Jane Gomez: My name is Jane Gomez and I am here on behalf of My Gambia to interview this amazing young man with big dreams. Thank you for obliging us the opportunity to interview you and to learn more about what you do. But first of all, we want you to tell us who you are and what you do as an individual.
Alagie Ndow: My name is Alagie Ndow, I am a social entrepreneur, a child and youth activist with a great passion of unlocking the potentials of young people through education and community development. As a result, I founded the Inspiring Young Stars Organization. An organization with the focus to find, create and support educational opportunities for young people through establishing libraries, through establishing community programs as well as empowering children and youths. So, in the process we established the Inspiring Young Stars Organization and which also led to founding the Inspiring Young Stars Community Library, a safe haven for children and youths by providing 24 hours library service. I think it’s one of those organizations or it might be the only library that is running in this country for 24 hours.
Jane Gomez: So, tell us why and when did you found this library?
Alagie Ndow: Over the past years, back in 2014, I have been working and supporting the children through home studies, and then I found out that the rate at which students are failing was really alarming in the community and I deemed it necessary to create something that will actually help to reduce that. Parents in the community, most of them are illiterates, and there are a lot of parents that are not able to support their children. Also, the education system and the home system are not compatible, so you will find out that home settings are not conducive for children to learn and develop. So as a result, I began working on creating something for the children and the youths in the community. I then had plans to call some friends and one of them was Alpha, with whom I started working, creating the constitution and finding the perfect name for the Inspiring Young Stars Organization. This took me a lot of time because I didn’t have the money. I was relaying on my salary to do most of these things. And then through that process, we started developing the constitution up to the extent that we had that name Inspiring Young Stars. So, when we got that name, we said: “Yes, this was good!” Then that was registered in 2016, and we opened a small library, where we started with a small block. That was where we started so over the years we expanded, we introduced more programs. Not only we did the library service but with the children, it was really very interesting and exciting to have a space to learn and develop. So, youth and volunteering service started coming in. We started supporting children summer programs. Our first summer program was in 2016 which was really very nice. We started doing community sensitization programs, we started doing community events in the open areas where children would be doing drama programs, poetry and that was really very good. In the process we established the IG Stars that is the Inspiring Girls Stars which was really, really one of the best things that has ever happen to me and also to the youths. Mariama is one of the youths that really came in through participating and helping the children.
Mariama is youth leader of the organisation. Her hard work and involvement in the program is very much being recognized among the older members of the organisation. She is expected to be one of the most important members to keep on with the development of the organisation. She has been involved in the library activities as a young girl and soon become one of the volunteers who is eager to contribute back to the society and help youngsters to also develop their reading, learning and performance skills.
Jane Gomez: I have heared so much about you growing up in this program from Alagie and about you coming back to give back to the program by supporting the young ones. What would you say, in your own words, inspires you to come back and give back to the program?
Mariama Jadama: I feel like this organization is like a support to me, it’s everything I needed, they just give me everything. I help young people, youth leaders to foster our education and to nurture our harmony. Inspiring Young Stars has been a great institution that helped to educate young people to foster their harmony. Inspiring Young Stars has been there for us so that we can help young people to have confidence in them, so that when they stand in public, they would know what to say. Activities like poetry, drama and etc.
Jane Gomez: What exactly do you do; can you lay down what you do with the children and young people?
Mariama Jadama: Its two of us, me and Catherine. We always help young people who cannot read and write for them to be something else tomorrow because like they say: “Youths of today are the leaders of tomorrow”. So, we help them in reading and sometimes writing.
Jane Gomez: What is the main focus, mission or goal of the organization?
Alagie Ndow: The focus and mission of the Inspiring Young Stars Organization is Fostering Education and Nurturing Harmony. And through that, we build our mission in inspiring a Community Transformation through education by establishing a literacy centre that is a safe haven for the children through finding programs that suits best the children and promote literacy in the community, build the confidence of young people so they become change agents and independent thinkers.
Jane Gomez: Throughout the interview, you mention girls, girls, girls. Is the organization basically set up for girls or is it for both boys and girls?
Alagie Ndow: It’s mainly for both boys and girls but the core of what we are doing is also cantered around the girls. Why? Because girls need more support than ever in this country due to many factors. And looking at the education, the dropout rate of children and girls is really high in the country. Girls have been marginalized a lot and that is the reason why our programs are more centered in supporting the girls.
Jane Gomez: How does the library improve lives of youths today and what do you want to see as a result in the future?
Alagie Ndow: This library has been so impactful for many children and I feel really happy deep in my heart that it is serving and it is serving very well in the community. With the children and the youths that have passed through the library over the past years, there has been a lot of improvement in terms of their grades and in terms of passing their exams. Back in 2017, we had 80% all the young people who have been coming regularly to the library and have been studying here pass on their grade 9 and on their grade 12. This was not the case before. In 2018, one of our students, our youth members took first in his school coming out with 8 credits in grade 9 and most of our youth leaders now who are going to the university passed through this library and they used to study here both day and night, 24 hours. There is no one from the youths that were coming to the library, who has less than 7 credits. So, it has been really, really impactful for the lives of those children. But looking at the community side, there has been a lot of programs that these young people have been really doing. We did a project called the Health Care Event where we impacted more than 350 people in the community, who were having eye problems, with support from our partner organization. They brought in health experts who did the screening and give out free eye glasses to those parents. So, you will find out that our activities are not only limited to the children and youths but also to the public and also to their parents. Another impact is the present of the library in this community where 90% of the people are vulnerable. This area is centred in the Gambia where most of the people are poor. So, having such a facility that is providing free service with free electricity and also as well as solar backups, like you can see, these have really, really impacted a lot of lives and it’s a safe haven for a lot of the youths that we are serving here.
Jane Gomez: Where did the idea of opening the library for 24 hours a day come from?
Alagie Ndow: When we started the library like I said, the idea first was to have a library that will run and support the children for the day time. But in the process, just three months after, the number of people that were coming to the library was huge and the space was very small. And we have tertiary students who were coming and we have grade 12 as well as grade 9 who were coming. Then when I looked at these, I had some conversation with some of the youths. They said they have limited time because by 5 or 6 o’clock or even before 8 o’clock there is no light and we had to close the library and go home. So, I thought okay, what do you want us to do? And some of them suggested we could even go up to 12 o’clock or even beyond. I told them that I have to safeguard as the head of the organization and that I would talk with the volunteers, with the youths and see how this could happen. We decided that it is possible for the library to be open 24 hours. When we bring that news, they were like: “Wow, this is great!” Most of them were actually volunteers in the library, they were very happy. After one month, then we had a meeting and during the course of that meeting, they just said that this is something that is really working for them and that they hope the organization will support it. We now provide 24 hours service knowing very well, we are safeguarding. The volunteers are supervising the library, while the students are also learning.
Jane Gomez: What are the three main activities that happen in the library?
Alagie Ndow: Students who come in and study their books; so providing the actual library service. But also, the other activity is youth empowerment programs that we do and workshops. These include evening Saturday programs where young people, all categories from children, girls and boys, would all come together every Saturday. We have heart talk, we have poetry, we have drama, and we have public speaking. These are some of the things that we are doing in the library here. And that is one of the most empowering moments that we have. During that program, we would invite people from different professional backgrounds to come in and to inspire them. We also have a few of our partners from Europe that would also be coming in. We also have mentorship. We have youth leaders’ programs, and that youth leaders’ program is to equip them in leadership skills so that they will be able to take the organization forward. Because for me I believe that, I am actually the founder, but I am not the owner of the organization. It is meant for the community and it is meant for the youths. So, it is really crucial that they take that leadership role and eventually run the organization in the long run.
Not directly in the library, but part of the activities we do, is community service. And community service is extremely important. Whatever we do, if we don’t involve in our community, people will not be enlightened, there will be no change.
Jane Gomez: Do you also do something along the line of career counselling where young people try to find out from a very early age what they aspire to be in the future?
Alagie Ndow: Sometimes we do, but that comes along during the course of the youth empowerment program, that we are doing on a regular Saturday. Sometimes we invite people from different careers backgrounds and when they come, they share their experiences. For example, if somebody is a policeman, when they come they talk about that part of being a policeman, what does it take for you to become a policeman and what are the characteristics, and what are the ethics that involves in becoming a policeman; what you need.
Moses is also one of the youth volunteers in the organisation. He shares his view on the organisation, the reasons for his involvement in the program and his appeal to all the youngsters to join the organisation and gain support in their career path for the future.
Jane Gomez: What can you tell us about this library and its programs, how often do you come to use it and what are some of the activities you participate in doing in this library?
Moses Jatta: Inspiring Young Stars has been a great organization that is offering vast range of services to the community and especially to young people and children in the area. I met the founder years ago and he gave me a background of what they are doing and I was really motivated and inspired as a youngster and a charismatic leader to join them because I feel it necessary, I deemed it fit to join them, because what they are doing is a noble cause and it’s something very rare. Which personally I was not privileged to have when I was in that age and when I was going to school. Being part of the organization is a great honour. I encourage a lot of people to join because the benefits cannot be overemphasized. And over the years they have been running a lot of programs, training to raise capacity leaders and build effective youths in the community. And one of the greatest success and great things I am very, very much impressed about this organization is, that it’s a youth base organization and everything they do involves youths and children and they are building very effective young leaders. Most of them are in the school system who are also coming back to give in their best by supporting and helping the young ones, giving them training, nurturing them, mentoring them.
Jane Gomez: What would you say to the young people who haven’t gotten the opportunity to be part of the Inspiring Young Stars Organization?
Moses Jatta: This is a clarion call and I guess there is no excuse not to be joining this organization because they have everything it takes to harness and also develop your potentials. You have mentoring programs, you have capacity building programs and you have the atmosphere that is very conducive and it’s a safe haven for children to come and to acquire knowledge, study. You have mentors, that are here to support you and guide you through your educational career and everything you need.
Jane Gomez: How did the community accept the library at the beginning and how do they see it now?
Alagie Ndow: I would say at the beginning, we have a few of the elders who were literates, who were actually informed and when we opened, we even involved elders of the community; they were really amazed with the idea. But then, few of the parents were saying: “Library! No, our children have to go and wash bowls”. So, in the process I was like, sometimes when we are inside, parents would come in to call their kids home. But in the process, they started seeing the impact that its making on other children, especially after the first, second years when they say how much did this girl have and how much did this boy have. They say: “Muhammed Mboob came first in their school with aggregate 8”. Parents were like: “Wow, that boy has been coming to the library every day”. Since then we have seen the increase of numbers. Now the library is even full of people so what we have to do now is to create children lab, where we have tablets and all the other things. So, we have a place where the children would be going either using the tablets or using their books and then we would have access for others to also come. The strategies we use for the adult students to come a bit later, that allows us also to have space for the little ones. But definitely like I mentioned, this place is not going to be enough in the future to harbour all the students that want to have that service, because it’s a rare service that we are providing across all this area. You will not find a library near.
Jane Gomez: What is the most seen result of your philanthropist efforts so far?
Alagie Ndow: The most seen result is on the youths themselves. Because the way they talk have improved, their public speaking has really improved and their leadership capacity has improved and that makes a leader. Aside from that, the library here is a physical structure that everybody will see. It is definitely making an impact and that is one aspect. Another aspect also is the health care that we have at the Willingara Community Centre. Since our involvement with the health care centre, we have brought a lot of projects there and now we have seen that the community and the neighbouring villages around have actually embraced the clinic more than ever before. We have more people coming in to attend the health centre which was not the case before 2016. And then also now we even have nurse attendants from Fajikunda that are regularly coming every week and more of our mothers and sisters are attending that clinic for nursing.
Jane Gomez: What are your biggest challenges so far?
Alagie Ndow: Our biggest challenge currently is capacity. Our challenges are, we are working with the children to become focal administration of the organization. Unlike many organizations that is going to actually take adults to run the affairs of the children, here is the young people themselves who are actually given that leadership responsibility and that is a challenge for us, before they get to understand how to operate. And then also we have a challenge for human resources who will take care of the library because voluntary service alone without incentives is always challenging. Financially, we are at zero, because most of the resources that you have seen here is either I buy it from my salary or we have one partner organization that is our sister partner, that is giving us resources like books. So, most of the books that you see, especially the medical books we have. But future challenges we have is that this building does not belong to the organization and it has been given to us to stay and who knows, one day they might come and say we need the space and then that becomes a big problem if we did not have our own space. So, this is a challenge for me an also for the organization and even for the children.
Jane Gomez: What is the future of the Inspiring Young Stars Organization?
Alagie Ndow: We hope the organization can impact more lives through having a land of its own where it can start to work and progress. Also, our wish is to have mobile library that can reach out to every corner of this country. When I say mobile library, I mean not only to put books in the car and go with them, but a modern digital library that comes with books and computers that can go in every corner of this country and stay for one or two weeks to work with children, to inspire them.
Another aspect is also; we hope in the short term, within the 5 years, is to create the Inspiring Young Stars book library clubs in every community. But also, we had a project that is happening at the medical centre in Banjul with the medical school and Musa is out secretary general.
Musa is not only a youth volunteer of the organisation, but also a secretary general and one of the two members who are in charge of leading a medical program within the organisations. He shares with us, how did the medical program started and how it has helped medical students so far.
Jane Gomez: Tell us, how the medical program runs and how does it help medical students?
Musa Saidykhan: The medical program started in 2017, when we once had a meeting with one of our friend Odile. When she realized that we are medical students, and we are also part of this library, she asked us what are some of the difficulties we normally have in medical school. Then from there, we had a little discussion with her and then she promised to provide medical books for us. So, we could start something with the medical students, that can be helpful. Later she sent us the medical books with some partner organization in UK, and then when the medical books arrived here, we divided the medical books. So we left some in this library, so that when I am around or he’s around or any of the medical students are around this community, we can come to the library and read the books. And we took some of the books to Banjul to medical students that are in the dormitory, so they can also utilize the books. We also created a medical page WhatsApp group and we created Facebook page, where we normally send information about most of our activities and some of the medical related activities that we normally do in the library. Some of the students that are aspiring to be medical students who are in senior school and junior school, we normally advise them the things that are ahead of them when you want to study medicine.
Alagie Ndow about the future plans: For the longest term, in 10 years’ time, we hope to see the Inspiring Young Stars Organization to create one of the biggest libraries in the country that every sector can visit, but then also to be a source of museum, where you can find all types of books. As well as where you can have all types of ground activities where children can play and learn technology with games. We hope, that with support from the partners, we would definitely have one of the centres in Africa that we can all be proud of.
Jane Gomez: How can people get involved in all of this projects and dreams?
Alagie Ndow: If you want to support us, if you want to be involved with the projects, contact us via social media or via our telephone lines. You can support us through our child sponsorship program that we are working on this year. We want to support at least 100 children, if we can, before 2023. Another aspect also is, if you want to help, help us to have a land that will sustain our work. You can also support us in structures, once we get the land in the long-term project. We also want capacity development programs and partnership for people from all fields of work, from government institutions, from NGOs, from philanthropist and from anyone who can help us; we are really open for that. But also, what we want is to resource this centre with computers, with better book shelves, as well as with good books and resources, with internet connection as well. Because most of our students are from the poor background, so supporting us to have good internet facility would be perfect for them.
Jane Gomez: Thank you very much Mr. Alagie, we are really grateful to have you in this interview and we hope that as many as they have heard this message, would come out to help. Even if you don’t have the finances to support, being present and talking to the young people and inspiring them would go a long way in developing who they are and their characters. So, thank you very much Mr. Alagie, we hope to see more inspiring young stars in our community and around the globe.