Contact Us
Ramatoulie Gassama wants to have a selfie with President Obama: Interview with a YALI Fellow
Home » Exclusive  »  Ramatoulie Gassama wants to have a selfie with President Obama: Interview with a YALI Fellow
Ramatoulie Gassama wants to have a selfie with President Obama: Interview with a YALI Fellow

Ramatoulie Gassama is one of the six young Gambians selected by the U.S. Embassy in Banjul to participate in the first ever Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Washington Fellowship.

YALI’s goal is to help young people in Africa develop skills and networks to build brighter futures for their communities and countries.

Ramatoulie, who is a Public Relations Officer at Ace Communications Executive, is currently in the USA taking part in a six-week business and entrepreneurship training.

Read our interview with her:

What’s On-Gambia: What inspired you to apply for the YALI fellowship?

Ramatoulie: To be honest I had no idea about the YALI Fellowship application, until when a former colleague of mine sent me the link on WhatsApp, a night before the deadline (laughs). I followed the link and realized I was actually eligible to apply; I thought to myself ‘why not? It’s a great opportunity to learn and grow’. This is really how my YALI journey began.

Do you have any idea how many young people applied for it in The Gambia?

I cannot confirm this, however, I understand over 500 applications were received. This is a huge number and to have been selected as part of the six participants from The Gambia is such a big deal.


How long was the whole application process?

The whole process from application up until we arrived in the US took about 3 months or there about.

What do you think made your fellowship application stand out?

As a young woman, I have actively been involved in various development-focused activities such as volunteering in youth work at the age of 12, serving in a government institution, TV, PR and entrepreneurship.

I am the founder and sole proprietor of an online business, RAJAB Collection (www.rajabcollection.com)- a culturally inspired fashion brand that compliments women fashion in Islam and also a platform geared towards women empowerment through employment.

I believe these are some of the things that were considered during selection. However, I would like to say that I stood out from the rest because I just got LUCKY! There is so much talent, zeal and passion in The Gambia and I can’t imagine what the embassy has gone through coming up with six names out of hundreds! It was highly competitive, I must say.

What was your first impression of the USA when you arrived?

To be honest, nothing shocking (Laughs). Having lived in the UK for a couple of years, the system is quite familiar.  Although I must say in terms of infrastructure and culture there is considerable difference.


You’re a Muslim, was that an issue with some of the Americans you met?

Not at all! America is considered the “free” world, so I would expect the highest level of religious, racial, ethnic and sexual orientation tolerance. In fact, I was taken on a tour to the meditation center where Muslims pray here in Dartmouth, shown the qibla and also provided with a prayer schedule due to time zone differences. My diet as a Muslim has also been fully considered.

What are some of the interesting activities you participated in since your arrival?

Pheeew! A lot!  Academic and social activities such as project writing, group work, product development, presentation, alumni networking, business site visits, family visits, canoeing, farm visits, hiking, talent show and a lot more. Our schedule has been impressively packed with very interesting and engaging activities from lectures to the outdoors.

Which of them was the most eye-opening?

So far I must say it has to be a course we took in Design Thinking at the Thayer School of Engineering here in Dartmouth. To be able to look at a very broad development issue and be able to narrow it down to its core and ‘find the need’ of the people is quite fascinating and an eye opening for me.

How do you think the YALI Fellowship is going to help Africa’s future leaders?

The fact that we are all here undergoing this program with a mission towards development is a symbol of a United Africa. It is up to us to take the systems and best practices that work and apply them in the continent.

We need to change mindsets and become partners in development with the rest of the world and not recipients’ carrying burdens of huge debts for years to come. If we learn skills and techniques, if we delegate to the right people and carry out our duties in self-discipline and honesty, we will develop Africa. I believe no one can do this for us.


Did you make friends?

Yes I have developed great relationships with the fellows from across the continent.

Can you tell us briefly about some of the amazing people you met?

I think the fellows at Dartmouth are amazing! So much diversity across the continent yet with one thing in common, a development focused mindset! Other personalities from the community and across the US include: President of Dartmouth College Philip J. Hanlon, The Black Alumni of Dartmouth His Excellency Ambassador and Senior Advisor John Carson, Mayor of Burlington Miro Weinberger, Founder & President of Global Grassroots - Gretchen Steidle Wallace. Entrepreneurs from different sectors, and great members of the community volunteering in different causes.

Any chance of meeting President Barack Obama?

We are having a summit with President Obama in DC before we depart to our different countries towards the end of this month. So let’s see if the Secret Service will allow a selfie!

When are you returning home?

After the fellowshipinshaAllah.

What message do you have for the US Embassy in Banjul?

Life changing experience! Forever grateful for the opportunity and I look forward to a lasting YALI Alumni engagement in achieving the main objective of the Washington Fellowship. Most importantly, to work together to ensure a stronger, better and a mutually benefiting diplomatic relation between our beloved country the Gambia and the United States of America.


Leave a Reply