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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Michelle Sylvester Scholarship 2014-2015

In much of the developing world, there are few incentives to stay in school, but many reasons to drop out.  This is especially true for young women.  I have found during my (admittedly short) time here in southern Senegal that my village is no exception. As girls get older, their responsibilities at home increase.  Here, girls as young as 10 take turns doing the family’s laundry and cooking the dinners.  They are also responsible for child care, cleaning, and helping in their family’s fields.  Even if they do find the time to attend school, education is not free in Senegal, and the $10/year fee is too much for many families to afford, particularly if they have several children.  If the students’ families do make financial sacrifices so their girls can attend, there is tremendous peer pressure amongst the girls themselves to drop out and start families of their own.  Most girls here have their first child around 16. 

I’m a huge believer in girls’ education.  Literacy can open doors in a young woman’s life.  The written word can expose a young woman to a wealth of knowledge beyond what she could experience firsthand.  The ability to read a book and learn from it, to be transported to another world by words on a page, is something we in the western world take for granted. Pulaar is not a widely spoken language, so if girls do not attend school to learn French, they cannot expand their horizons beyond West Africa.  There are few novels written in Pulaar, and fewer still textbooks or technical websites to allow the girls to learn about science, technology, engineering, or math.  Even if a girl does drop out of school to become a mother at a young age, as is the cultural norm here, the more education she obtains before that happens, the better.  A child’s first and most important teacher is their mother.  The education of young women therefore has untold implications for the betterment of future generations, in addition to the obvious increase in quality of life that an education can bring to the girl herself. 

The Michele Sylvester Scholarship is a Senegal-wide annual Peace Corps project established in 1993 and named for a Peace Corps Volunteer who did a lot of work with girls’ education.  Its purpose is to help close the education gender gap.  We as volunteers are supposed to choose three girls from 6eme, 5eme, and 4eme (the equivalent of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade in the states) that show academic promise but who struggle financially, then to raise money to pay their school fees for the 2014/2015 school year.  In addition to helping the girls financially, we offer the MSS scholars mentoring and encouragement as they continue their studies, and we organize events for them throughout the school year.  Being chosen as a MSS scholar is an honor, and younger girls look up to MSS scholarship recipients as role models.

Sadly, here in Teyel, we were not able to choose three girls from 4eme because there are only two girls left in the grade.  The rest have dropped out, eliminating their possibilities to attend university and securing their futures as housewives or fruit vendors.  We instead chose four girls from 6eme so there are still nine girls total.

Instructions on how to donate are on the bottom of this post.  Girls in the developing world need all the support they can get to keep them attending their classes.  One hundred percent of your donation will go to pay these nine girls’ school fees.  Twenty US dollars a year may not seem like a lot of money, but it is hard for these girls’ families to come up with it.  Consider that a kilogram of rice is about fifty cents, and that the inability of some families to pay that is a major cause of food insecurity here.

The nine girls we selected are below, along with a little information about each one.

6eme – (equivalent of 6th grade)

Kadiatou Gnama Diallo is an only child.  She was born in Kolda mem, the capital city of the Kolda province, but now lives in Teyel.  She’s 13 years old.  Her father’s a teacher and her mom is a housewife.  When she gets older, she wants to help schools by increasing materials available to the children. 

Adama Balde is one of 10 children.  Her father is a farmer, and her mom is a housewife.  She’s 13 years old.  She wants to be a doctor to earn money to help her parents.  If she could change one thing about the role of women in Senegal, it would be that she wants women to have less work to do.  French is her favorite subject in school, but she says she likes studying everything else, too.  She says she studies for at least 3 hours every night.

Mariama Sabaly is one of six children.  Her father is a farmer and her mother is a housewife.  She’s 15 years old.  She says that she has lots of work to do at home, and can’t attend school until she completes all her chores, so sometimes she has trouble attending classes.  She has had to re-take a couple grades.  She wants to help women in Senegal raise money by financing activities for them. 

Housseye Mballo is a twin, and one of 7 children.  Her father is a farmer and her mom is a housewife.  She’s 13 years old.  She wants to be a professor when she graduates, and if she could change one thing about school in Senegal she would convince all women of the importance of sending their kids to school.  Her twin dropped out of school last year, and 2 of her older siblings have dropped out already as well. Her signature on the scholarship forms was a dollar sign ($). 

5eme - equivalent of 7th grade

Djenabou Balde is the 14-year old daughter of a farmer and a housewife.  She commutes to school every day from Dinguira, a village about 4 kilometers away, by foot or on a bicycle.  She says she’s attending school because she wants to get a good job so she can send home money to support her younger siblings.  She says that girls in Senegal need to realize that education is their only option if they want to have a bright future.

Aminatou (Ami) Sabaly is one of 8 kids.  Her father’s a farmer and her mom’s a housewife.  She comes to Teyel for school, and during school vacations she lives in Velingara, a neighboring city.  She wants to be a teacher at a primary school after she graduates, and when she’s older she wants to help women in Senegal by organizing women’s groups in the community.  She says that women love to work and they are very motivated.  She’s 16 years old.  She insisted on having her picture taken outside.

Mariama Dioulde Diao is the 14 year old daughter of a farmer and a housewife.  She commutes to school every day from Trao, a village a few kilometers away.  If she could change one thing about the role of women in Senegal, she would urge young women to wait before getting married and having children.  She says it can be dangerous for the health of a 12-year old to give birth.  She wants to become the minister of education of Senegal.  "Miijo Mawngo," she admitted with a shy smile.  Big ideas.

4eme = equivalent of 8th grade

Aissatou Balde is 16 years old.  Her father’s a farmer and her mom’s a housewife.  She’s one of ten kids.  She commutes to school every day from Dinguira, a village several kilometers away, by foot or on a bicycle.  She wants to be a French teacher when she graduates.  If she could change one thing about education in Senegal, it would be that she wants girls to have more confidence in themselves and their abilities.  She wants all girls to insist on attending school instead of dropping out once they get husbands.

Aminata Balde is our oldest girl at 17 years old.  She is one of 22 children living in her compound (her father has three wives.)  Her father’s a farmer and her mom’s a housewife.  She lives in Biaro, a neighboring community about a half-mile away, and walks to Teyel for school.  She wants to be a doctor when she graduates.  If she could change one thing about education in Senegal, she would change peoples’ attitudes about women.  She says that women act subordinate and need to get more motivation to attend school to better themselves.

If you choose to make a donation of any amount, there is an easy-to-use online portal here.  Put the amount of your donation in the little box on the right-hand side.  After you hit "submit," it will take you to the donation page. 
In the “comments” section of the donation page, please write “This donation is to support MSS scholarships in PCV Barbara Michel’s village of Teyel - Kolda”.
Note: If you do not make this designation in the comments section, the money will not be designated for my school – it will be added to the country—wide pool. 

Anything helps, no matter how small.  Thanks!


  1. Done! I'm so glad these girls have an advocate in you <3

  2. Barbara, please let us know when our contribution arrives. JohnHand@gmail.com and JanetGhattas@gmail.com we were PCVs in Senegal in the early '60s. We are enjoying your blog posts. I was in Sedhiou, she was in Thies and Joal.