Thursday, November 30, 2023

SPOTLIGHT: Alhassan Susso, A Gambian Educator Shaping Lives of Emigrants in the United States Through Teaching

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By: Muhammed Lamin Drammeh

Alhassan Susso’s journey from The Gambia to the United States is a testament to his unwavering determination and resilience. As a young emigrant, he faced numerous challenges, but his ambition to better his family’s economic conditions led him to explore greener pastures abroad. From humble beginnings, Alhassan rose to become a renowned educator and motivational speaker in New York City, where he now dedicates his life to transforming the lives of young emigrants through teaching.

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In his memoir, Alhassan chronicles his path from a teenage emigrant to an award-winning educator, detailing his experiences, trials, tribulations, and ultimate successes in the United States. His story is one of hope, inspiration, and the power of education to transform lives.

Susso, who describes himself as an accidental teacher, narrated to The Fatu Network how a family tragedy cleared the path he is proudly pursuing today.

“I usually consider myself as an accidental teacher. Never in my wildest dreams, I would have ever imagined I would become an educator. Yet, I went into education as a result of the family tragedy,” he explained.

As per his account, during his college days, his younger sister fell ill and despite making every possible effort to provide her with proper medical care, the family was unable to provide her with the required treatment in their home country. As a result, they decided to pursue medical treatment in the United States. However, their visa application was denied, leaving them with no choice but to continue searching for alternative treatments.

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“When we went through the visa application process, she was denied the visa. And then, as we were going through the appeal process because we met all the requirements for the visa, unfortunately, I received the phone call that she passed away.

“And then 8 hours after that, the grandma who raised all of us also passed away from a heart attack as a result of Binta’s death. So obviously, my world stopped”.

Susso, who had experienced a tragic incident, felt the need to help other families avoid the same fate as his own. He was determined to pursue a career in law and become an immigration lawyer.

However, his pre-law lecturer advised him to consider an alternative path if he truly wanted to make a significant impact on the lives of emigrants. This advice led Susso to explore other avenues that would enable him to create a more meaningful change in the lives of those he sought to help.

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“My pre-law adviser asked why I wanted to become a lawyer. I told her the story of my family and what we had gone through, she thought about it for a while and said, well, if that’s thoroughly your mission in life, to empower young emigrants and to help emigrant families, I am not sure law school is the right place for you.

“She said by the time I defend those kids in court, one of these two things will be happening: “They will either be heading to jail, or they will be in the process of getting deported.” Why don’t you think about something that will ensure you will never even have to see them in the courtroom?”

“And then I spent the next few days wondering about what that will look like. That’s when it occurred to me that Nelson Mandela said, ‘education is the weapon one can use to transform the world.’ I then decided that then that is what I am dedicating my life to. And then today, I do exactly why I went to education,” he said.

Susso currently teaches at an International Community High School, a school built for emigrants. A passionate and dedicated educator, Alhassan is the 2019 New York State Teacher of the Year. In 2019, he equally won the New York State History Teacher of the Year and the 2020 NEW National Educator of the Year.

In 2017, Susso was named one of the top 50 outstanding teachers in the world by the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize.

When asked about his fulfilment as a teacher, Susso said.

“I am definitely a passionate educator because I am apparent in my reasons for going into education. I did get all these wonderful awards, yet nothing gives me more fulfilment than in June when I sat at our graduation, seeing those wonderful young emigrants crossing the stage, knowing what we had been through together, the challenges we encountered over the course of the years, to see them cross those stage, no award will ever merge the feeling for me. As a result, the success of my students gives me more fulfilment.”

Backed by his insatiable enthusiasm and passion for shifting his expertise to his country of birth, Suso and his partner raised over 20 million dalasi to help in the development of early childhood education in the Gambia.

“So, we came to The Gambia in February [2023] to implement a project and after that implementation, I then shifted my focus on how do I actually recognize and celebrate the incredible work that Gambia educators are doing, so that those people’s stories can end up serving as an inspiration for the young generation to think about the teaching profession.

“I established an education foundation, and our first activity will be The Gambia Teacher Prize which will take place on February 15, 2024. The long-term target is to establish teacher training centres” he told TFN.

Mr. Susso, has, over the years, published numerous articles including “Peeling Away Cultural Cataracts to Reveal Humanity’s Beauty,” “What Our Students Need to Learn” and most recently, “The Reinvention Schools Really Need.”

He graduated with honours in Political Science and History from the University of Vermont, and he received his Master of Arts in Teaching from Bard College in New York. He currently teaches Government, Economics and Personal Development at the International Community High School in the South Bronx in New York City.

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