國合會能力建構系列專訪之二:TaiwanICDF Scholarship Program Interview Series─ Alieu Gibba

國合會能力建構系列專訪之二:TaiwanICDF Scholarship Program Interview Series─ Alieu Gibba ▲Alieu Gibba from the Gambia

文(Text)/Phil Barber
圖(Photos)/Calvin Chu

國合會於1998年創設「國際高等人力培訓外籍生獎學金計畫」,與國內大專院校合作設立全英語教學的大學、碩博士學程,提供全額獎學金及多元專業課程,鼓勵發展中國家優秀具潛力的學生來華求學。國合會專訪了數位在台就學的受獎生,希望瞭解他們的台灣經驗及與在地文化激盪出的火花,繼上一期Daniel Antonio Guzman Briman的專訪,本期我們為您帶來來自非洲甘比亞Alieu Gibba的故事。

“Some Taiwanese people tell me ‘Stay,’ but I tell them I have to go, because there is nowhere like home. I have to go and work, and help to develop my country.”

It’s early June, and Alieu Gibba is in a reflective mood as he talks about his past and contemplates the future. The 28-year-old Gambian student has just spent the past two years working toward a master’s degree in agricultural economics at the prestigious National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taipei thanks to a TaiwanICDF-sponsored scholarship.

Having presented and defended his master’s thesis only yesterday afternoon, Alieu could certainly be forgiven for relaxing a little, yet with just over a month remaining before he returns to west Africa for good, this father of two young children is looking forward to seeing his family again, while also remaining focused on the next steps in his continuing academic career.

Alieu came to Taiwan as part of the TaiwanICDF’s International Higher Education Scholarship Program, which the organization has run since 1998 in partnership with 18 universities located throughout Taiwan. The program provides students with a full scholarship to study in Taiwan, offering 28 undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate degree programs chosen to support development in the TaiwanICDF’s partner countries through a range of relevant disciplines such as agriculture, social sciences and humanities, business administration, public health and medicine, and engineering.

NTU joined the program in 2007 and hosts around 10 TaiwanICDF scholarship students at any one time at its Graduate Institute of Agricultural Economics. In its course brochure, the university explains that its master’s program in the subject is designed to prepare students for entry-level management and agricultural production, marketing and finance positions throughout the public and private sectors. Alieu would therefore appear to be the perfect candidate for the course: His family background is in farming and agriculture, while his academic background is in mathematics and economics.

Alieu works toward a master’s degree
in agricultural economics at National
Taiwan University (NTU)

Supporting the Stabilization, Modernization and Commercialization of Agriculture

“Actually, agricultural economics, what comes to the mind of people is they think it’s about agriculture,” Alieu explains. “But in this program, in fact, the requirement is you have to be strong in mathematics and economics. That is one of the first requirements or main requirements of the program.”

So agricultural economics is not so much about tending the land and growing crops; it’s all about the inputs involved in agricultural production and what happens after produce has been harvested and left the field, and all of the policies and economic issues that follow from that. This kind of discipline, building on the more “basic” aspects of agriculture to stabilize, modernize and commercialize the sector, chimes with the TaiwanICDF’s approach to development work in many of its partner countries, and especially in The Gambia, where President Yahya Jammeh has made self-sufficiency in food production and agriculture-driven growth a national development objective.

Alongside the purely academic aspects of the curriculum, Alieu is keen to highlight his teachers’ focus on “practical” techniques and methods involving forecasting, software applications and econometrics, a branch of economics dealing with the statistical analysis of economic data. He says these kinds of tools featured prominently and helped in writing his thesis, a study on the relationship between Gambian groundnut exports and the country’s potential for economic growth. He also mentions the positive, “motivational” effect of the field trips which the department regularly organizes, such as a recent visit to the Soil and Water Conservation Bureau in central Taiwan.

In addition to an actual program of study, the grants the TaiwanICDF provides also cover students’ living expenses and extracurricular activities, in Alieu’s case allowing him to live on campus at NTU’s International Youth Center. Making the most of the university’s extensive facilities, Alieu says he is a regular at soccer, kung fu and basketball, adding, with a smile, that his Taiwanese friends call him the “Gambian LeBron James” when they’re on court together, as he does indeed bear more than a passing resemblance to the Miami Heat’s star player.

Turning his attention to home, Alieu explains that his family background is in farming and agriculture. He hails from Ebo town, a settlement found in Serekunda, The Gambia’s largest city, which lies alongside the country’s Atlantic coast. His family has three farms in different locations where they grow a variety of crops such as maize, rice, groundnut and cassava. Alieu says he has been a farmer with his parents on and off for the past decade, gaining the practical agricultural know-how on which the theoretical knowledge from his master’s degree was built.

Alieu’s brothers and sisters back in The Gambia attended school to senior secondary level and are now engaged in vocational pursuits such as tailoring and driving. Alieu, meanwhile, is the first and only member of his family to have attended university and to aim to become an academic. His parents are extremely pleased with the direction he has taken and he says his coming to Taiwan was “a great joy to them.”

“Try and Serve Society from What You Have Learned”

Alieu mentions that he has “many plans” but says that specifically, his top priority after graduating from NTU will be to try to head back to the University of The Gambia, “because if the university is developed, every sector can be developed.”

He says that he wants to continue to specialize in economics and ultimately hopes to become an assistant professor at the university. He explains that the university is the only institution of its kind in the country and still relatively “young,” having only been established in 1999.

The purpose of education, he thinks, “is to try and serve society from what you have learned,” and says that the university needs Gambians with the right academic experience, which, thanks to his time in Taiwan, he now has. “I acquired knowledge here that can help for the development of my country,” he explains.

Alieu is in distinguished company at NTU’s Department of Agricultural Economics: It’s the alma mater of former president Lee Teng-hui(李登輝). A framed scroll featuring calligraphy by Lee hangs just behind Alieu during the course of our interview, while on the opposite side of the room a wall-to-wall bookcase brims with volumes donated by the leader.

Although Alieu might not be aspiring to quite such a high position, program managers remark that he has excelled during his time here at NTU, and the young Gambian gives the impression of being a highly driven and determined character. Describing himself as “very happy” with the outcome of his TaiwanICDF scholarship, Alieu leaves us with a clear impression of his time here thanks to some resounding advice for his fellow Gambians: “If I happen to become an important figure tomorrow in my country, I would encourage many students to come to Taiwan and learn.”