Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Faces of Change

Apologies for my long absence from this blog! I’ve been working my tail off here in Senegal with some big new projects (will explain soon), as well as gallivanting around Spain and Morocco (also to be explained soon). For now, though, I want to sincerely thank everyone who contributed to the Michele Sylvester Scholarship (MSS) Program that I fundraised for and blogged about a few months back!

I am happy to inform you that with your help, I raised all the money needed to offer scholarships to 9 girls from my neighborhood middle school, CM Sikilo Ouest. The school administration nominated these girls for their academic record, motivation and financial need, with teachers submitting a recommendation for each student. Each of the girls wrote me an essay about their future plans and their thoughts on the role of women in Senegalese society (you should see some of the things these smartypants wrote!). Finally, I conducted a personal interview with each candidate. 

Two of the girls I already knew, since they had attended our Youth Empowerment Camp back in March. The others proved to be just as smart and motivated – and sweet or spunky (depending on the girl). I approved each recommendation and sent their complete applications on to SeneGAD, our Peace Corps gender and development group handling the final approvals and scholarship distributions. If all goes well, the girls will be receiving their scholarships at the start of the new school year this October.

Thanks to all my lovely donors, these awesome young ladies can now afford another year of education without putting a strain on their families’ resources. Girls dropping out of school to work at home or get married remains a huge problem in Senegal (and Kolda in particular), so every little bit of motivation helps! Many of them come from big families with only one parent present or working – usually the father, with the mother fulfilling the traditional housewife role. Some are facing other difficulties as well. In addition to their studies, each of these girls also helps with household tasks every day (cleaning, sweeping, laundry, cooking, washing dishes). Still, they’ve all managed to stay on top of things and have some of the best grades in their class.

Here are the faces / stories of the girls your donations helped support!

1) Tacko Ndiaye
Age 13, Class 6ième (6th Grade)
Though she was shy at first, once I got Tacko talking it was obvious she’s a very bright, ambitious girl with a sense of humor. She is interested in a variety of subjects at school, not just one thing – she likes science, history, reading, languages, you name it. When I asked her about her future goals, she said she wanted to be “President of Senegal” or work in foreign policy! It’s great that she believes she can aim high no matter the circumstances. I am positive that she’ll go far. Her essay made it clear she already is a strong advocate for girl’s education and women’s rights, and she even has ideas for national policy changes. In addition, Tacko’s parents are divorced and currently her mother is the only one supporting her financially, since her father’s contract ended and he’s out of work. She lives with her parents and 2 brothers. When I asked what she contributes to the family, she responded, “L’amour!” (Love!) 
Tacko Ndiaye

2) Mariama Baldé
Age 12, Class 5ième (7th Grade)
The youngest of the scholarship recipients, Mariama is facing very difficult circumstances in life, but she’s extremely hardworking. She tells me she can see herself in the future either as a doctor with her own clinic or as a French teacher. Regardless, she wants to achieve success in life and help her mother out – a very selfless goal, considering her mother left her and lives in Guinea Bissau with a new husband, sending no money back to support Mariama at all. With her father dead, Mariama’s only source of support is her uncle – she lives with him and his (very big) family. I actually know and work with her uncle, Thierno Diamanka, a very respected and caring Marabout, and I know this scholarship will help them out.

Mariama Baldé

3) Maïmouna Gano
Age 14, Class 5ième (7th Grade)
Maïmouna has two dreams, both of which involve helping women and the underprivileged: she wants to become either a gynecologist (to help reduce maternal mortality rates, she says), or a lawyer supporting human rights. She is very adamantly against early marriage, and her parents agree with her on this, thankfully! Maïmouna lives with her parents and 6 brothers and sisters. Her family seems to be having money problems, since her mother is a housewife and doesn’t work, and her father was a taxi driver, but his car has broken down. 

Maimouna Gano

4) Saoudiatou Akapo
Age 14, Class 5ième (7th Grade)
Saoudiatou was one of the 4 students selected from this school to attend our Kolda Youth Empowerment Camp this past March, so I knew her already when we did the scholarship interview. She seems shy at first but is actually quite the opposite – little Miss Socialite! She is very intelligent (she has the highest grades of all the MSS girls), with opinions on women’s rights and education fostered and supported by her father, whom I also know. He is a radio journalist and a single parent supporting 7 children. This is obviously a pretty difficult situation, but he seems like a great dad. Saoudiatou loves science and wants to become either an ophthalmologist or engineer some day. 

Saoudiatou Akapo

5) Marie Thérèse Diédhiou
Age 13, Class 5ième (7th Grade)
Marie Thérèse is a motivated student who has both achieved good grades and participated in extracurricular activities. She’s a strong believer in talking to people in her community about keeping girls in school. Later in life she wants to become a doctor. She lives with her parents and 4 siblings. Her family’s money situation seems a little tight, since her father is retired military living off a pension. Her mother doesn’t work – only her older sister is currently earning money for the family as a teacher in Velingara (another city a few hours away from Kolda). Her sister’s success has been an inspiration for her to work hard in school.

Marie Thérèse Diédhiou

6) Rayhanatou Diallo
Age 16, Class 4ième (8th Grade)
Rayhanatou seems like a hard-working girl. She wants to become a policewoman or a doctor (gynecologist). She believes that women should not be delegated so many household tasks in Senegalese society and should have more time to pursue academic interests. Like many of my MSS girls, her mother is a housewife and does not earn money for the family. Her father operates a boutique (small shop) to support his family of 10 (his wife and 9 kids, including Rayhanatou).

Rayhanatou Diallo

7) Aissatou Diallo
Age 14, Class 4ième (8th Grade)
Aissatou suffers from a vision problem that requires special glasses unavailable in Senegal, though her family is currently trying to obtain them from the US. This makes studying a little difficult for her, but nonetheless she is ambitious and hardworking. She wants to become either an engineer or a sage femme (midwife / gynecologist) some day. She is against early marriage and plans to complete her schooling and get a job to help support her father, who is the sole breadwinner in the family (mother is a housewife). 

Aissatou Diallo

8) Bayelaou Diallo
Age 15, Class 4ième (8th Grade)
Bayelaou is an extremely sweet, respectful girl, quick to smile. I know her from her participation in our Youth Empowerment Camp. She was great in camp – very engaged and dynamic. She learns quickly. She tells me she wants to become a doctor / gynecologist some day, but she realized this is a difficult field and she’s a little nervous about succeeding. (I know she will, though.) In her family, her dad works at a boutique, but her mother doesn’t work, which means money is occasionally tight for her and her 9 brothers and sisters. Bayelaou is passionate about achieving success and helping other women in Kolda, and she has some great ideas for how to help women climb out of poverty. 

Bayelaou Diallo

9) Mbadé Amy Ndour
Age 13, Class 6ième (6th Grade)
Mbadé Amy was difficult to track down – she seems like a very busy girl (lots of studying and other activities)! Her family is definitely having some financial problems, and she told me that sometimes when they can’t afford rent, they have to leave their house and stay with relatives. Her father is the only one working in the family, as a carpenter. Regardless of these difficulties, Mbadé Amy works hard in school and hopes to become a sage femme or lawyer some day.

Mbadé Amy Ndour