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“The StAR-program saved my life”

In August 2015, I landed in Bergen to pursue a Master`s degree in Public Administration. I was enrolling at the University of Bergen under the Students at Risk- program (StAR). I didn’t have any real expectations, even though I had watched all the YouTube videos I could find. But I was willing and ready to accept anything, for at that moment my beloved Gambia was no home for me. I was persecuted and forced to leave.

Now I`m not planning to share my entire life story with you, at least not in this post. What I want to share with you, as I reflect on my time as a student at risk, is one important life lesson that Norway has taught me.

more than just a classroom education

My nomination to the StAR- program met me in a wing of the notorious Gambian mile 2 prison. Norway was never part of my plan or even something I was thinking about. In my culture, it is believed that sometimes unfavorable things happen to the right people in order to open new opportunities for them. I am not sure if such a statement applies to my case. Nonetheless, I will say that the StAR- program saved my life. It gave me hope and new opportunities to pursue my dream.

While the focus of the StAR- program was to get the student activists an opportunity to get an education, for many of the activists, it gave us more than just a classroom education. It opened our minds to the world and the beautiful Norwegian culture. It showed us a different diversity we were not used to, but were quick to learn to be part of. And for me, this is what our humanity should be. We must appreciate our diversity and use it to enrich our individual lives as well as our societies and communities.

fight back or be silent

In my beloved Norway, I met amazing people from all works of life. I made great friends, and my longing for home was suddenly replaced with patience and endurance to finish my degree program. I found in SAIH a family. A group that understands and share my pain. A group that did everything possible to let people hear my story and develop an interest in tiny Gambia. All of these efforts contributed in defeating the dictatorship.

As an activist connected to Gambia, I was worried that I will never be able to return home and that I would be forced to seek political asylum. Asylum was never part of my plan, but then the choice was to do so or risk going back to jail. So, I either had to fight back against the authoritarian regime through my blog and social media accounts, or to be silent and risk been stateless. Of course, I chose the former and it did pay.

Gi et bidrag - støtt kampen for studenters rettigheter.

important life lesson

As I sit here to put these memories together, I ask myself again- what is the most valuable lesson that Norway and the Students at risk- program taught me? I said it during my student graduation speech, and I will say it again: Norway has shown me that in the middle of chaos things have a way of working out.

I am back home in my beloved Gambia to support the rebuilding process. I am back at the University where I am helping to shape the next generation of policymakers and activists. I am engaged in numerous projects and programs that are geared towards building democratic institutions. I am also working with my beloved Safe Hands for Girls to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in one generation.

While I must attest to the fact that I miss Bergen, all my friends and the SAIH activists, I must say that I have learned the Norwegian way and will surely want to see the best practice replicated in my beloved country. I only spent about two years in Norway, but Norway will be with me for eternity.

Les også: Students At Risk videreføres.

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