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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Michelle Sylvester Scholarship 2015-2016

It's that time of year again! 
Some of you might remember that one of my first projects last year was the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship, a Peace Corps program to pay the school fees for nine smart, motivated girls at my local middle school.  I am pleased to announce that I, along with my lovely sitemate Alice, will be doing the program again this year. 

If you choose to make a donation (instructions are at the bottom of this post), here are the girls at the middle school in Teyel that you'll be supporting.  They're really excellent kids - I wish you all had the chance to get to know them.

6eme – (equivalent of 6th grade)

Dado Diao is from a village called Saare Konkong, but she lives in Teyel during the school year with her grandparents.  Since she's a young woman, she's expected to help her grandmother and her aunts with all the housework.  Of the 15 children in her family, only five currently attend school - most of the rest dropped out at the elementary level.  She likes French and wants to be a middle school French teacher when she's older. Ami Sabaly, one of last year's MSS girls, is her best friend in Teyel and they frequently study together. 

Mariatou Sabaly has ambitions of becoming a midwife to help women give birth.  There are eleven children in her family, eight of whom go to school.  She said her parents are proud of her for getting a scholarship, and they are happy they do not have to struggle to find money for her fees this year.  Mariatou's older brother studied through 4eme before he dropped out, and he helps her with her lessons in the evenings. 
Malado Kamara is the only girl who mentioned how important her religion is to her.  She prays five times a day, like most practicing Muslims, and three of her brothers left home to be Koranic students (talibe).  There are currently 12 children in her family, but one of her brothers died of a "stomachache." Perhaps because of this, Malado wants to work in medicine.  Malado has a strong female role model at home - her mother, Fatoumata, sells beauty supplies at a weekly market nearby, and paid for her daughter's inscription fees last year out of her earnings.  In this unabashedly patriarchal culture, it was nice to hear of a strong woman prioritizing her daughter's education. 

Sido Boiro is only twelve years old, and she got the highest grades of any girl in CEM this year - 16.9.  (Note: A Wikipedia article about academic grading in France and French schools can be found here.) When Alice and I met with her at her house, we were amazed at how much work this amazing young girl does.  Turns out that her father (Mahamadou) was an only child, so when he and his two wives moved to a fishing town near Dakar called Joal, no one was left at home to help Mohamadou's mother with all the cooking, cleaning, and childcare that defines a woman's life here.  Mohamadou sent his daughter Sido, along with her three younger brothers, to help her grandmother out at home.  Since Sido is the only young woman at home now, she is responsible for washing clothes, doing dishes, pulling water, pounding grain, preparing meals, and taking care of her brothers.  I asked her, flabbergasted, how she had any time to study.  "I don't," she replied flatly.  "I can't study.  Other kids play at school because they know they can review their lessons later.  I can't do that.  Whatever my teacher says, I must listen so I remember."

5eme (equivalent of 7th grade)

Adama Tely Balde is the only 5eme MSS scholar who did not receive the scholarship last year.  She also has the biggest family of any of our girls this year - between her father's three wives, there are 22 children total.  Not surprisingly, she says that she can only study inside her hut, since when she's outside the kids bother her.  When she's inside, however, there's not enough light to see well, and the family has trouble finding money for flashlight batteries.  Every rainy season, Adama Tely goes to her sister Hadia's house in Velingara (a city 15k away) to clean, cook, and take care of her nieces and nephews.  She says Hadia regrets leaving school, and Hadia frequently tells her little sister Adama Tely to avoid men until she's completed her education. 

Last year, Adama Balde said she wanted to be a doctor, but now she says she wants to be a French professor.  She prioritizes studying - she said if she has to cook dinner (which she does every other night) she will get up early the next day to review her lessons before school.  Her father grows corn, millet, and peanuts, but does not sell any of his crops, so there's little money to pay for school fees or supplies.

Housseye Mballo says if she wouldn't have gotten the scholarship, she couldn't have gone to school this year - usually, her tokara (namesake) pays her inscription fees and school supplies, but this year her tokara, like many people in our area, was broke due to a bad harvest.  Last year, Housseye said she wanted to be a professor, but now she says she wants to teach English at a middle or high school. Her older brother works as a bike mechanic, and she says when he left school, her parents yelled at him, and she knows if she tried to leave, they would yell at her, too. 

Mariama Sabaly is now 16 years old and will be a 4eme student next year.  She says French is her favorite subject.  Her father, a farmer, has twelve kids, eight of whom currently attend school and two who dropped out.  I asked Mariama how her father was able to pay school fees for so many students at the same time, and she told me they grow a lot of cotton in her family, and her father doesn't mind paying the fees, since he sees education as a good investment for the future.  She's interested in being a doctor, nurse, or midwife, but hasn't decided which yet.

4eme (equivalent of 8th grade)

Djenabou Balde is another repeat MSS scholar.  She's 15 years old now, and still walks the five kilometers from her village to the school, an hour each way, in the blazing Sahel sun.  Her favorite subject is math, because she says it comes easily to her - she understands it without having to think about it too much.  She wants to get a job at the hospital in Velingara (15k away) when she finishes her studies, since she is familiar with the area and will be able to see her family regularly if she's close.  She studies from 9-11 most nights, before getting up before the sun to walk to school in time for her 8 AM class.


1) Please follow this link: https://beta.peacecorps.gov/donate/fund/senegal-country-fund/ and choose your donation amount.  Any amount helps, no matter how small!
2) Enter your personal information
3) Under "Please use this box if you want to send a message of encouragement to this project's volunteer" please enter "PC Senegal MSS Fund"

Please note the donation process is different this year than last year.  This year, donations are not made towards a specific volunteer's site.  Rather, the 2015-16 school year will be funded through the Global Fund and any excess funds will be put towards next year's MSS program.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for your donations!


  1. Hi Barbara, Janet and I contributed $60 to the PC Senegal MSS Fund. We wish the very best to the students you described as they undertake the coming academic year. John and Janet

  2. Thank you, John! That's very generous of you!