Georgetown Student Rescues Quran School that Changed His Life
To fulfill his father's dying wish that he memorize the Holy Qur'an, nine year old Ousman Camara was sent to the Quranic School for Boys in the small village of Farato in The Gambia, a decision that set in motion a series of remarkable events that would change the course of Ousman's life, and the modest school's future, forever.
The village, which is located in the heartland of the Mandinka, one of the largest ethno-linguistic groups in West Africa, and descended from the great Malian Empire, did not have a Qur'an school. So before beginning boarding school, Ousman and his classmates had to build the mud brick structure by hand, laying the foundation for an education that took him all the way to Georgetown University in Qatar.
He finished memorizing Qur’an in two and a half years, and then joined his siblings at the local school. However, it was his Quranic studies that continued to play a definitive role in his education. With only a year left of high school, a local Gambian man held a Quran recitation competition for the students. The prize? A fully paid scholarship to The Institute of Religious Studies for Boys, run by the Ministry of Education for the State of Qatar.
After graduating, he found himself in a quandary. “I had written and oral Arabic skills, but I needed to work on my English skills to go to college,” he recalled. The only solution was to attend the Academic Bridge Program (ABP) at Qatar Foundation, but as he bluntly put it, “I had no way to pay for it.”
As it turned out, a way forward opened at the masjid when after prayers one day, Ousman realized that a Qatari man had accidentally walked away wearing his identical-looking shoes. The ensuing laughter and and shoe exchange led to a deeper discussion about Ousman’s education dreams, and eventually, the generous offer to pay for his first semester at ABP. His hard work and dedication inspired others to support him along the way, and he eventually applied and was accepted to GU-Q.
As his own academic dreams came true, his thoughts always returned to the school that started it all, and he made plans to help renovate the school once he graduated and began work. However, at the end of 2018, he heard that the school would not last through the rainy season. Realizing that the time to help was now, Ousman started contacting friends at GU-Q, in Doha, and beyond. “My plan was to raise 100,000 Qatari Riyals to build a brand new school.”
Through personal donations from friends, he collected 60,000 Qatari Riyals, more than enough to start construction. “This Ramadan, I flew back to Gambia, and helped build the foundation. Once finished, the school will have electricity, room for 200 students, girls and boys, a septic tank for the bathrooms, and outside, a water pump for ablution.” He hopes that the final funds can be secured to add additional floors to the newly built concrete building, for further expansion.
“Most of the students there are under-privileged children and orphans who can’t afford a better education and this school is the only hope they have. The old school was built with mud blocks, but this time I am building it with cement blocks, which I hope will last a long time.” With construction almost complete, the students are filled with hope. “They are all so thankful to see a graduate from their school return and help improve their educational environment.” The teachers, he said, are grateful as well. “They were running out of time, and they were afraid that no one would help.”
Ousman will graduate this year from GU-Q and hopes to take his current role as education youth advocate volunteer at Education Above All (EAA) to the next level. “Georgetown taught me how to be a leader and how to value education which makes me want to give back to my community. It also taught me how to think critically, and outside of the box. Through my Islamic Studies classes, I learned so much more about the complexity of Islam and Muslim history, and it changed my worldview in so many ways.” Armed with his new experiences and gained knowledge, he wants to continue building schools in The Gambia, so others can have the opportunity to pursue life-changing education, and gain the chance to walk in his footsteps, too.