As a 10-year-old living in the African nation of Gambia, Fatoumatta Drammeh’s mother enrolled her in school for the first time, making her the first girl among her 23 siblings to attend school.
Ms. Drammeh credits that first step into school with shaping her lifelong quest for knowledge. The 36-year-old mother of two who lives in Marlboro Houses is currently a student at Medgar Evers College majoring in public administration. She is also a 2019 NYCHA-CUNY Scholar who was awarded $1,000 for education-related expenses.
Because schooling for girls was frowned upon, she and her mother had to work hard to come up with the funds for her to remain in school, which they both felt was worth it.
“There is nothing in my country that I didn’t sell to help pay for my schooling,” Ms. Drammeh said. “After school, I’d go sell peanuts, oranges, whatever. I stayed up at night to study. I had to help myself because there was no one at home to teach me English.”
After she finished high school, she began a career in journalism. First, she traveled to South Africa to be trained in radio broadcasting and then moved back to Gambia to become a program producer and station manager at Radio 1 FM, which was a long-running, independent Gambian radio station. Her show aired on Sundays and mainly covered women’s issues, including female genital mutilation, human rights, HIV, agriculture, and good governance. She was also a correspondent with Simbani African News Agency, covering various national and international conferences for the station based in South Africa.
After her station closed, Ms. Drammeh decided to come to the U.S. for more opportunities. She decided not to pursue work at other radio stations in her country because they weren’t independent, and she wouldn’t be able to cover the topics that interested her.
When she came to New York in 2007, Ms. Drammeh hoped to continue her journalism career but soon learned that most of the positions required a college degree. She trained in the medical assisting field so that she could find work, and was also employed for some time as a child care provider and broadband specialist.
But she never stopped thinking about the work she truly wanted to do: human rights journalism or something in the diplomatic sphere that focused on women’s health. That passion led her to enrolling in Medgar Evers College in 2018.
Ms. Drammeh hopes that she is an example to her daughters (ages 7 and 11) and to the rest of her family, as well as people who don’t want to send their children to school. She benefited from the vision of advancement her mother had when she enrolled her in school those many years ago; now, Ms. Drammeh wants everyone, especially girls and women, to have the same opportunity she had.
“Education is really important to me; it’s more of the knowledge that I cherish, rather than just going to college to get a better job. With valuable education, one can make a meaningful contribution to society. In my country, women have long been denied basic rights, such as Western education, and to me that is really important because every human being deserves and needs it in this global world we now live in. With education, we women will be able to take control of our lives to do what we want to do and be who we want to be.”