Meet Matida Daffeh: Class of 2022
"When things are extremely challenging, one should persevere, knowing that it will someday come to an end."
“My late mom would always say in our local language, ‘Akoleyaata daameng, aka bang woleto,’” says Woodsworth graduand Matida Daffeh. “This means, ‘When things are extremely challenging, one should persevere, knowing that it will someday come to an end.’”
On June 21, after years of perseverance, this phase of Matida’s academic journey will come to a successful end when she takes the stage at Convocation Hall to receive her diploma, along with the rest of Woodsworth’s graduating class of 2022.
For Matida, studying at a prestigious university was a life-long dream, but after losing her father – the sole breadwinner of the family – completing a post-secondary degree felt out of reach. She worked for many years in women’s and children’s rights in remote areas of the Gambia as well as the conflict zone of Casamance in Southern Senegal. These experiences shaped her deeply. “I learned to be resilient, regardless of the challenges that may come my way,” says Matida.
Coming to U of T
In 2016, Matida was invited to participate in the Women’s Human Rights Education Institute (previously housed at OISE) where she says she “fell in love” with the U of T environment. She began her post-secondary studies the next year, enrolling in U of T’s Transitional Year Program (TYP).
Matida faced significant challenges at the outset of her degree. She was a sole-support parent to a child with special needs and had just lost her own mother three months before the start of classes. “I grieved throughout my entire year in TYP,” says Matida. “It was daunting and lonely.”
As a recent immigrant, Matida did not have a strong social support network in Canada, and this took a toll on her mental health. “Balancing family life while ensuring that I did not compromise my academic progress was not easy,” says Matida. On top of her own studies, she was learning American Sign Language to better communicate with her son who is deaf. With few childcare options available, she brought her son with her to most of her evening classes.
I learned to be resilient, regardless of the challenges that may come my way.
Throughout her degree studies, Matida received support from the Woodsworth College Office of the Registrar. She felt a sense of belonging at Woodsworth and felt valued within the Woodsworth community. “At Woodsworth, I know that I will be listened to and not judged, and that my concerns will be addressed,” says Matida.
She also received financial support from the College, receiving numerous scholarships including the Dr. Joyce Connolly award, a Brookfield Peter F. Bronfman Leadership Scholarship and the June Straker award. “These awards immensely reduced my financial burden,” says Matida, adding, “I would probably not have come this far without such assistance.”
For family-related issues, Matida’s go-to source of support was U of T’s Family Care Office (FCO), where she attended workshops, learned how to advocate for her son at his school and served on the FCO Student Advisory Committee. Her most important role at U of T, she says, was acting as a mentor for other student-parents.
Matida receives her Honours Bachelor of Arts degree on June 21 with a double major in Equity Studies and Women & Gender Studies and a minor in African Studies. She was a Dean's List Scholar in 2019, 2020 and 2021 due to her high GPA. While studying Law is her ultimate goal, she hopes to continue her activist work which she says will involve “championing the rights and dignity of women and girls in the Gambia and beyond.” She is excited to begin her MA in Social Justice Education at U of T this fall, which she describes as one of her “dream programs.”
Matida faced many obstacles while completing her degree, but thinking about the thousands of girls and women whose lives she might touch someday helped Matida to overcome these. Above all else, Matida says that it was her belief in herself that kept her going – that, along with her mother’s words, “Akoleyaata daameng, aka bang woleto,” a teaching which she has kept as a guiding principle throughout her academic journey.
By Emma Culpeper.
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