Opinion/Challenging Gambians: Be Resourceful to One Another, and Learn to Take Risks!

11/14/2011 22:04

November 7, 2011

Challenging Gambians: Be Resourceful to One Another, and Learn to Take Risks!

It can be rough for some newly-arrived Gambian immigrants to the US. To facilitate their way around their new home, they need to be provided with all the right tips, and they also need to learn to navigate the system on their own.

By Pa M. L. Joof

Recently, my colleague MB Krubally posted some information about the US Green Card Diversity program on the Basse Association mailing list. He was, in effect, urging folks to try their luck, revealing that some members of his immediate family had emigrated to the US through this program. MB’s outreach reignited my thoughts on how many of us (Gambians or Africans for the most part), do partake in information sharing; a sharing that could be beneficial to our friends and family, when it comes to dealing with the uncertainties and challenges of life in the West.

MB should be commended for sharing this invaluable information. The Green Card lottery, it must be said, is an opportunity for many people to emigrate to America, this land of opportunity! Yet many a time, I have noticed people letting such an opportunity slip by for the fact that they’ve tried before and didn’t get lucky or just see it as a mere waste of their time. But you never know; you could be finally lucky following many unsuccessful attempts. The opportunities of a legalized status in America would have been worth all that hassle. It would trigger a virtuous cylce: your family members could benefit a lot out of your new-found residency in this country. Believe it or not, 16 members of one of my (Indian) colleagues emigrated to the United States through such a program. And they've established really well. All it takes is giving it your best effort!

But the underlying point is, how many opportunities have you heard or known about and how much information have you given away to, say, a fellow family member, Gambian, to that effect? I came to learn through experience that the more informed you are the better you can navigate and standout in this hard-to-break-through Western society. Sharing and gaining access to information and resources is one aspect that differentiates us (Gambians/Africans) from other immigrants in this country. Asians, Hispanics and others do reach out and share among themselves, a key factor contributing to their communities' progress. After all, what is good about keeping resourceful information from your own kinsmen? How can we repay our parents and teachers? It was with their guidance that we were able to build upon the foundation of knowledge that they willingly cared to share with us, from infancy to adulthood. So why can’t we continue that legacy of sharing to guide others? I am a firm believer in sharing information, for the difference it can make in people's lives.

It is not uncommon to see Gambians/Africans scraping by, struggling hard to settle down in this country, while their Asian counterparts, for instance, easily find their way and navigate through the challenges of American immigrant life. Of course, there are many factors to account for this; one of them is the lack of resourceful guidance from, say, a host, your own friend and fellow countrymen. I have had my own share of experiences: if only I had been properly guided in my early days in America, I could have avoided so many unnecessary obstacles to my personal growth and development (although, I’m still thankful for my present status).

Some history: for the first month after my arrival in the US, I lived in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) with a host who cared less about offering me guidance that could have lead to my faster settlement in this country. Poor me, I didn’t realize this early. My zeal to come to America had overshadowed my intuitive capability of observing or picking upon key unfriendly human traits. To my disadvantage, the Social Security Administration in that jurisdiction had issued an alert that went into effect at the end of the very month I arrived in Philly. Stated, ‘from the following month onwards, it would require newly arrived, college-bound international students to submit along with their applications a letter from their current college of enrollment in order to obtain a Social Security number.’ (A Social Security number is a nine-digit number issued to US citizens, legal residents, students and temporary workers to be able to work and receive benefits.) If I had the slightest idea that I would need such a number to enable me obtain work in this country, I would have headed straight to the office the moment I dropped by bags. My host may or may not have known about this alert. However, if he had cared enough to advise me as to what I needed to embark on to get established in this country, it would have eased my survival. I endured difficulties beyond measure. But ever the proactive, I went about seeking information on my own and ultimately discovering some helpful pathways through the system.

Between talking to employers, passengers on the trains, and the Social Security office folks, I came to find out what required documents I needed to have to be able to work. However, the alert was already in effect. Since I couldn’t afford to enroll straight into college on my arrival, I had no way of submitting enrollment verification. Thus, with my leftover pocket money and the little savings I had from working under the table, I bid farewell to my host that very first month, to venture into a new place on my own. Next stop: New York. Here, a caring African-American guardian helped in signing an affidavit for me; I needed that to meet the Six-point New York driver’s license requirement. I ultimately obtained my Social Security card, as well, at the Federal Plaza. To this day, I thank God and this person for my escape from near homelessness, and for the beginnings of an orderly immigrant stay in America.

The other important point of my commentary is this: don’t settle. It is important to not leave matters to chance. Rather, learn to take risks. Be a little Steve Jobs. One accidental discovery will lead to another. I have observed many Gambians still struggling in this country and in many other places in Europe. They have remained stuck in the same dire circumstances, after many, many years. Why? Because, among other factors, they have refused to take chances; they are content with what is on hand; they are too scared to venture into the unknown. So they find themselves in limbo land. Look. If you are not doing well at Point A, try moving to Point B. If you need a career change to better yourself, go for it. If you are not happy about your circumstances, don’t beat yourself down. Work towards improving your situation. Look at me: I have lived in four different states in America. Each time I moved to a new area, my life got even better. Sometimes, the grass is really greener on the other side.

For the Common Good 

With the increase in migration of my fellow Basserians in particular and Gambians in general, to the West, there is no better time to embrace each other and offer guidance. Once you make a difference in someone's life here, the impact may be felt by many back home; as such individual's development and progress could, by extension, lead to a positive change in his/her family members' lives. To that note, we fail as a community if we don’t help those among us tackle challenges that lie ahead of them. At the very least, the Basse Association, through its members, a family unit really, a platform has been established and people are starting to exchange ideas and share information. Imagine this huge pool of skills and talents we all can draw from. The mentorship and guidance that could come from this resourceful platform could only contribute to our town’s and nation’s betterment.

The basis of it all is that the information has to flow. Among the things we can share: immigration changes and benefits, career advice, fellowship and scholarship openings, job opportunities advertised in your local newspaper and on the bulletin board at your college’s career center.

No matter how minor, a piece of advice or information can change someone's life for the better, for which they may be forever grateful.

Pa M.L. Joof, until recently, the president of the Basse Association, Inc., is a project manager with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs in Washington, DC. He is also the webmaster of My Basse and an executive member of its parent body.



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