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Askia Muhammad (GGA): The young man who sacrifices his life-savings to serve humanity

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By Omar Bah

Askia Muhammad Sillah, a Global Goodwill ambassador (GGA) had a dream to settle down at the age of 30 as a successful businessman and start a family. Sillah started saving while he was still very young with a clear plan of buying a land and building a house before getting married to the woman of his choice. “That was my dream and everybody who knew me knows that about me,” Sillah told The Standard.

Determined to achieve this dream, Sillah who is now in his 30s, travelled to about eleven African countries in search of greener pastures to fulfil his dream.

The young man made most of his wealth outside of The Gambia and later returned to settle down with the plan of opening a business, building a house, getting married and settling down as he dreamed.

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But that plan will later change after he came across an “extraordinary life changing experience” of a pregnant woman in labour being carried by young men to the main road because vehicles could not ride in the Faji Kunda feeder road due to the horrible condition of the road.

“That was the moment that changed my initial plan and the way I think about this world. This was a typical incident that inspired me beyond any limit and made me sacrifice my house to save lives,” Sillah said as tears of joy rolled on his chest.

Sillah who is still renting because he had used all his savings to rehabilitate the Faji Kunda feeder road said he has not regretted his decision and would have done it all over again. 

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“I just felt that the money I have in my account will be useless if I cannot use it to impact the lives of others. So, I said to myself this has to stop because we cannot continue to allow our women to pass through this kind of sacrifice,” he said.

Before his intention, the Faji Kunda-Kunujoye was unmotorable and residents in the area have suffered for years, especially women.

And Sillah said because of the love his mother showed him anything that affects women affects him indirectly.

“I cannot see a woman suffering and pass without doing anything about it. That is how much I love my mother,” he added.

A son of a famous and renowned philanthropist Abubakar Sillah, Askia Muhammad said it will be shameful and disheartening for him to keep his little resources knowing his fellow human beings are suffering. 

“As we speak, I spent over D828, 963 and the overall project is projected to cost over D2 million and I am happy about everything I did so far,” he said.

Sillah said D909, 463 has been expended so far on the D2 million Faji Kunda road rehabilitation project out of which he contributed D828, 963 while D80, 500 came from donations including D16,500 from Faji Kunda residents.

Sillah has since gone ahead to open his own foundation dubbed Askia Muhammad Africa Initiative (AMAI).

“When I started, many people thought I had an ulterior motive, possibly politics. But I remained resolute and refused to be distracted because I knew I had a mission which I wanted to accomplish at all cost and thank God today my efforts have made a difference,” he added.

Sillah said his desire is to accomplish the government’s effort as much as it is in the interest of the Gambian people.

“As my slogan goes “I OWN A NATION” so I have always zeroed my mind from any individual or institution who/which suppose or suppose not, should or should not help me build my nation. As it would be foolhardy and reckless to neglect something you surely owned. This slogan has later given me a gigantic strength and a driving force to always take the bull by the horn in building what I own,” he noted.

More often than not, young people at Askia’s age would want to live a lavish life. But the Mandinary village born philanthropist said his little savings would have been meaningless if he had expended them on pleasing his soul alone.

“Perhaps you may not be responsible for the wound inflicted on yourself but surely it is your duty to heal that wound. So, I rather use the little things I have to help build my country. You see, everyone has a role to play in national development. Just do something according to your means. Nothing is small. When the city is dirty, the best way to keep it clean is for everyone to clean his or her front yard,” Sillah said.

Many rich people around the world would rather prefer keeping their monies in Banks but Sillah argued that keeping millions to “myself while hundreds of thousands are dying of causes that my money could have averted is not a good thing. So, from that day on, I decided that I will live the remaining years of my life serving mankind.”

Sillah who is arguably one of Gambia’s youngest philanthropists said he is committed to donating all his money to different causes to raise the living standards and make the country a better place for all and sundry.

“I have a dream and the dream is to build 53 percent of Gambia’s feeder roads by 2030,” he said, adding “I challenge the government to just provide me equipment and if possible, all Gambians of eighteen years above and below 60 years of age to commit D1 each to help me accomplished this dream. I am also calling on private sectors and NGOs to join the initiative.”

Over the last two years, Sillah has spent more than D2.3 million on road rehabilitation and other humanitarian support to Arabic schools, English schools, and renovation of Mosques.

“I learned a lot from people around the world in my travels. And I intend to replicate the good in my country. I am happy doing what I am doing but I shall be the happiest if I should complete this on my watch,” Sillah said.

Sillah said he pioneered the idea of “Giving While Living” spending most of his fortune on charity instead of funding a foundation upon death.

“Since you can’t take it with you – why not give it all away, have control of where it goes and see the results with your own eyes,” he said.

As a philanthropist, he added, is more than just having the means to give money for charity but an ardent desire to help improve the people around you.

Father’s inspiration

Sillah said though he got his inspiration from the pregnant woman to start his philanthropist but his father, a renowned philanthropist, had always thought him to be good to people.

“My father always tells me that the best for any man is to leave a positive mark behind so that when you die people will remember you for the good you did because legacy is best told in someone’s absence.

I am optimistic that if we stand together there is no way that this country will fail. It is my humble opinion that if we all light a candle there will be no darkness. I am not rich but I am not afraid to spend the little things I have,” he said.

Accomplishments

Mr Sillah has now completed the first phase of the Faji Kunda feeder road. But apart from the Faji Kunda road, he has also contributed to the constructions of other feeder roads in Busumbala, Jalambang, Brikama-Nema and other different roads in Faji Kunda for example “Mballit Junction”.

Sillah, who has been voluntarily teaching at Gaddafi Islamic school for free for more than three years has also donated D20,000 to the school during one of its graduation and recently supported the rehabilitation of a Mosque in Kerr Dekodeh.

Acknowledgment

Sillah expressed gratitude to the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) for providing him material assistance and guidance.

“I also want to extend profound gratitude to the Geology Department, National Roads Authority for providing me with logistics, the Faji Kunda Councillor, the former National Assembly Member Saikou Marong and most importantly the community of Fajikunda who contributed some funds to the project,” he added.

The selfless Mr Sillah who is still renting in Faji Kunda said though his friends and brothers have built mansions, he would be happy if his sons and daughters knew he could not buy them a house because he had used that money to save lives.

Askia who was awarded the Special Books For Peace Award in 2019 and Global Goodwill Ambassador in 2018 in recognition of his contribution in building peace and offering humanitarian aid across the globe is also the founder and chairperson of Federation of African Youth Movements (FAYM), and Askia Muhammad Africa Initiative (AMAI).

Askia has also served as president of Management Development Institute Students’ union (MDISU) and finance minister of National Union of Gambian Student (NUGS).

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