Thursday, June 14, 2012

Help Fight For Girls' Education!

The Michele Sylvester Scholarship (MSS) was established in 1993 in memory of a Peace Corps Volunteer dedicated to girls’ education in Senegal.  Every year, SeneGAD (the Peace Corps Senegal Gender and Development group), helps Volunteers run the scholarship program in their community.  This year, I’m implementing the program in Nafadji!

The goal of MSS is to help close the gender gap in education.  According to the scholarship program, nine girls are chosen by the middle school, based on academic strength and financial need.  To make up the nine, three girls from each of the three grades (Sixieme, Cinqieme, and Quatrieme) are selected by the school principal and teachers.  All of the nine girls will receive financial aid towards their school registration fee next school year, and three of the girls will receive money to buy school supplies. 

When I started this program in Nafadji, the principal was not in the village, so he told me to work with Ngom to choose the nine candidates.  Ngom has been a wonderful counterpart for the project and has wowed me with his speed and efficiency.  Within a couple of days of starting the project, he called a meeting of all the teachers, and they picked the top three girls from each grade for the scholarship.  It’s difficult for them to assess financial need from the information they have, which is where I come in.

After the teachers gave me a list of the nine girls’ names for the scholarship, I called a meeting to explain the program to the girls.  In Senegal, it is common knowledge that if you call a meeting at 9am, people may start rolling in around 10 or 11am.  There is not a strong sense of urgency, and people’s lives don’t revolve around a clock.  While the whole slow pace of life in the village may sound charming, it can make it incredibly frustrating to get work done.  The same day I called the meeting for the Michele Sylvester candidates, I also held a meeting for my Care Group.  I told my Care Group ladies to meet at 3pm and the Scholarship girls to meet at 5pm.  Of course, the Care Group women finally started showing up around 4:15, and we started the meeting at 4:30pm.  I figured the girls would show up late so we wouldn’t have a problem, but these girls all showed up at 5pm on the dot, and some of them even came early!  I was the one who was late to our meeting!  When I walked into the classroom, and all of them were already seated, waiting for me to start, I realized that this was a special group of girls who took their education seriously.

At our meeting, the girls filled out basic information about themselves and their families, and they also wrote brief essays about what they want to be when they grow up and why girls’ education is important.  At the end of the meeting, I scheduled interviews and home visits with each of them, and I’m slowly making the rounds to all of their compounds.  From the nine girls that the school chose, I will choose six candidates whose applications I will give to SeneGAD to review, and from those six, SeneGAD will choose the three who will receive money for school supplies.  In order for me to choose the top six, I need to interview the girls and visit their homes to assess financial need. 

Most of the students that attend the Nafadji middle school are not from Nafadji.  Students come from villages way out in the bush and lodge with families in Nafadji during the school year.  To get a real idea of each girl’s financial need, I am now traveling to their home villages to meet their families.  Some girls only live 6k away from Nafadji, but 2 of the candidates are 25k away, and one girl is 45k south of Nafadji, on the border of Guinea.  I’m getting some good exercise on my bike this month, trekking out to interview the girls and their families. 

I’m really enjoying getting to know these girls and their families.  It’s great to visit villages that don’t have a volunteer and to see how excited these girls’ parents get when they find out their daughter has been chosen for this scholarship program.  From the interviews with the girls, I’m learning how hard it is for them to study and to stay in school, but these girls are extremely motivated.  They want to be teachers, nurses, and midwives in the future, and I hope this scholarship can help give them a boost towards these goals. 

Not only will these girls be receiving financial aid from the scholarship but I will be working with them next school year on girls’ leadership activities!  Finding these hardworking girls has motivated me to want to do more work with girls in my community.  

To fund the nine girls’ registration fees and school supplies for the top three, I need to raise $180.  If you are interested in donating towards a girl’s education, you can donate here:
This donation will go into the Senegal Country Fund.  Please specify in the comments section that the donation is to support the Michele Sylvester Scholarship program in Nafadji and include my name.  Thanks for any contributions!  Every little bit helps!

Too many girls drop out of school, and lack of finances plays a large role.  This past school year in Nafadji, only one girl made it to the last year of middle school.  With this program, we have identified nine girls who are motivated to continue their education.  Let’s help them stay in school!

Nafadji Michele Sylvester Scholarship Candidates


  1. Any program that helps girls to continue their education is fantastic! Thanks for implementing this in Nafadji and you can count on us to make a donation!

  2. It's amazing that such a small amount of money can go so far. Thanks for helping these wonderful girls to connect with the outside world so they can pay if forward to their own communities someday.