Bay Path College/Sajuka School Library Initiative
LONGMEADOW, Mass.—A delightful surprise welcomed more than 300 young children at the Sajuka Community School in Barra, The Gambia, Africa, as they began the school year—a new library and nearly 3,000 books collected and donated by the Bay Path College community as part of the Bay Path College/Sajuka School Library Initiative.
“The Bay Path community really supported us in this endeavor,” said Bay Path senior Nyillan Fye, who organized the drive and serves as co-director of the Initiative. “We have altered the lives of these children and their families for the better, and they are very appreciative.”
The Initiative, which was implemented by Fye, along with John Jarvis, PhD, professor of English and communications at Bay Path, supports education efforts in Barra, Fye’s birthplace. She lived in The Gambia for the first 12 years of her life before moving to the United States in 1998, and typically returns to her homeland once a year. For several months last spring, Fye was preparing for her summer trip to Barra, and spent long hours in Hatch Library studying the Dewey Decimal System, the most widely used library classification system in the world. After one of her courses with Dr. Jarvis, she discussed her plans to establish Sajuka’s library. Although Sajuka was established 25 years ago, the institution had very humble beginnings, and has slowly grown during the last two decades.
In 1984, Fye’s father, Momodou Fye, founded Sajuka after witnessing a fatal car accident killing two children who were walking home from Essau Primary School, which was nearly five to six miles from Barra. At the time of the fatal accident, nearly 40 percent of the Barra population was comprised of school-age children, who walked great distances to attend school. Moments after the crash, Momodou Fye recalled his childhood school days 20 years earlier—walking barefoot through the rough bushes to Essau Primary. His recollection closely mirrored the travels of Barra’s young children—the only difference between his memories and the reality of 1984 was fewer vehicles on the roadways. Momodou Fye responded to the tragedy by mobilizing the village to establish a school for the children of Barra—a feat they accomplished in just four days after the accident. He persuaded his father to relinquish a decrepit structure, which they quickly renovated as a new school; his cousin, who received his high school diploma, agreed to serve as a teacher, and he worked with villagers and neighboring communities to secure necessary teaching materials. When it first opened, Sajuka Community School enrolled children five years old and younger. Over the course of 20 years, Sajuka expanded to include a primary school for children as well as a vocational school for teens.
Dedicated to enhancing the educational experience for the schoolchildren at Sajuka, Nyillan Fye was determined to establish a library within the school not only for the students, but for the community of Barra as well. Intrigued by Nyillan Fye’s story and ambitions to improve the school environment for children in her homeland, Dr. Jarvis worked with her and his students in world religion and intercultural communication courses to launch the book drive. In a matter of weeks, Nyillan Fye and Jarvis collected 3,000 volumes, ranging from picture books for pre-school children to science and calculus textbooks for high school seniors. Once the books were collected, Bay Path faculty and staff contributed more than $1,300 to ship the 46 boxes of books overseas. “This was an opportunity for Bay Path students not only to learn about conditions in other countries, but also to get involved and make a difference in the lives of these children. It was an excellent way to move learning beyond the textbook and classroom,” said Jarvis.
The book drive has also led to a partnership between Bay Path and Sajuka, enabling Bay Path to broaden its mission to educate young women globally through the Bay Path Scholars Program. The program will allow Bay Path to sponsor 10 Barra children who do not currently attend school. Barra has not established a public school system, and Sajuka remains the only school in the community. Sajuka tuition is nearly $100 per year—a fee most Barra families cannot afford. The Bay Path community has already raised enough tuition for six children to attend the school, and efforts to raise the additional $400 to send four more children are underway. Nyillan Fye intends to name the new scholars during the grand opening of Sajuka’s library in January. “We want the children of Barra, especially girls and young women, to have an opportunity to attend school and learn how to read,” said Nyillan Fye. “The Bay Path Scholars Program is an excellent way for us to encourage Gambian girls and young women to remain in school and pursue a higher education at Bay Path.”
During her visit to Sajuka in January, Nyillan Fye plans to meet with President of The Gambia Alhaji Yahya Jammeh to discuss Bay Path’s efforts and future plans to enhance education for schoolchildren in Barra. Nyillan Fye will also propose using Sajuka and Bay Path’s relationship as a model for partnerships between other primary schools and communities in The Gambia and colleges in the United States.
“The Bay Path community continues to help the children at Sajuka Community School receive an acceptable education, and the College’s endeavors are having a great influence on other children beyond Sajuka in The Gambia,” said Nyillan Fye. “I’m very excited to see new partnerships form, which will greatly impact the future of children living Barra and The Gambia.”
Visit www.sajuka.org for more information about Sajuka Community School.