Hometown: Fajara, Gambia
Program: Chemical Engineering
Bintou Kaira is passionate about community involvement and making an impact wherever she can. As an international student from Gambia, Kaira emphasizes the importance of diversity, inclusiveness and active involvement.
“Our priority is school, that’s why we’re all here,” she says. “But you can have a balance of being involved—personally, I like being involved. I feel like I want to be remembered in some way. I don’t want to be just a number.”
As the president of the Dalhousie African Student Society, a volunteer during Orientation Week, the co-chair of the Black Students United Society, and a mentor with the Black Student Advising Centre, Kaira is far from being “just a number.”
“We try to make people understand that Africa is not a country—it’s a continent with many different countries and different people that do different things and eat different food,” she says. “It’s about inclusiveness. Different people from different places—they may be here alone, so just having that time to meet other people who you understand and who you share similar memories with.”
Kaira works part-time with Imhotep’s Legacy Academy (ILA), a university-community partnership that works to bridge the achievement gap for Grades 7-12 students of African heritage in Nova Scotia.
“They have a project to encourage minority students, specifically those of African descent, to attend university in science and technology specifically,” she says “Sometimes we’ll deal with questions in terms of math and science, and other times it is just talking about how they’re adjusting, how they’re doing in school, and making sure that they’re comfortable.”
Some of the students she has mentored currently attend Dalhousie, and are in their second or third year of study.
“I have this perception that you can get there alone, I can get there alone—but if we get there together, it’s more impactful and we can help others get there too. I always take the time to stop by and talk to the person who cleans the classroom. I always think that you’re never in too much of a rush to stop by and say hi, say thank you to others. Why not?”
Kaira also volunteers with the Dalhousie Medical Response Team (DMCRT). “With the DMCRT, its an opportunity to have contact with people in need and not only that, but also to make a difference within my own community,” she says.
“I’ve had internships at the hospital in Gambia, and I’ve seen people being misdiagnosed, people not being able to afford basic healthcare, people not being educated enough to follow instructions and take their medicine on time. And all of this results in people losing their lives.”
When asked about specific struggles that she has faced in her life, Kaira points to her mother’s death during her first year at Dalhousie.
“It was hard adjusting, just being in a new city. My mom was my greatest support system—so losing her was nerve-wracking, I didn’t think that I would be here today. It was a downfall in my life.
To this day, my Mom contributes to the person I have become, the person I am. I wouldn’t say it was my greatest struggle, I would say that it still is. But I have to be strong and accepting of it, use it as a learning opportunity. I’ve learned to make the best out of every opportunity, to create as many memories as possible.
To anyone else going through the same thing, use it as a learning experience. Think about the good memories and use them to make you a better person. If you’re not here tomorrow—what do you want to leave behind, what is your legacy? Live everyday like that. Make the best out of it.”