Sunday, July 31, 2011

Michelle Sylvester Scholarship for Girls

Opportunity for women has been shown to be the most effective means of reducing birthrates. It's simple: when a woman can use her time to work and contribute to a household outside its walls, it most often outweighs time otherwise devoted to bearing children. In Senegal, especially in villages, boys have been shown to go further in school by a wide margin. A number of factors contribute to this reality, but simply put there isn't as much support for girls to finish high school much less continue on to university.

Peace Corps Senegal runs a scholarship program to support the best female high school (equivalent) with financial need. The process to select candidates starts with recommendations from the girls' teachers based on classroom participation and academic achievement. The teachers recommend 9 students, with three from each of the levels 3rd, 4th, 5th.

With this pool of 9 I proctored an essay inquiring what each girl was planning for her future endeavors and how she felt she could support girls' education in her town. Next was the interview portion where I posed a number of questions ranging from the number of children and students in each girl's family to where and for how long she studies at home. Paired with the interview was a "home visit" where observations were taken about the state and signs of wealth for each girl's home. Based upon all data collected, the top 6 of 9 candidates also showing the greatest financial need will get the next year's tuition paid for, and of those 6 candidates 3 will also get money for school supplies.

As an American young man of 23, adolescent Senegalese girls probably relate to me the least of anyone. This program was definitely my chance to really get to know some of them more personally, each one now making a point to stop me and say hi when we see each other in the street. The scholarship is not an exorbitant amount of money, but with the number of volunteers spread all over Senegal completing this program, a lot of girls can be supported to continue their studies and consider their futures more seriously.

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