The Mentoring Successful Scholars program was established in 1993 as the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship program in memory of Michelle 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.” Kolda especially suffers from the challenges inherent to women trying to succeed in school. As a region, it is less developed than most other regions in Senegal, suffering from some of the highest malaria rates in the country, which also contributes to poor school attendance. The lessons provided through the club will enhance the lives of the girls, giving them meaningful skills that they can use in their daily lives and share with their families and communities. Further, the club will provide peer and volunteer support for the girls to continue their learning - built in study buddies & tutors.
School administration and teachers have been involved from the beginning of the program at each participating school, by conducting the candidate selection, based on objective factors such as grades and subjective input from administrators and teachers and their local knowledge and insight of each girl’s home and financial situation. As such, a committee of teachers will be used for scholarship recipient selection, where they review the applications received as a team. 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. The club in the local community will include a variety of host country national counterparts, from the local midwife & her assistant, to local farmers and teachers, to CEDEPS partners from Kolda itself. MSS occurred last year in the local communtiy, and thus has wide ranging support from the principal and school staff, as well as other community partners within the health post and mayor's office. The school will select the girls through a committee of teachers, with the ultimate deciding vote going to the principal. The English teacher will be the main contact person for the club, and he is extremely enthusiastic, even using his own funds to purchase snacks for the girls in last year's club.
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. Additionally, as one of the meetings, the girls will learn about savings & creating savings plans. They can share this knowledge with their family in order to self fund their education.The English teacher will be involved at every step of the process, attending all planning/coordination meetings and club meetings. He will also receive all of the lesson plans and materials used in the club from the volunteer in advance & be able to keep copies for future use. His opinion will be consulted in implementing all new material. Ideally, he will continue to lead the club in future years.