra money with my salary and the extra money from the extra work I was doing. This greatly increased my wealth and I felt like I shouldn’t wait for a man to give me money. I don’t want a man to give me money and I was too proud for that. So I thought I should work and the man who will come and marry me will find out that I have my money, my cups, plates and everything. He will just walk in with his suitcase. That was what I was ready for because I have always been an independent person. I have always had this drive which came not only from wanting to achieve things but I think it was also an in-built thing. My mother was half-Nigerian which in essence makes me a quarter-Nigerian even though I have never been to Nigeria. I have a driving force behind me and that driving force has been to succeed, to maintain and have a name but a clean name for myself. A clean name not to lie, not to cheat, not to sleep with men to get things. I wanted to achieve things in the correct way. That is the path that I took.
In 2003 you donated a wondrous sum of 140 thousand pounds to the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital. Why?
When I started my business it became quickly successful which prompted me to look at all the parameters and I paid glory to God. I thanked God for giving me the wealth which I never expected in my life. It grew large very quickly and I thought I should look back to The Gambia because it gave me free schooling through Methodist Preparatory. I passed my Common Entrance Examination with flying colours and I got scholarship thanks to Mr Jonathan Goode. I was not paying for anything in school and this is why I thought The Gambia instilled something in me. The Gambia gave me free education and it is because of my education that I have achieved my wealth. So I decided that I must give back to my country and population. I decided I was not going to single people out to give them money but thought I should give them something that everybody will benefit from. I bought four ambulances for the country through the ministry of health. So when we came, they said that it was large and decided to involve the president and that was how I met the president. When I met him, he was very proud and he received the ambulances and thanked me and said that every Gambian abroad should emulate what I did. While we were talking and having discussions with the minister of health at the time, Yankuba Gassama, he said ‘Faith we have an accident and emergency ward, why don’t you try and help us?’ I went into the area and after looking at the place, I thought the condition was appalling because dust was coming through the windows and things like that. When I looked at the whole segment, I thought it lacked things like IT, televisions in the waiting rooms, photocopy machines, fans and other things. I though actually humans beings should have these things. So I tailor-made it like a Western accident and emergency ward and that was why I spent my money there. I had a contractor who ate half of the money for which I was very disappointed. When people donate their money to good causes, they [people in charge] shouldn’t think about stealing from it. Even though it was done we had a big fallout because some things I asked him to do were not done. When you want to do something and somebody cheats you, you feel like you haven’t done what you said you are going to do. Because my mother died when I had not started working, I decided to name the accident and emergency unit in her memory. That way I felt my mother’s name will be known and noticed to show so that she has children who are still thinking about her despite her being gone ages ago. So on 22nd 2003, we inaugurated it with the president opening it together with all the ministers and everyone was happy. It was spick and span, lovely and great. And then I phoned a few people to try to donate and upgrade the equipment but I haven’t had a response. I am now hoping that while I am here, I am going to contact the Minister of Health and Social Welfare to be able to discuss with him because I have the equipment and I can send it to them because I sell medical equipment as well in Ivory Coast. I attend medical fora to see and buy the new technologies and I sell my equipment and I sell a lot to the Ministry of Health in Ivory Coast. I have equipment which I am willing to donate because it is my country and I will always want the best for my country. Let me tell you something, if I was Bill Gates today, I will do so much more for The Gambia especially in schools helping bright and promising children who are poor and to send them abroad for University studies… even sponsoring government workers to go for higher education so that everything will be better. So I am praying to God that one day, he will give me the money I am looking for and I will be able to achieve these goals.
In an interview you did with a magazine in the UK, you argued that ‘what men can do, Faith can do more’. What made you say such a thing?
Put it this way, I am not scared of anything. Why should I be scared of things? If you have knowledge and you know you have good knowledge, why should you be scared? If you know the God you trust and follow the 10 commandments you should not be. I am not saying that I am perfect, but if we want to set a gradation with level 10, I would say probably that I am a C student. This is because I sin every day and I am not perfect. But my aims are that I want to be an A student and I’m hoping by the time I die I may not be a an A student but I will want to be a B+. This is how I look at my gradient level with my God. Because I have that level with my God, I go out asking Him every day to protect me from my enemies and to give me the strength to be able to help the poor out there. I pray and whisper that to myself every day because I hate to see people suffer and I feel that so many people have the potential but there are no openings for them. I thank God that I had that opening which my mum gave me before she died. So I was one of the lucky people and this is the reason why I reach out. Being selfish does not pay and what you sow, you will also reap. This is my motto! That’s why I said what a man can do, I can also do. I am not terrified of any man.
You are in the country at a time when Gambia are celebrating 20 years of President Jammeh’s leadership. What is your assessment of twenty years of his leadership?
I feel that every Gambian should go into military service for at least one year after high school before going to the university or even after university. I mean every single Gambian. The reason for that is that it will instill discipline in the youths which is the road to success. When I look at the children of today, all running about, it is like you planted a tree but the tree is not nurtured to grow and left in the wilderness and this is how these children are growing. When they want to speak to you; they have no respect to say hello. They do not know how to speak to people. Indiscipline is ruining our country and people have to be more disciplined. The bible says ‘respect your mother and father before your days are numbered in this world’. This means that if you respect adults, you will live a long time here. However, if you have discipline, focus, and religion you will see that your life is guided in the right direction. But if you do not have a framework for development and cultivating your life, you will go off the radar and that is why so many young people go off the radar. As Gambian citizens, we should be patriotic to our country. We should stop criticising our country and dwell on its positives. You cannot go to another country and claim it is better than yours. There is no better place than where your placenta is buried; that’s your homeland and you shouldn’t stand and criticise it. We should be more patriotic. If we do not have a leader like President Jammeh, The Gamba would not have been a stable country. It is only Jammeh that can lead this country. Jawara’s regime has come and gone. We are moving in the 21st century. Jammeh has done a lot in terms of infrastructural development. We have to remember that The Gambia has no natural resources, so he is doing a lot with the little resources we have. We only get revenues from corporate, sales and income taxes and our population is growing so the money being generated from that revenue is very little. We cannot keep hanging on the government and expect the government to do everything for us. We have to get up and work. We have abundant land and rain. We have the sea with fishes and foreigners are coming to get our fishes and selling it abroad. Moreover, we Gambias would say Yala bahna meaning God is great. Why don’t we go to Tanji, Bakau and other places and fish. Senegalese are fishing our waters while we Gambians say Yala bahna. This is a very wrong attitude for Gambians. People should not expect the government to finance them because they should be able to get up and go farm the land, fish the sea, grow up and climb the stairs, and insh’Allah they shall be there one fine day. However, if you sit and expect money to drop from the sky, and say ‘I have faith in God’ you won’t get there. Gambians should wake up from this long sleep and realise that they can also do it. Let them stop thinking about quick money. Nevertheless, if you put your energy and focus, and drive you will get there with the help of the God.
You were awarded MRG in 2003 by President Jammeh. What do you think motivated him to confer such a high national honour on you?
I think that he felt honoured that a Gambian donated a large sum of money to the country and in essence there is a psychology behind it. It was not only to confer the honour but also to show to all Gambians that they could be like Faith. So I accept it because it was an honour. I was so proud that I would tell people in London that they should bow to me because of what I did for my country. I am very proud of this award and after when I die, they can put it up on my grave stone.
You have spoken inspirationally and eloquently. What will be your final words to Gambians?
The first thing that Gambians have to understand is that every national anthem that has been written for a country means something. Every Gambian should take the national anthem, read and understand it. It is not about singing it, but understanding and living it. I have looked at it over and again and I have seen myself in the national anthem. I want other Gambians to see themselves in our national anthem as a way of understanding that as a Gambian citizen, we should be patriotic to your country. We should also stop criticising our country no matter how bad it is and see positive things out of your country. This is because you cannot go to other people’s countries and think they are better than yours. You cannot stand and criticise your homeland where your placenta is buried. You should fight for your homeland and this is what I want to say to the Gambians. Secondly, religion should be instilled whether Christianity or Islam into every citizen and understand that God has written guidelines for us to practice on a daily basis. This will make them to become better people and more peaceful with themselves. They will achieve their dreams and bloom. Parents have to start instilling in their children to be able to pray but not just lip service prayers. It has to come from within and understanding what it means because if you look at the bible it has the 10 commandments which I am sure must also be contained in the Qur’an. That thou shall not steal, that thou shall not be a false witness, that thou shall not commit adultery, etc. They should read each one of these, masticate it, digest it and understand what it means to enable them act on it. That’s why actions speak louder than words. Do not think badly of your neighbours and if you cannot help your neighbours, you should leave them alone. For me I don’t want to disturb my neighbour because it’s not in my best interest and I think that’s why God has chosen me among the many Gambians to be what I am today. How many heroes do we have in The Gambia? We only have fallen heroes. The moment you go up, they bring you down so quickly. If you go to other countries, they have many heroes and they are celebrated. We should stop the negativity and create an environment of positivity. This is what makes our country a harmonious one that will develop. We all have a passing time in this world and we should be able to make something out of our time.]]>