By Dr. Tijan M. Sallah
It is with deep sadness that I learn of the passing away of my primary school headmistress and also teacher, Auntie Arrou Ndow (better known as Mrs. Harrieta Njie-Ndow).
She was one of the most consequential heroines of the Gambian educational system in the 20th century.
I was a pupil at Sere Kunda Primary school from 1964-1970, when I experienced the administrative discipline, love of young people, and wisdom of Mrs. Ndow.
The Ndow family were an educational family. They were “movers and shakers” of the Gambian educational system, especially in the period preceding and after Independence.
If I recall correctly, Mrs. Ndow had four children: Catherine, Willie, Anna and Vico. While Mrs. Ndow served as Headmistress of Sere Kunda Primary, her husband, Master Chips Ndow, served as Headmaster of Latri Kunda Junior Secondary.
They were among the first settlers in the Pipeline area, at a time when Sere Kunda was small and concentrated around the market area, and people will refer to Pipeline in Wolof as “foofu ala lah.”
Mrs. Ndow not only administered Sere Kunda school well, she also expanded the physical facilities of the school grounds, building new classrooms and bringing in piped water when this was introduced to Sere Kunda in the sixties.
She ensured school buildings were regularly painted and cleaned, and the grass around school grounds cut and flower beds manicured. She also planted “Malina” trees as decorative plants along the main road to the school’s main gate, the bottom stems of which were painted with “whitewash” to give them an impressive look.
During morning gatherings before school started, we would gather under the main gate of Sere Kunda Primary school, under the giant bentenki tree (which had a palm tree in its center growing and entangled with it).
The late Seringe Njie would lead us in prayer with “tala hal badru alaina,” the litany of the prophet’s victory, which we will sing with zealous enthusiasm. Mrs. Ndow would then give her lectures to us about the importance of discipline and hygiene.
She had zero tolerance for poor hygiene and, even minor infractions, could send you to the school showers to take bath.
She was also strict about kids combing their hair, washing their hands, and wearing clean uniforms to school, in the typical brown khaki shorts and white shirts for boys and green dresses for girls.
She also encouraged kids to value learning not only in the classrooms but also outside.
I remember many a time working in the school garden, where we would grow vegetables like lettuce, carrots, beetroots, cabbages, applying manure and watering the vegetable beds with a sprinkler watering cans.
Apart from being a first-class administrator, Mrs. Ndow was an excellent teacher.
I remember many a time of her meeting with us in Primary Six to prepare for the high school entry examination, the West African Common Entrance Examination (CEE).
In our class were students (if I recall correctly) such as Sakou Jobe, Seyaka Sonko, Pa Modou Jagne, Assan Jaye, Fatoumata Hydara, Ramzia Diab, Raif Diab, Modou Suwareh, Tijan Sonko, Mariama Sarr, Mustapha Hall, Ndey Gaye, Almamy Pereirra, Ndey Sey, Cherno or Kebba Gaye, Anna Ndow (her daughter), Matarr Manneh, Badou Ndow, to name a few.
She would use that fabled book, “The Student Companion” and other texts to enrich our young minds. One of the legendary Common Entrance test-takers in a class a year before us was Antou Faal (who had exceptional scores) and Mrs. Ndow would always drum Antou Faal’s stellar performance before us to emulate.
She will meet with us and help us with test taking strategies and have us take mock tests.
As a school, we often did very well in the CEE compared to other Primary Schools.
During my Primary School years, I remember excellent teachers such as Dawda Faal (author and historian), Landing Jabang, and A.A. Faal—all of whom served under Mrs.
Ndow. I recall a time after Mrs. Ndow visited Ghana and was inspired by the Ghanaian young pioneers under Kwame Nkrumah and their voluntarism in cleaning their communities (in an organization called VOLU).
She returned to The Gambia to encourage us to emulate their example.
I remember her teaching us their song VOLU VO in an enthusiastic melody.
The last time I saw Mrs. Ndow was over 15 years ago when she visited Washington, DC, and I ran into her at a gathering—maybe World Bank gathering, and I began to tell people around about what an educational heroine she was, besides being my Primary School Headmistress and teacher.
As a result, peopled looked at her in awe.
She was quite pleased and returned to The Gambia to tell my late father that I welcome her with great honor. She was truly awesome and deserved every honor.
She was a hardworking professional, whose devotion to educating young minds was so infectious. I will miss her and will always remember her for her profound contributions in shaping our young lives.
May the benevolent God recognize her good works in serving Gambia. May she be accorded great peace in Paradise.
Dr. Sallah is a retired former Sector Manager for Agriculture at the World Bank and author 10 books.