Empowered by his own educational journey, Ousman Camara has started an organization in his home country to improve educational opportunities for underprivileged communities
In fall 2018, Ousman Camara was in a class at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q), when a friend from his hometown in The Gambia messaged to inform that the mud-built structure of the small Qur’anic school that Camara had studied at might collapse due to the upcoming rainy season and flooding.
Camara’s years at this school were very valuable to him, so as soon as he got out of his class at the Qatar Foundation (QF) partner university, he started talking to his friends in Qatar to raise funds to renovate the school building.
Fast forward two years, and Camara — who graduated from GU-Q this year — is now the founder of Educate A Generation (EAG), a non-profit organization based in The Gambia that is not only funding the complete reconstruction of the school, but is also sponsoring the education of several students in the country and has collected over 3,800 books from across Qatar to be part of a library at the University of Gambia.
EAG primarily works towards improving access to quality education in The Gambia, empowering women, and fostering a spirit of tolerance and togetherness in the youth. The latter was something Camara came to value through the education he received at his alma mater — particularly after taking theology classes at GU-Q.
The Qur’anic school Camara went to in The Gambia focused on learning and memorizing the Qur’an and its teachings, something Camara treasures till this day. On the other hand, coming to GU-Q – a liberal arts university and a branch campus of a Jesuit and Catholic institute – was something new for him. It was the combination of these two experiences, he says, that helped him expand his perspective on faith, unity, and togetherness.
“The theology classes really changed my perspective about other religions and how not to be judgmental about them,” Camara explains. “They helped me understand the Qur’an beyond the literal meaning of its verses, helped me develop a deeper understanding of Islam, and also helped me to accept other religions with a more open mind.”
Camara now feels strongly about emphasizing the relationship between religion, culture, and society, and not studying any one of these in isolation from the other. Through EAG, Camara and his team plan to recruit teachers in the field of math, sciences, and social studies, so the curriculum of the Qur’anic school can be expanded to include more diverse subjects.
In The Gambia, which consists of various ethnic groups that often clash, promoting peace and unity through socio-cultural education is very important, says Camara.
A journey of chance and hard work
Similar to his student life, Camara’s journey to Qatar from The Gambia was also a remarkable one, and a combination of chance and hard work. When he was in high school in The Gambia, Camara won a Qur’an recitation competition that earned him a scholarship to study at a religious school in Qatar., Upon graduation, he wanted to stay in Qatar and go to a university in Education City, but lacked the financial resources and the English language proficiency required.
Nevertheless, Camara did not lose hope, and soon luck was to find him a way. One day, a Qatari man mistakenly put on Camara’s shoes after leaving from a mosque, which led to the two men striking up a conversation. When Camara’s educational aspirations came up, the Qatari man offered to fund Camara for one semester at the Academic Bridge Program (ABP), which is part of QF’s Pre-University Education and prepares high school graduates for the next step on their academic path.
Camara enrolled into ABP in 2014 and dedicated his efforts to getting into one of Qatar Foundation’s universities, which he succeeded in doing after securing a sponsorship to enable him to continue his studies at Education City. Upon graduating from ABP, he was accepted into both GU-Q and fellow QF partner university Northwestern University in Qatar, eventually enrolling into GU-Q to pursue international politics. The transition to university was not easy for Camara, mainly because of the English language barrier and the fact that he had only studied Islamic subjects before. Yet he remained determined to succeed.
“In the end you have to leave everything in the hands of God, but you have to do something yourself too. You can’t do nothing and leave everything to God,” said Camara.
With his strong willpower and faith, Camara not only persevered, but made the most out of his university experience. He traveled to different countries, interned at various organizations both in Qatar and abroad, participated in the WISE Summit – organized by QF’s World Innovation Summit for Education – and as a bona fide athlete, captained GU-Q’s football team and won various athletic competitions.
And among his most noteworthy activities was community service. In addition to volunteering for social work at the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy and Silatech, Camara also served as a youth advocate for Education Above All (EAA), a position he still holds to aid EAA’s mission of improving education in developing countries.
“There are millions out there who are going through the same situation as mine,” said Camara. “There are many who want to go to school, but cannot afford to go to school, so you have to give back and help others.”
While Camara was actively involved with various programs at university, he was also juggling with balancing a family. He is married and has two sons, who lived in Germany while Camara was in school. In 2017, he took a semester off to visit his sons and spend quality time with family.
Currently, as the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted travel, Camara continues to utilize the time to work on himself and his organization’s mission. He is taking virtual courses and polishing various technical skills to assist him in his future endeavors.
“If you look at the positive side, the lockdown really helped me discover myself,” he says. “I used to go out a lot, but now I have started cooking, taking online classes, and reading books. I have already read five books so far, which wouldn’t happen normally.”