Michelle Sylvester Scholarships

Millenium Development Goal 2: To achieve universal primary education

Millenium Development Goal 3: To promote gender equality and empower women

I am honored to have the ability to work towards both of these goals with one amazing project.  The Michelle Sylvester Scholarship is a program developed by the Peace Corps in the name of a former volunteer who worked closely with female education before she passed away in a motor vehicle accident.  Now there is a scholarship in her name working to provide girls with encouragement to continue their studies and strive for jobs working outside the home.

In Senegal, and many other developing countries, it is typical for females to be pulled out of school in middle school to work in the home.  All schools in Senegal require a fee for tuition.  These fees are relatively cheap, but for these families that only receive a small amount either from family working abroad or from what small enterprise they have selling vegetables or embroidered blankets, the cost can become unbearable.  When given the choice between paying for their two children to attend school that year or to pay for food to feed the family, there is a dilemma.  Boys, if kept in school, have a better chance of getting high-paying jobs that will then allow them to provide for their families.  Girls, however, go to school for a while until they get a husband.  This generally terminates their studies, either because the husband does not want his wife to continue in school, she is more needed in the home of his family providing labor of the house, or because she becomes pregnant.  Parents, knowing this, tend to value education for daughters less than for their sons.  Therefore, if they have the dilemma between money for food and money for tuition, it will be the daughter who they take out of school less.  Daughters are also very valuable in the home; there is much work to be done around the house… Endless, it seems: cooking, cleaning, sweeping, dishes, laundry, childcare, etc.

This is difficult because there is really so much work around the house that it sometimes is necessary for a girl to stay at home, or otherwise impose on her studies having her stay home from school a few days a week.  Sometimes it seems hopeless because there sometimes is no other way around these issues.  However, this scholarship helps in providing girls with tuition money for the year, so as to help take the pressure off their family as much as possible.

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This scholarship provides 9 girls of middle school age with the full year’s tuition as well as a little extra for them to purchase school supplies with.  These 9 girls have been selected by their teachers and staff at the middle schools (the ones where the Peace Corps Volunteers are participating) and have been chosen for outstanding studies as well as in-home financial need.  The teachers take into consideration the girls who seem the most enthusiastic about learning and work hard in school, but also have a difficult home situation that could possibly lead to their families taking them out of school or encouraging early marriage.  I then visit their homes, meet their families, and talk to them about the details of the scholarship.  I did this with the help of the principal of their school recently and had an amazing experience.  The parents were so pleased with their daughters and the girls just beamed!  They sat shyly, never making eye contact, but you could see their smiles from a mile away.  The mothers were exuberant.  I expressed the importance of education for females and they all echoed my sentiments, with seeming wistfulness as if they wished they had had the opportunity themselves to stay in school through high school.  Some of the mothers even danced with excitement at the mention that their daughters were being honored for their studies.  They danced, they sang praises, they clapped their hands!  It was so rewarding to see the families that would be receiving these scholarships.

After the home visits, the girls wrote essays.  They had to answer questions about what they wanted to do in their futures and about the issues females face in schools in Senegal (and what they would propose to fix these issues).  Soon I will be doing interviews for each of the girls, asking them about what they like to study, what their home life is like, etc.  All 9 girls will receive the scholarship, regardless.  They will receive it upon school beginning again in September or October.

WHERE YOU COME IN

This money for the scholarship is not coming from the Peace Corps.  It is not coming from the American Government or another of the bagillions of NGOs that are present in Senegal.  This money comes from people, real people.  People who want to make a difference in the lives of other real people across the world.  It is so easy to give money to an NGO and have no idea where it went, what it went towards, who received the benefits of it, etc.  This is a way to support real girls in the community of Mbolo Aly Sidy, Mbolo Birane, and Thilambol Diankobe (all attend middle school in Mbolo Birane).  These 9 girls will receive every penny donated towards their cause.  They know that this money is being provided by my community, from my friends.  I told them that it is my friends and family who care about them staying in school.  It is my friends and family who told me that they wanted to help people in Senegal, and this is how they can.  They know this is special, this is not just another NGO (don’t get me wrong, NGOs do great work, however indiscriminately it seems sometimes).  They know this is being provided by my friends and family back home.  That doesn’t come cheap.

Now, you might want to know, how much this fantastic program is going to cost.  Here’s the real kicker… each girl will receive the equivalent of $20 ($14 of that going to tuition for the year, the rest to school supplies).  This entire scholarship requires the equivalent of $180 USD.  Not bad for the ability to send 9 girls to school for the entire year, allowing them one year closer to the realization of finishing high school and encouraging them to find a job or attend a university (extremely rare, even more so for females).

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I will be working with these girls during school vacation off and on, and probably a lot more when school starts back up again, doing after-school programs and homework help activities.  I really want to focus my energy on these girls, the ones with the potential and the abilities, but maybe not the means.

Here’s where you come in. If you are able to help in my fundraising efforts, follow this link to the Peace Corps Senegal country fund webpage:

https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=685-CFD

Fill in all the information about yourself, including the donation amount. In the comments section, write the following:

“This donation is to support MSS scholarships in PCV Dana Roth’s Village of Mbolo Aly Sidy/Mbolo Birane”

If you don’t include that, there’s a possibility the money will not make it directly to my girls.  Don’t let this donation break the bank!  I will be doing the same program again next year, insh’allah.

Other ways to help:

I am planning a big Back To School party (possibly including widely known Hip Hop artist Maxy Krezy performing) in which I give out pens and notebooks and other school supplies around September/October. The pens and notebooks available here are SO cheaply made, these kids use them until they are threadbare and hardly holding together.  Even the cheapest US-available school supplies are better made than these here.  So keep your eyes out when the back-to-school stuff starts coming into your neighborhood WalMart!  No pressure though, even just reading this is good enough support for me!  I appreciate all of you who take the time to follow the things and activities that I do.  That is support in and of itself.

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Thank you all!

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