In The Gambia, free computer courses lead to jobs and self-respect

BANJUL , The Gambia — A graduation ceremony last month has boosted the number of computer graduates from classes offered free by the local Bahá'í community to more than 900.

Since 1998, the Bahá'ís have arranged the classes to help people who cannot otherwise obtain computer skills to get a job.

Students have ranged from teenagers to the middle-aged, and include both men and women, said local Bahá'í spokesman Faramarz Shams.

Many graduates use their newly-gained skills in jobs that they have obtained after completing the courses, Mr. Shams said.

“The students come from the Islamic, Christian, and Bahá'í communities and include teachers, students, and business people,” he said.

The courses, offered at basic and advanced levels, usually involve two sessions of two hours per week for three months. The teachers are Gambian Bahá'ís and Bahá'í youth volunteers from the United Kingdom , the United States, and Canada .

The country's only television station and both its major newspapers regularly cover the graduation ceremonies. On 18 December 2005, 56 students received their graduation certificates.

In a speech at the ceremony, one of the graduates, Fatou Cham, 24, expressed her gratitude for the courses.

“I would like to thank the entire Bahá'í community for their tireless efforts to disseminate knowledge in The Gambia at no cost,” said Ms. Cham, a Muslim.

“I can remember back in 2000 when I attended the basic Bahá'í computer training I could not even move a mouse, but after the course I built up a lot of interest in computing,” she said.

“I hope that other institutions will emulate (the Bahá'í) efforts and empower people with more 'IT' knowledge.”

The computers used in the training were donated by Bahá'ís of The Gambia, the United States, and the United Kingdom .

Classes were initially held in a rental property but they have moved to a specially designed room in the new national Bahá'í centre, which opened last year.

Bahá'í World News Service