The Mentoring Successful Scholars program was established in 1993 as the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship program in memory of Michele Sylvester, a former PC Senegal volunteer dedicated to gender and development work. Its purpose is to help close the gender gap in education, as many girls drop out as a result of early marriage or pregnancy, or to help with housework, particularly during the middle school years. The scholarship provides money for school inscription fees and school supplies for girls at each participating middle school, in order to decrease some of the financial barriers to school attendance. All scholarship recipients are required to participate in one formal training during the school year, and this year, we are also requesting funds to help start more sustainable “scholarship clubs.” The purpose of the Club is to empower middle school girls by teaching them the ins and outs of public health, with the idea that they will go on to be public health leaders in their community. We will explore public health and develop their leadership skills through murals, causeries, job shadow programs, self-help crafting (mosquito-net care and repair, learning how to sew menstrual pads) as well as general public health education in classroom settings. Our activities will also focus on women's empowerment as a whole.
School administration and teachers have been involved from the beginning of the program at each participating school by selecting the scholarship candidates. It is based on objective factors such as grades and subjective input from administrators and teachers based on their local knowledge and insight of each girl's home and financial situation. The project demonstrates that only host country nationals should be in charge of the process of nomination, selection, and administration of any funds used for this purpose. School administration and teachers are also very involved in the application process, publicizing the program to students and planning the congratulatory ceremony and any follow-up activities. Volunteers are also required to involve a local counterpart in their group's club. Each counterpart will spend time planning and attending sessions, which is time they take out of their free afternoons and weekends. This amounts to about an hour of planning per activity, and an hour to two hours in donated time attending the activity. Additionally, the community will be invited to events where the girls present on what they have learned, in an effort to educate community members about public health and also women's empowerment. The school administration and teachers will also have a role, which they plan to donate their own free time to accomplish, in forming a committee to select the girls who will be part of the club.
This is an annual program that will continue each year as part of the activities of the Senegal Gender and Development (SeneGAD) committee, sustaining the benefits of this program from year to year. Counterparts are assigned to work with the volunteers throughout the duration of the program to ensure the continuation of newly established clubs once the program and Volunteer have finished. In addition to the material support of the inscription fees and school supplies, candidates also engage in activities that will allow them to train others in their community on new skills that will sustain knowledge sharing within the community. These activities can relate to the four sectors within Peace Corps Senegal: Community Economic Development, Health, Agriculture, and Agro-Forestry. Volunteers will work with their girls to turn these activities into themed-student-run clubs that are designed to continue after the volunteer has left their site. The girls will also sustain the benefits of the program after taking part in the future planning essay writing. After this session, they will develop plans for successfully completing their educations and embarking on careers.
The school administration and teachers are an integral part of the success and implementation of the club and its activities. Although the Peace Corps volunteer is a leader, he is only one of many. As the school year winds down, the volunteer plans to host multiple sessions with teachers and administrators about who will take care of the club, what worked and what didn't, and what should be done about funding, though most of the projects are low/zero cost. Additionally, because the community is involved at so many levels, if the community sees value in the scholarships, they can choose to continue them if they see fit. An integral part of running the club will be having sessions with parents, administrators and community members about whether funding scholarships is something the community wishes to continue on their own, and if so, how to go about doing so.