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A delegation of educators and ambassadors from The Gambia toured St. Mary’s College of Maryland this week and renewed a partnership that reaches back 17 years.

The Promoting Educational and Cultural Exchange, or PEACE, program with The University of The Gambia is one of the study abroad opportunities for St. Mary’s College students. Presidents from both institutions signed a renewed five-year agreement Wednesday to again solidify the partnership.

Bill Roberts, an anthropology professor in charge of the exchange program, said the relationship began in 1996 as a simple weeks-long visit to The Gambia by several St. Mary’s students.

“There’s something very special about Gambians and the experience we have there in The Gambia,” Roberts said.

Now, each semester about six to 10 students travel to the West African country to study. One student from The Gambia is given the opportunity to come to St. Mary’s College for a semester of study.

Professor Muhammadou Kah, president of the University of The Gambia, said the students who travel to St. Mary’s come away with life-changing experiences.

“We live in a world that increasingly needs to be better,” Kah said. More connections like the one forged between St. Mary’s College and the University of The Gambia are needed to strengthen the world, he said.

“The world needs higher education,” Kah said.

The university president said he had been helped as a boy by visiting Peace Corps members, and those experiences helped shape him into who he is today.

Kah praised Roberts for his work building the program.

“It is the longest. It is the richest,” Kah said.

The new memorandum of understanding outlines another five-year partnership. The agreement arranges exchanges for students and faculty from the two higher education institutions.

“I think it’s quite a good arrangement,” Alieu Ngum, ambassador from The Gambia, said.

“We have a fairly young university,” Ngum said. The partnership with St. Mary’s College and several other institutions of higher education has helped the African university grow to about 4,000 students. It is the first and only national university in the country and was established in 1999.

St. Mary’s College pays a $400 fee per student who attends The University of The Gambia. St. Mary’s also pays a $1,200 stipend to a university faculty member who helps coordinate the program on that end.

St. Mary’s College pays an honorarium to the visiting Gambian student to help cover books, living expenses and health insurance, according to the agreement.

St. Mary’s College President Joseph Urgo said when he first visited The Gambia he was struck by how deeply involved St. Mary’s College students were in the country, including working in jobs and on programs, some of which had been started by previous visiting students.

Urgo said the world is changed by individuals, like Roberts and the students who study abroad, with the support of institutions like the college. The college, in return, needs to be responsive to the needs of the program, he said.

St. Mary’s College students are encouraged to spend a semester studying in another country. Students generally pay their normal tuition and cover plane fares and other expenses themselves.

jyeatman@somdnews.com