Note: the following blog post was written by Touty in English with light editing by Katie.
It’s a pleasure to share my little story on how I joined the Teranga Market team. I am really grateful to God for giving me such opportunity to have amazing sisters like Anne-Marie and Katie. I could never have asked God for more. They are family to me and love me so much, and I love them too.
My name is Touty Nikelle Basse. I completed elementary school in The Gambia because my father died when I was seven or eight months old. When I was four years old, my father’s sister took me to The Gambia to stay with her.
Life has not always been favorable on my side. When I finished middle school, I couldn’t continue with my education because there was no money to pay my fees, so I had to stop learning and stay home then in 2011.
I gave birth to Awa, and as a single mom, it’s not always easy. But thank God, she helped me regain strength and joy from the pain I felt by being far from my own mother and not being able to go to school.
In December 2012, my sister Anne-Marie invited me over for her wedding in Senegal, and when the ceremony was over, my mom advised me to stay with them, which I did. And as time went on, I was thinking of going back to school because my dream was to become a medical doctor or a nurse. But when I asked for information on how to proceed with my education, I was told that I would have to start from a lower grade because of the language I'd been educated in- I had studied in an English-medium school in The Gambia, and here in Senegal, it’s French.
English schools in Senegal are very expensive, which I could not afford. My mom was sick and unable to work, and Anne-Marie’s didn’t make enough to help pay for school fees. Since I had a little girl to take care of, I decided to forget about school and try to make life easier for me.
In 2014, I went to The Gambia for the holidays. When I arrived, I decided to work with my daughter’s dad to earn some money to support myself by taking a hairdressing course so that I could at least have a certificate to show and encourage my children in the future.
So I worked for three months and came back to Senegal and registered in one of the best hairdressing schools here with an international certificate. But when I registered for the course, I found out that I couldn't afford the whole year, but only three months, and I could not afford the materials either. I spoke with the other girls to ask to borrow their materials after school so I could stay back and do the hair style taught for the day, then take a photo of it and submit it the next day.
On the weekends, I would usually go to the neighbors and ask if anyone had any dirty clothes that I could wash to earn a little money that I would use for my transportation and to take care of my baby girl Awa. When the three months of the course were over, in order not to be sent home for lack of fees, I stayed back at home because there was no money to proceed.
Then, one day I received a call from the secretary who was a sister to the owner of the school, and she asked me why I wasn’t attending classes anymore. I explained the problem to her, and she asked me to prepare and come immediately to school. When I arrived, I went to her office and met her, and she told me that from that day forward, I wouldn't need to worry about the fees.
I was so happy and thanked her, but in return, I told her that since there was no cleaner at that moment that I would come early every day to help clean the classes. She had no option than to accept my proposal because I insisted, and I thank God I was able to continue with my course, and when I got my certificate, I went to a salon near my house to know more about the work. I spent 2 years doing this and decided to look for work but found out it doesn’t pay well. I spent some time searching for another option to see if there would be a change, but it was the same everywhere.
Then the following year, my mom left the country for medical treatment. I left my job to take care of my baby because I always closed late, and it was not helping us much anyway. So I usually braided people’s hair to earn some money and also helped my sister sometimes. Those two years, my mom paid for Awa’s education for the year, but the following year, there was no money, so Awa stopped again for a year and restarted the following year. Then in the third year, Anne-Marie and her husband covered Awa’s school expenses.
One day, I went back to our village (in Guinea Bissau), and when I returned, my sister told me that her best friend Katie had visited from the United States, and when she met and spent time with Awa (who was staying with my sister), she loved her so much. I was very happy and sad too because I had also wanted to meet Katie.
As time went by, she and my sister decided to start Teranga Market, and I was happy for them, so I would help my sister with the work since I wasn’t doing anything at that moment, and the following year, they included me in their small business. And when school started the following year, they decided to sponsor my girl to attend a private bilingual school since Awa was so smart.
I will never stop thanking Teranga Market for their support including everyone who has supported us and allowed us to grow to continue the business to end the cycle of poverty through work and education.
Hopefully, in 2022, we will be very happy to welcome tourists who wish to know Senegal and learn about our culture, and I will also be glad to teach you how to prepare our meals, God willing, because I am now the main chef for Teranga Market in addition to creating some handmade items.
It was a pleasure to share this little story of mine with you all.
Touty Nikelle Basse
Katie’s note: it’s with great joy that I share with you all that Awa not only had a successful transition from a public to a private school, but she made the honor roll her very first year. Her teachers all comment on what a great student she is, and she told me just today that she’s thinking now about possibly studying medicine or education when she gets older. When talking to her “Ton ton Mike” virtually last night, she surprised us by asking, “What does it take to be a doctor?” All I know is that she’s capable of doing just about anything she sets her mind to.