Letters: Gambian Students Hajj volunteers react to allegations

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Dear Editor,

On August 6th, 2019, Standard Newspaper carried an article authored by the Secretary General of Gambia Hajj Commission Foday Sambou Ceesay.

In the said article, Mr. Ceesay leveled the following allegations against Gambian students in Saudi Arabia:

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1. That Gambian students in Saudi Arabia crowded pilgrims in their beds.

2. That these students abuse pilgrims’ food, resulting to deficit in covering their needs.

3. The mission therefore decided not to allow these students to mingle with the pilgrims because their support is not needed.

We, the Gambian students, hereby disagree with the above accusations of the Secretary General of Gambia Hajj Commission, Mr. Foday Sambou Ceesay. We want the public to understand the following facts which will avail them the opportunity to extract chaff from the wind:

1. That each pilgrim is provided a single bed which is not enough for them, let alone share with anyone. Therefore allegations of students overcrowding pilgrims do not hold water.
2. That most of the Gambian students in Saudi Arabia live with their wives who prepare Gambian foods for our pilgrims. These students were motivated to cover their own food expenses after realizing that Gambian pilgrims prefer their country’s diet more than that of the Arabs.
3. That In Mina and Arafat, Gambian students live in Senegalese Camps. In all these places these students feed on their own money contrary to Mr. Ceesay’s claims.
4. That the reported claim of food scarcity last year resulted because Gambian pilgrims shared their food with their fellow African pilgrims.
5. For that being the case, we want the Hajj Commission to understand that the main aim of these students is to provide selfless service to pilgrims from their country to successfully perform their hajj rites.

We think the Hajj Commission Secretary General Foday Sambou Ceesay must not under any circumstances level unfounded allegations against Gambian students in Saudi Arabia. It is equally too extreme on his part to say that the voluntary services of these students are not needed. Clearly, the absence of these students will leave behind an unfilled vacuum which will ultimately make life unbearable for Gambian pilgrims.

But a careful look at what we provide will give the public a clue of whether our absence is a wise decision.
1. A lot of our pilgrims do get lost in Mecca, Medina and Mina.
Thanks to the students’ help the lost pilgrims locate their stations.
2. These students help pilgrims to convert their money into local
currency. They also help them buy their basic needs.
3. Complaints of pilgrims’ challenging health issues are reported by
these students due to their closeness with them.
4. These students help Gambian pilgrims, especially the elderly and
those with special needs, to perform their safa and marwa rites.
5. These students facilitate communication between the pilgrims and
their families in the Gambia and elsewhere.
6. These students’ use their Saudi Arabia residency status and
understanding of Arabic language and Arab culture to guide and
vraise funds for needy Gambian pilgrims. For instance, some
students source donor support for Gambian pilgrims to buy food
and other needs.

Haroun A.B Manneh
The President of the Union.

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