From record’s clerk to Britain’s most innovative teacher: Interview with Dr. Momodou Sallah

Written by Alieu Khan

Dr. Sallah

He left The Gambia for the UK 17 years ago to pursue further studies and kept his eyes on the prize. He now not only has a prestigious suffix Dr, but Momodou Sallah has become the first Gambian to win UK’s Most Innovative Teacher award. But for a man who is in touch with and in support of Gambian endeavours, the zeal to return to contribute to building a better Gambia is burning inside him.

Below read our exclusive interview with him. 

What’s On-Gambia: First, congratulations on becoming UK’s most innovative teacher!

Dr. Sallah:Thank you! It has been quite a humbling experience.

How did you find out you had won the award?

I only found out on Thursday night (27th November); I was informed a couple of months ago that I was one of six people shortlisted and went to the awards’ night where over a 1000 people were in attendance. Then, just like in the Oscars, a bit of what we did was highlighted in the screen and then the envelop was opened …… I must have had my mouth hanging open because the next thing I realized was my Dean of Faculty shouting, “Momodou, you have won!”

How important do you think such recognition is for The Gambia?

I think it is significant because we are doing something unique and exciting with the Global Hands Manduar Development Hub. We are bringing academia and practice together in order to transform lives, with those most affected at the heart of it. So in this light, it is a positive narrative that seeks to replace the often, poor ways in which Africa is portrayed. We hope to replicate this model in different parts of the world as pedagogies of disrupting dominant configurations of development.

As a result, I hope it focuses more positive attention on The Gambia. Many people have also been in touch and we are working very hard to expand the Hub and establish a world leading centre to focus on developing pedagogy, research, training and practical development. We really hope that this will also bring a lot of opportunities to The Gambia.

When and why did you move to the UK?

I came to the UK 17 years ago to study.

What was your profession in The Gambia before moving to the UK?

I did a few months as a records’ clerk in the Civil Service before leaving for the UK. I had not settled into an established profession when I left The Gambia, although I had many roles that molded me. I was Youth Director of The Gambia Red Cross Society, Acting President of The Gambia Students’ Union, and also did set up Youth Association for Advancement (YAA) with four other young people.

How were you involved with The Gambia Red Cross Society?

I went through the ranks from being a volunteer to Youth Director, before leaving for England. So I learnt a lot of my craft there: youth work, participatory methodologies, working with communities, programme planning etc. As the Youth Director, I chaired the National Youth Commission, represented youths in the National Executive Committee, and developed innovative projects to engage youths nationally.

How did you get into teaching in England?

With my youth work experience in The Gambia, I continued in this field when I came to England and started from a part-time youth worker until my last fulltime youth work job as a senior youth worker with the Leicester City Council, managing the freestanding youth work provision in an area covering one-third of Leicester. Whilst I was involved in Youth Work, I also continued my education and managed to get a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Philosophy (MPhil), and a PhD. After this, I went to De Montfort University (DMU) to teach youth and community work. I was seduced by the prospect of situating myself both in theory and practice and could not resist the call.

Do you have students from The Gambia?

As of now, there is only one student on my course from The Gambia, but I know of seven others who are in DMU.

Dr. Sallah

According to your university’s website you regularly take students to The Gambia. Could you describe how the project supports the university’s academic goals?

Our Vice Chancellor has initiated a programme called #DMUglobal which targets 50% of our graduates having an international/global experience because he recognizes the need to develop globally literate and competent graduates. In this light, we seek to create this opportunity for our students.

From a more selfish point of view, I am interested in pedagogies of disruption and pedagogies of hope; how students can experience real life situations in developing their praxis; in addition, how can I work with students to mutually engage communities in The Gambia, based on the principle of reciprocity, to initiate development. In this way, students learn practical skills and communities in The Gambia teach them as well as mutually building each other’s capacities.

What type of activities do you organize for the students during their Gambia visit?

These are very diverse ranging from exploring Kunta Kinteh Island (James Island), Fort Bullen and the National Museum to explore slavery, colonialism and post colonialism and its links to globalization. Staying with a Gambian family for 24 hours, doing placements with a range of organisations, visiting Sandele, delivering services to communities in The Gambia by building capacities like running a conference on the causes, consequences and solutions to the back way or teaching women from Manduar ways of developing moisturisers etc.

Do you involve the University of The Gambia?

Yes, we do and staff from the UTG, especially Prof. Kah, has been absolutely brilliant! We have held joint conferences/seminars; support academics publish their books, and donated essential equipment.

Dr. Sallah

Tell us about Global Hands and the youth groups you collaborate with?

Global Hands was set up about four years ago with some of my students to challenge local-global inequality by teaching people how to fish instead of giving them fish. We have a publishing house called Global Hands Publishing (We have just published two books by Dr. Pierre Gomez, Malang Fanneh and Hassoum Ceesay that would completely change how you understand Gambian history!). We have a section on education and public engagement; and another on International Development (The Manduar Development Hub has been built over the last 18 months with the land donated by the great people of Manduar and DMU students raising all the money) to initiate development and build capacity in The Gambia.

Under the leadership of Jimmy Hendry Nzally, Global Hands Gambia was set up just under 3 years ago and we have been engaged in a range of programmes that focus on building the capacities of young Gambians. Please have a look at www.global-hands.co.ukto find out more.

Whilst in The Gambia, we engage a number of organisations, including Starfish and GAMCOTRAP.

Any plans to finally move back to The Gambia?

That is the plan! There is so much we can do in The Gambia and I would really like to go back within the next two years to contribute in helping build a better Gambia. We will see how things go

Final words?

Thanks so much for reaching out to me and I really just want to tell the young Gambians that they are the only ones capable of defining themselves; no one else is capable of doing this! Keep dreaming and spend all waking moments making it happen!