Sheriffo: From a barefoot boy in a small African village to a student abroad with scholarships from the Taiwanese Government
HS: Hey, Sheriffo! Welcome! When I met you for the first time (online), at first glance you were one regular young person in the Gambia but when I met you, even more, I realized that despite all challenges in the Gambia, you were a person who was trying hard to work and become better every day: from working in hotels, private companies, and banks. I was impressed with your hard-working attitude and burning desire to work even if it included going to internet cafes in order to get online. I also remember you telling me that you have never traveled by airplane before, but I recognize an immense optimism, effort, and power in yourself that I knew it will be a matter of months before you will become global too. Before we move to your international chapter, can you please introduce yourself and share your experience before your international trips?
My name is Sheriffo Jarju, born and raised in a small village called SIBANOR which is located in the western part of The Gambia. My country- The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in Africa. It is located in the western part of Africa bordering with Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean. Born and raised in an extended family where we are not rich but content with whatever we have, I can recall those days back in my village when I was going to primary school barefooted and sometimes will not even take shower before going or even without having breakfast at my disposal. Living with this, I was trained on how to live in different situations in life because things will not be the same every day. Doing this for 6 years and putting my education on a high note helps me complete primary-level education with flying colors even though was not having a study teacher at home meaning I have to study myself and prepare myself for exams.
Completing primary education, I finally moved to one of the biggest towns in my country called Serekunda. In this town, we have a different life compared to the one I am used to during my stay in the village. In the town, I have been able to meet with different youths from different backgrounds—rich or poor. But living with them I have many challenges been with them. The environment was never conducive to me as a student because almost all of my friends I move with smoke cigarettes or marijuana. Luckily enough I am living with mum and I have great respect for her. I can recall this faithful day when she called me and told me to stop moving with all those of my friends. I was so mad and felt bad about her request, but having that respect for her, I could do it and now I can say it’s because of her request that I am still not a smoker. All of my past friends envy me for not being a smoker. This helps and makes me who I am throughout my studies at Junior school and also at high school and college too.
Here comes a challenging life after school. As young people during school time, we all believed that after completing school with your diploma you can easily have work and make ends meet. This was so ironic to me and I have to struggle to have work due to my lack of work experience. I remember going from one office to another while I was in college to have an internship so that I can have some office experience before completing my college studies. It was never easy but was lucky enough to have one with a hotel and this has opened the door for me in terms of working experience. After completing college with an associate degree in accounting, I still believe I have something left to work on. This is because my society is rampant as most of the youths are school dropouts, smokers and drug addicts, and teenage mothers and fathers. This is how Youth Consortium for Progress (YCP Gambia) was born. It was this we came up with the idea of creating avenues for youths to come together and discuss issues affecting themselves as youths and also forging out ways to solve those issues. In establishing this, I have faced difficulties in how registering the organization and also how making it sound to young people in my community. I have spent endless time, money, and resources on this, and sometimes I felt like I want to quit and forget about it. But having that passion for activism in my DNA pushes me to do more. After registering, I was able to organize the first drama competition in the Gambia between Junior schools to act on the theme of the usage of illicit drugs among students in schools nowadays. These were welcomed by observers as it brings together 6 different schools together. This journey was never easy it has its rough edges and what makes me what I am today is all bound to determination and willingness to move forward.
HS: How did you decide you want “something more” than being just one regular youngster who expects others to do all stuff for him? How did you overcome initial challenges (doubts, fears, rejections..)? How did you manage to stay a positive person who looks to the future and who starts utilizing even international opportunities? How have all those experiences changed you as a person and helped you to turn yourself to a global level? And it was high time that your local efforts get awarded! Can you share with us how everything started with your international experience? How did you manage to get selected for those opportunities, and how did you overcome all challenges (visas, financial aspect…)? Can you share your international experience with us, and how that experience changed you? Do you think that it’s important for one young person to see other countries?
After finally setting up my foundation in my community, it's now time to gain more experience in my quest in becoming an international figure in terms of activism and youth work is a concern. This is an uphill task that never comes easy. After my first competition between junior schools on the importance of education and also the usage of illicit drugs among school-going kids, organizing capacity building and creating an avenue wherein youths come together and discuss issues affecting them.
I can remember spending most of my time online searching for a conference and also connecting with people on Facebook who are also youth activists. My experience as a global traveler started in May 2013 when I was chosen to attend a conference on MDGs which was held in Cape Verde. I remember chatting with a guy on this island and discussing conferences and seminars and he said to me can you be able to fund your ticketing to the island for this conference? I replied to him even though I did not have money in the real sense. After all, he sent me the necessary documents for my trip. Funnily I can’t raise money in time to attend and I sent this guy message telling him about my situation at hand. Then he said to me can you take care of your transportation to Senegal, a neighboring country of Gambia. I said yes to this and started the journey to Senegal. Remember me going to Senegal without even having my ticket? After reaching Senegal, I called him and he sent me an airfare that took me to Cape Verde. This was my first time boarding a flight, sitting in my seat and tightening my belt was so scared when the flight was taken off due to lack of experience in boarding a flight. This journey made me so happy about myself as I was able to achieve a lifetime dream to board a flight.
This conference was based on MDGs—population and youth employment. It has helped in widening my understanding of MGDs as it tells me which of those MDGs are achievable and which are not achievable before the end of its set deadlines. Upon successfully attending this conference, I have seen rapid improvement in my public speaking, interpersonal skills, and leadership skills. This conference brings the birth of the cheetah generation radio talk show—a show in which purely youth issues are discussed at STAR FM every Sunday from 12:00 noon to 13:00GMT.
During the past 4 years, I was able to organize numerous conferences in my country and this I have mentored many young people due to my passion and character in activism. From this conference, also went to Thailand twice for inner peacebuilding in connection with meditation with peace revolution. Now I am a peace architect- I can present or be a speaker at any conference in this world in connection with inner peace and peace within this world.
HS: What would you advise other young people who are demotivated now and pessimistic about their future? What can you, as a young person from a small and underdeveloped African country, can share with young people about overcoming challenges and becoming better every day?
I believe in this quote “journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. This is what I used as my motto whenever I have rejected or had downs in my life. Being born poor doesn’t mean it’s a crime and you will not have what you dream to have.
One thing I will like to share with you all is: never say it's impossible, and also know that hence you are alive, and the sky is the limit for you to attain your wishes and desires. If I am able to overcome hurdles in life from a very poor and developing country like The Gambia and be an international guy today, I can surely make it to the top. Whatever you doing, draw your future plans and always try to have a scale of preference where you can arrange all your desire and wishes according to importance. In this, you can take them according to their priority. For example, even when I was selected for a concrete opportunity abroad, I received numerous visa rejections from different embassies ranging from USA Embassy (twice), the German consulate, the UK embassy, and Holland Consulate in The Gambia too (once). All in all, I have never looked down on myself and have neither been disappointed in myself because I am that guy who always has the belief that one day it will come and come for good.
Not having a degree doesn’t mean you cannot have what you dreamed of. Following my desire and never giving up attitude, I applied and got selected for a full scholarship from the Taiwanese Government for my bachelor's degree in business administration in that country.
What I have for all young people, is never to try to give up and work hard in attaining their dreams regardless of how desperate and difficult a position they might find themselves in.
HS: Can you please share your experience from your first months in Taiwan, as a scholarship recipient from the Taiwanese Government? How did you get used to a completely new country, friends, and environment? How did you make sure you took most of your studies, what life lessons did you learn in Taiwan? Also, you were on a student exchange in the USA? Can you please share how that experience improved you as a person?
On August 5th, 2014, the journey toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration started as I landed at Taoyuan international airport, in Taiwan. It was a great relief after three hours of flight from Thailand via Hong Kong. The following morning received a different perspective of Formosa island- Taiwan. Knowing barely anyone apart from some Gambian students, it was difficult to adjust to the huge time differences between The Gambia and Taiwan. Here comes the food aspect of my new home—Taiwan. I struggle a lot with adjusting to Taiwanese cuisines due to the high rate of pork within most of the ingredients in their foods. As a Muslim, I decided to start cooking my own food in my school dormitory or try to ask anytime I am buying food to eat. This is to make sure that I am not eating any food containing pork. It was hectic, but I was helped by some Gambian sisters who put me through how to cook some Gambian dishes like peanut butter soup, chicken yassa, jollof rice, and okra soup.
As Taiwan is prone to natural disasters like typhoons, and earthquakes, I adjusted myself psychologically and mentally. Experiencing my first quake makes me want to go back to Gambia due to its severity. Focusing on education in a foreign country can be so difficult, but I was able to do so because of my perseverance, dedication, and hard work. Sometimes I do want to quit, but whenever I speak with my lovely mom, reminds me of the importance of this educational journey. This motivates me more to push myself over the limit. After a couple of months, I found myself completely in love with Taiwan due to its easy access to transportation, high-quality health system, and exceptional educational facilities.
Doing exceptionally in my studies gave me the chance to travel to USA for two semesters as an exchange student. The experience of being an exchange student for almost an year at the University of North Alabama was great. It gave me an idea of how Americans live and do things differently from the rest of the world. Educationally, I was put under rigorous classes like, Advance Accounting 1 and 2, Tax Accounting, English composition 111 and 112, Human Resources Management, and Money and Banking courses. This has improved me a lot on the side of how I saw America way before coming there. I learnt that not all is green in USA as shown online or on TVs.
HS: What is next? What would you like to do in your life?
As I am about to graduate come June 2018, I am now working on applying for my master’s degree in Business Administration. The application is tedious and time-consuming which comes with taking too many tests like GMAT, and English proficiency. I want to focus more on international business in my graduate studies or finance. I will also welcome any chance of having an internship or employment opportunity after my Bsc degree. I look forward to establishing an international business or organization in my country after my graduate studies.
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