Kaddy Suso: Get Educated or Die Trying

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Featured Alfie Scholar Series

“I would die for my education,” says Alfie Scholar Kaddy Suso, age 26. Getting an education has been Kaddy’s raison d’etre since she was a young girl in a small village in The Gambia. This was not the plan her family had in mind. As traditionalists, they expected her, like most women in her country, to marry in her early teens, become a gardener, and bear children. That never appealed to Kaddy, who found joy in learning from the get-go and who recognized the unfairness of only allowing men to get an education and the upper hand in society.

She remembers at the age of seven seeing women in the city riding motorbikes. “They were educated women who had authority. It inspired me.” From that moment on, she saw freedom was possible, education was possible, but she would have to fight for it. From that day on she became “a feminist,” although it would be years later until she possessed the vocabulary to identify herself as such.

Back in her village, the older women would offer her prayers. “May you find a good husband to take care of you,” they would say. And she would resist: “You should pray that I have a better education; I do not need a husband.”

By the age of nine, Kaddy had fallen victim to female genital mutilation and other forms of abuse from her family members. Going to school was her only source of joy and freedom. When she expressed her desire for an education to her uncle living in Germany, he vowed to help her and encouraged her to finish primary and secondary school in The Gambia.

She became the first person in her immediate family, and the first girl in the entire village, to complete high school. It was empowering. She hopes other girls in her village will follow suit. “I want this to become a thing!,” she announces, “girls don’t have to just get married and have children.”

In 2015, Kaddy’s uncle agreed to send her to the United States to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor. She landed at Minnesota State University Moorhead where she resided for six months until pressure from her immediate family forced her uncle to rescind his funding. She was required to discontinue her education and return to The Gambia to marry her cousin.

Kaddy refused: “Death would be better for me than to stop my education.” So she stayed, and she fought hard. With the help of her biology professor Dr. Brian Wisenden and community members at Minnesota State, she received over $10 thousand via a GoFundMe – just enough to get by for the remainder of the school year.

From the publicity around her GoFundMe, a relative of Kaddy living in Seattle recognized her and invited her to come stay with him and his family. She got an immigration lawyer and initiated her application for asylum through Harborview medical center.

In 2016, Kaddy was one of 140,000 immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S., according to PBS. Applying for asylum was a difficult journey. She was required to document and relive her abuse as a child, causing a severe case of PTSD which resulted in hospitalization.

This August, two years after she applied for asylum, while she was in her summer Alfie Scholars class, Kaddy became one of less than 20% of immigrants granted permanent asylum, according to the Department of Homeland Security 2016 figures. It was a tremendous victory, but the process left her with residual anxiety and depression. Fear of her asylum status being revoked or, worse, not doing well in school kept her up at night. Often she thought to herself, “I fought for all of these things just to get an education. What happens if school doesn’t turn out? Will I become the person I really want to be?”

What keeps her going is her ultimate dream of becoming a doctor. She has a mentor – a doctor at UW Medicine. "It’s what I have always wanted--to meet a doctor and to be around them. You know girls who see a celebrity and get excited? I only do that when I see a doctor.” Kaddy’s indomitable determination and positive attitude enables her to excel academically while sharing a small apartment with seven family members and working double shifts on the weekends at a memory care facility for seniors.

In June 2018, Kaddy graduated from Seattle Central Community College with an Associate of Science degree. She was on the Dean’s list during her entire academic tenure there. Kaddy started her first full quarter at Seattle University this fall, where she plans to graduate with a B.S. in Cell and Molecular Biology.

 Suso displaying her Alfie Pin.

Suso displaying her Alfie Pin.

Seattle University and the Alfie Scholars program have been a blessing to Kaddy throughout this process. “Alfie Scholars is the family I never had. I want to be a great leader, and that’s what Alfie is supporting. Every day feels like a blessing.”

To learn more about Kaddy Suso and our other incredible scholars, visit our website: www.alfiescholars.org