I left Gambia to fulfil my dream: A career in the British Army

As a young boy living in a country smaller than Yorkshire, career opportunities were limited for Sanna Manka. So, big decisions had to be made to enable him to achieve his goal of a career in the British Army.

Fast forward a few years, and that dream has now become a reality. Today we find Corporal Sanna Manka of the Adjutant General Corps serving with the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment in London. Here his role is supporting the regiment with administrative duties and looking after soldiers’ pay.

Sanna’s journey started in 2008 when he left home for the UK, with one goal in mind:

“I left Gambia to get a good standard of education. I wanted to study for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) qualification.

My plan was always to join the British Army. I arrived in London on the Friday and on the following Monday I started college. On that same day I went to the Army Careers office and started the process to join.”

Corporal Manka grew up in the provincial town of Janjanbureh in Gambia, a tiny country with a population of less than 2.5 million people. His parents were both Headteachers but opportunities were limited. He adds:

“I’ve seen a lot of changes. When it comes to cultural differences, diversity, and inclusivity. The Army has improved at a rapid pace especially for people like me who come from an African country." Lance Sergeant Sanna Manka, Household Cavalry

“My parents knew that from a very young age I aspired to be a soldier. So, it came as no surprise when my mum found out that I had joined the British Army.

"It was always my plan to join but back home I never got that chance. In Gambia there wasn’t a recruitment system in place, so, I had to come to the UK to pursue my dream. Mum was a bit worried when she found out that I’d joined but now she is very proud of what I have achieved. To this day I think I am the only Manka serving in the British Army.”

Sanna Manka has now been in service for over 12 years and reflects on those early days and his initial training:

“When someone is trying to transform you to military life from civilian it is a shock to the system but it was fun too, it was a great learning experience for me. The Army has changed me massively: The way I conduct myself, my self-discipline, the way I interact with people, my relationships with people. I am a very different person now. If you’re a civilian you think inside the box but in the military, you are taught to think outside the box.”

And how does he think the British Army has evolved over the years’ since he’s been a part of it:

“I’ve seen a lot of changes. When it comes to cultural differences, diversity, and inclusivity, the Army has improved at a rapid pace especially for people like me who come from an African country. The Army has done a lot since I joined 12 years ago. The chain of command and line managers have a much wider understanding of a person’s background, culture, religion, and sexual orientation. It’s much more harmonised.”

Gambia is more than 4,000 miles away from the UK with a completely different way of life.

On joining the British Army Corporal Manka discovered that there were several challenges that he had to overcome:

“The British Army is a great organisation. All the systems are in place to enable a person to succeed. People forget that you can improve your education and your personal development whilst still serving. You do not have to leave the Army in order to achieve these. There’s a lot of funding available for service personnel such as standard and enhance learning credit.” Lance Sergeant Sanna Manka, Household Cavalry

“The cultural difference was one. Where I am from, we have a specific way of doing things. There is a different mindset, emotions are different too. It is difficult for people coming from a commonwealth country to understand that you have a different culture and do things in a different manner. At the same time, you are trying to understand my culture too. It is a two-way process of education, learning about each other.

"But the Army has embraced this and over the years has improved immensely by bringing all cultures together.”

Now settled into his British Army career and relishing the work he does every day, Sanna offers this advice to his younger self following his experiences from life in Gambia to moving to the UK to achieve his goal:

“Join the Army early, don’t wait until you are 27 like I did!"

And he adds:

“The British Army is a great organisation. All the systems are in place to enable a person to succeed. People forget that you can improve your education and your personal development whilst still serving. You do not have to leave the Army in order to achieve these. There’s a lot of funding available for service personnel such as standard and enhance learning credit.”

Over a decade has passed since Sanna made that long trip from Gambia to the UK to fulfil his dream and he’s proud to say that he feels that he is part of one big family:

“The Army now has a very diverse culture. So, people from different backgrounds, like mine will find that they are part of one team and working towards that same goal. I’ve had a great career so far, been to different places, seen different things and met different people from many different walks of life.

"I’m so happy where I am. I hope to be here for many years to come.”

Finally, Sanna Manka has these thoughts that he would like to voice through Black History Month:

“People and organisations have come a long way. This is an opportunity to show how diverse and inclusive we have become. Not just the British Army but society in general. It’s good to see that there is a greater understanding of people and where they come from and their backgrounds.

In many regiments, there are cultural days and events to inform and teach people. These forums are becoming the link between these different cultures so that everyone can understand one another. Through these settings, you can find out what a person is thinking, even what triggers their anger. It is a two-way process and education for all that promotes a good working environment for sure.

The Army is a very multi-cultural organisation. Of course, you will find from time to time a person that doesn’t get it but that’s life! It is all about education and that is something the Army is doing a lot of.”