Book Drive Leads to Scholarship Program
LONGMEADOW, Mass.—Last year’s successful Bay Path College/Sajuka School Library Initiative Book Drive, which garnered nearly 3,000 books for students of Sajuka Community School in Barra, The Gambia, Africa, has opened the doors to a new relationship between Bay Path and Sajuka, and possibly The Gambia. A scholarship program, enhanced education, and a nonprofit organization are just a few of the initiatives, which spawned from the book drive and are now taking flight on Bay Path’s Longmeadow Campus.
“A supportive and dedicated community, Bay Path has enabled us to do more for Gambian children than we had initially hoped,” said Bay Path senior and Laurel, MD resident Nyillan Fye, who organized the book drive initiative and now serves as co-director of the Sajuka Community Development Project, The Gambia/Longmeadow-based nonprofit organization. “In a matter of months, we have established a library filled with books for all ages, are sending 10 young girls to the Sajuka Community School, and are now moving forward to enhance education efforts for Barra children as well as Bay Path students.”
The Initiative was organized by Fye, along with John Jarvis, PhD, professor of English and communications at Bay Path, to establish the Sajuka school library 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 she frequently returns to her homeland. 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 founded 25 years ago, the institution had very humble beginnings, and has slowly grown during the last two decades.
Fye, who returned to her native country during her winter break, worked with Sajuka employees to organize the library system, and she witnessed the grand opening celebration of the library, which essentially opened to the entire Barra community last fall. Fye’s work with Sajuka, as well as her support of Gambian women in the U.S. through the Miss Gambia-USA pageant, which she launched, did not go unnoticed in The Gambia. During her visit, she received national news coverage and most importantly, an audience with President of The Gambia Alhaji Yahya Jammeh. Fye and President Jammeh discussed her work with Barra youths and Gambian women residing in the U.S. as well as the Sajuka Community Development Project, which she and Jarvis, who also serves as co-director, hope will serve as a model for partnerships between other communities in The Gambia and the U.S.
“President Jammeh was very encouraging of our work and commitment to Gambian youths, and he shares our vision of using education to better The Gambia’s communities,” said Fye, who plans to return to The Gambia this summer to continue her Sajuka efforts and pursue an online graduate degree in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy from Bay Path.
The Sajuka Community Development Project will continue to support the Sajuka library as well as focus on providing quality education to children and teens who attend the school. Young women enrolled in Sajuka’s vocational program especially will learn about marketing and entrepreneurship—useful skills they can apply in their community as well as the global marketplace. The organization has also developed the Bay Path Scholars Program, which currently funds Sajuka tuition costs for 10 young girls who live in Barra—three second-graders, four first-graders, and three preschoolers. The program intends to support the girls’ education until they graduate from Sajuka. The young women will then be given an opportunity to pursue a higher education at Bay Path College. Upon completion of their undergraduate degree, the women will return to The Gambia, and continue to strengthen their communities. The nonprofit is also considering offering tuition reimbursement for Bay Path graduates with degrees in early education or education if they agree to teach at Sajuka.
“Through this nonprofit, we have an opportunity to do great things for the Gambian children, and bring the community of Barra into the 21st century,” said Jarvis, who noted the average annual income for Barra families is $384. “By enriching the lives of youths and teens in Barra, and having Nyillan serve as a role model, we can open their eyes to the endless opportunities education provides them and in return, they will create sustainable, community development.”
Bay Path College/Sajuka School Library Initiative
Dedicated to enhancing the educational experience for the schoolchildren at Sajuka Community School, Nyillan Fye, a Bay Path College junior at the time, was determined to establish a library within the school not only for the students, but for the community of Barra. Intrigued by Nyillan Fye’s story and ambitions to improve the school environment for children in her homeland, John Jarvis, PhD, professor of English and communications at Bay Path, worked with her and his students in world religion and intercultural communication courses to launch a book drive. In a matter of weeks, Nyillan Fye and Dr. 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.