Sunday, June 5, 2011

Girls,Education, Dreams and Empowerment

When you educate a girl in Africa, everything changes. She’ll be three times less likely to get HIV/AIDS, earn 25 percent more income and Have fewer, healthier children who are 40 percent more likely to live past the age of five

All the girls with their certificates!

In Obama’s last public speech he made a point to address why girls' education is so fundamental in the developing world.”   This idea is nothing new, for many influential people who are dedicating their lives to this cause.  Books like “Half the Sky” have recently brought people like you and me the truth about the unfortunate status of women in developing countries.  Sex trafficking, abuse, female genital mutilation and other crimes against women will continue until people like you and me make efforts to change it.  From a security standpoint education is a vital means to combat the ignorance that fuels terrorists.  There is nothing more important to me then allocating my time to fight the injustice of ignorance. 

The literacy rate of women in Senegal is 29% as opposed to the 51% of men.  That is a terribly low number and unfortunately little is being done to improve it.  There are more girls going to school then 10 years ago, but the number is still small.   If a girl is lucky enough to make it though school in village and attend junior high, there is a large chance that she will not make it past the 6th grade.  In the local CEM (which is equivalent to an American Junior High School of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade) there are 163 girls in the 6th grade, but only 40 in the 8th grade. There are numerous reasons for this decline:  Sometimes once they enter 6th grade they are not at the literacy level they need to be and are unable to keep up, they become pregnant and drop out, or they are forced into early marriage.  If girls live far and do not have parental support then it might make it difficult to complete homework and have good attendance.

For children who do go to school, they are taught very little.  The education system is quite problematic. In my village and those surrounding it, school is supposed to start in the beginning of October but usually does not start until late November.  Once it does start the teachers have strikes so frequently that one would think the school week is only 3 days.  Unfortunately when I say that, I am not joking. With the limited time they are in school, they do not have any books or supplemental material. They have notebooks that they write the days lesson in and then repeat it until it’s committed to memory.    The other day my 10-year-old sister was talking to me about school. Her teacher had not been to class in a week and so I offered to help her. We looked at her notebook and I started asking questions. She had no idea what anything meant, and when asked to write she could barley scribble her name.  I was dumbstruck! No wonder children cannot continue on with their education, their foundations are so weak
The girls that can keep up have to fight in order to continue with their education.  A lot of the times, girls who travel into the city may stay at a family’s house where they are expected to clean and cook as an exchange for rent.  This is also the age of puberty and without strong supervision many of these girls fall victim of molestation, pregnancy, and even AIDS.  Of course sometimes it is out of choice, but the culture makes it difficult for girls to turn down men, especially when they are older or in a place in authority.

It is because of these reasons that Allyson, Samantha and myself decided that a leadership conference was an excellent idea.  We wanted to target girls in the 6th grade and hold a two-day conference to promote the importance of education.  We could not invite all 163 girls due to the large number, but we worked with the teachers to choose 50 girls who demonstrated a good work ethic. We also invited our 9 scholarship nominees. (My next blog post will cover the information regarding that)

We had Awa Traore facilitate the conference and invited working women throughout the local community to help out and share their story.  Day 1 started with the showing of the film    “Elle Travaille, Elle Vit”  (Girl works, girl lives)      here is the link:     
 It interviews women in different fields of work and asks them how they got there, the struggles they have faced, and advice for younger girls seeking careers.   After the film there was a follow up discussion with Awa that led into a panelist session.  We had five women: a doctor, a food transformationist, a teacher, a journalist, and a NGO worker.  They all took turns sharing their story, and talking about the importance of education.  We then had a session about goal setting where the girls broke into groups to come up with a long-term goal and then three steps they need to take in order to get there.  They then presented this in front of everyone.  We then told them how much support they have and we gave out bracelets to remind them of their dream.

The next day was spent addressing challenges they may face in pursuing their dreams.  We had a session on health where we talked about AIDS, STD’s and other issues related to women’s health. Our Doctor talked about the risks of early pregnancy and contraceptive methods. (Early pregnancy is a huge huge problem in this area).  We invited a parent for each student to join us for an afternoon session. Awa talked to the parents about their roles and how they can better support their daughters. She brought up sensitive issues, which forced parents to talk to their daughters about things that would more than likely be ignored.  This session was incredibly successful and it ended with a theater group performance and the handing out of certificates.  Each girl was presented a participation certificate and the Sous Preferet (government official) gave a speech about the importance of women’s education (which was a really big deal)!

Our goal of the conference was of course to encourage girls to stay in school but more so to empower them with a dream.  We wanted the community to see that we as volunteers/Americans view them as important and special. We wanted their parents to know they have amazing daughters who have the ability to make a difference for their communities, families and world.  We wanted the girls to understand they are worth more than they think and to inspire their confidence.  Steps to change education on a larger scale are difficult, but if we made a difference in one girl’s life then the hard work preparing for such an event was worth it.  That girl could be the next Awa, the next doctor, or even the next Rosa Parks.  As Marian Wright Edelman once said “ we must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily difference we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee."

This blog post is an attempt to light a fire within all who read it.  We are people who have been educated in an amazing part of the worldWe have the power to make change, we have the power to combat injustice, and we have the ability to make a difference. It does not mean we have to get on a plane to Africa or Asia, it doesn’t mean we have to give up our savings, but a little contribution can make a world of difference.  This conference was funded because of ordinary people who understand that the education of girls is important. If any of you want to get involved in supporting projects like this, there are hundreds of organizations out there. SENEGAD is an organization created by volunteers in Senegal and of the funding it receives goes to events like the one just discussed. Here is the link to learn more:

And here is a link to  Half the Sky’s list of organizations you can get involved with!

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."   Eleanor Roosevelt

AWA talking to the Girls about Goal Setting

The amazing Panelists Awa, Nene Galle, Salimatou, Mama Ramata Diallo,  Nane Ndeye et Salimatou

Koun Kane Volunteers! What!

Session with the parents! 

Scholarship girls



  1. Im so proud of you Jenae! what an amazing experience that must have been. You did more for those girls in one setting than a lot of people ever do their whole lives for another human being.


  2. Jenae you amaze me. For the first time I am speechless! Don't worry I will have plenty to say once my mind grasps all that is being accomplished there. I can only imagine the obstacles you all have encountered. I am humbled by these amazing women. Love to you all!