Succeeding without the Government’s help: How did I pay for my education without help from neither the government nor my parents?
Updated on April 10, 2021, Isaac
I was born Senegalese and I am a Pan-Africanist in my blood. I am also someone who strongly believes in the importance of a sense of responsibility. In other words, I firmly believe that every human being has to draw his own destiny, to write his own story. This belief has helped me a lot in at school, in my professional and entrepreneurial career, and in life in general. It is for this reason that I feel, as a Pan-African, the obligation to share the knowledge that I have built, with you, with my African brothers and sisters. I am not saying that the experiences I am going to share represent the way forward. But, as I often do, I believe that each person can learn from the experience of other people.
How was I able to finance my studies, from the age of 6, without help from the government or from my parents?
I come from a very modest family. And unfortunately money was not in abundance and often the head of the family gave priority to lunch at noon. Even dinner was scarce, and breakfasts seemed more like “appetite suppressants” than “real breakfasts.” In short, buying school supplies was therefore not a priority at home. So at the age of 6, I would have to fend for myself if I wanted to go to school.
Yes, I loved learning unlike my cousins who I grew up with. By the age of 6 I had found myself a little “business” using my drawing skills. Each month of Ramadan, I would go to the mosque and convert the steps of a prayer called “Salatou Tasbikh” into diagrams, each diagram representing a step of that prayer. These drawings make it possible to understand all the steps of the prayer with a simple glance at the diagrams. So I sold each diagram for XOF 100 (20 cents USD). With the money, I paid for the necessary school supplies. Since primary school is free, these school supplies were almost the only expenses during my first and second years.
Over the next few years, I repeated the same thing. However, the expenses got higher when I passed from a level to the other with excellent grades and still among the top 5. In addition to my drawings, I found extracurricular activities during the school holidays to make sure that I always had enough money to finance my studies. I was still very young, but I didn't even think of asking anyone for help. Through the years I worked in street selling, calligraphy, painting and bread delivery activities during each school yearly break to be able to make the money needed to finance my studies. This fighting spirit allowed me to maintain excellent grades, to always be part of the first 5 students in the classroom and to pass my “Entry into the 6th year” and my (BFEM) (degree to go to High School) without never repeating a year and never asking for help.
After my “BFEM,” I went to another city for high school. I found myself an activity. At the end of every school year, I sold shoes and clothes. This allowed me to make more money to buy everything I needed for high school, but also to impress the girls. Despite everything, studies always remained a priority. And during the 3 years in high school, I was always either the best student or 2nd best. It was kind of a competition between me and another guy. This attracted the girls, these girls who could never take me away from the line I had drawn for myself. So, at the Baccalaureate exam, I became valedictorian, which won me a university scholarship to study abroad.
If I have to characterize this well-deserved scholarship as aid, I would say it was the only aid I got from the government. But I don't think a scholarship can be called a special aid, because it is a public property, it comes from the taxpayer’s money, therefore from all of us.
Thanks to the scholarship, I spent 4 years abroad where I continued to have good grades and despite racism I succeed in my studies with honors before integrating the professional life 2 months after returning to the country.
What can we learn from this experience?
In my opinion, there are four lessons that can be learned from this experience:
1. You have to have a reason to live. This reason for living was a factor that motivated me and pushed me to find solutions to my problem, which was to finance my studies, without any help.
2. Education should be given paramount importance, regardless of the type of education. If I am where I am today, it is thanks in large part to my academic education but also to my entrepreneurial experiences – i.e.: the small activities I undertook to finance my studies. However, it should be noted that academic education is not the only road to success. There are other forms of education – what is important is to study.
3. Focus on your ultimate goal. This is super important! In my school experience, I have talked about girls who were drawn to my good grades. It was a distraction and my focus kept me on the line I had drawn. Many people have strayed from their path for various reasons and sometimes because of the girls or money. We must avoid being one of these people at all costs and having focus will get you there.
4. You have to be modest. Many young people often prefer to reach out to their parents, brothers and sisters rather than undertaking certain activities like a street vendor, a bread deliverer, etc. Yet it is these kinds of activities that allowed me to finance my studies to become an entrepreneur today and to work in a large international institution.