She’s the first female in The Gambia’s history to lead a university student union. In this interview with What’s On-Gambia, Tairatou Jallow talks about her time as president of the American International University West Africa Students’ Union.
What’s On-Gambia: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Tairatou:My name is Tairatou Jallow, a 3rd year Computer Science student at the American International University West Africa. I also work at the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology as Database Administrator.
I'm a native of Barra village but presently residing at Pipeline.
What made you contest for the student union presidency at your university?
I contested for the students’ union presidency to defy the status quo, to make changes in my university and to set an example that no matter your discipline or gender you can be a great leader.
Since when I was enrolled at the university, I realised only male students were contesting and were handling that position. And I wanted that to change. Then I came forward and ran for the presidency.
I was told I wasn't going to win. The election was the toughest we ever had at the university. I ran against three gentlemen - a Nigerian, South African and Gambian. And I won the elections hands down!
Did you win because all the girls voted for you? (Laughs)
(Laughs) you won't believe it. I got more votes from the male students.
What were your responsibilities for those who are not familiar with student unionism?
One of my responsibilities was to promote unity in the university by organising activities that offer students the opportunity to interact.
There are over 10 different nationalities in my university and five different departments, so there was so much diversity. Some of the activities I organised together with my executive included student congresses, debates, sports and beauty pageants.
To be honest, I was surprised with the level of participation because I was told that the students hardly participate in extracurricular activities. I was told it was impossible to mobilise. But we gave it a shot and the response was overwhelming.
What has been your greatest achievement during your time as president?
My greatest achievement was getting one of my Nigerian students out of police custody when he was arrested for not having his residential permit on him.
Why do you consider that as a major achievement?
I was really proud of myself for walking into a police station and managed to convince the officers on duty to release my school mate.
Is there anything that you did not achieve that you wish you had?
Yes, there is. I wanted to create a student union loan scheme where students will borrow money when they're faced with financial difficulties which would be at a zero Dalasi interest.
During your time as president did you receive sufficient support from the university administration?
No, I didn't!
I had a difficult time in office and I don't want to talk about it.
Do you have advice for girls who want to become student union leader?
Yes, I do! I'll advise them to go for it because they can do it well and even better. Naturally, we're created as loving, strong and caring human beings. Therefore, no matter how tough it gets or what knocks us down, we don't quit. We'll break down though and cry bitterly but we'll get right back up and come back even stronger. There's a saying that if you train a man you train an individual but if you train a woman you train a nation. And if you can train a nation then you can take care of a nation.