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 a formal club during the school year, and this year, we are also requesting funds to help start more sustainable “scholarship clubs."
School administration and teachers are involved from the beginning of the program at each participating school, by selecting the candidates 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. This year, all volunteers are using a committee of teachers for scholarship recipient selection and an application system, in which the girls submit applications that teachers review. 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.
Our community contribution plan: the counterpart has had an MSS program in previous years, and is very motivated to see the program return. Upon hearing of interest in restarting the initiative, the principal and school teachers met to discuss the key aspects of the program, including the key financial need portion, and began promoting an application in classrooms. After applications were received, they developed a committee to review and select five girls from each grade to participate. Volunteers were not involved in the selection process to ensure impartiality. Additionally, a school English teacher volunteered to serve as a counterpart for weekly club meetings and event planning to assist in translating and ensuring cultural relevance. Herself, along with the principal and assistant principals all assisted in the selection process as well as another community member which is an experienced gardener offering to assist in the construction and development of a school garden.
Peace Corps Senegal has a history of administering girl’s camps. With the transition to clubs, this is an ongoing program will continue as part of our Food Security and Agriculture programs as well as our Senegal Gender and Development (SeneGAD) program, providing support from year to year. For long-term sustainability, community involvement with with the Counterpart is assigned to work in collaboration PCVs Lydia and Julia for knowledge sharing and continuity of the club once the PCV departs. In addition to the material support of the inscription fees and school/club supplies, club members engage in activities that will allow them to train others in their community on new skills that will sustain knowledge and build capacity of the greater community. Club members will elect leadership, assign roles and responsibilities and help administer the club, creating a sustainable approach with involved youth leadership. Finally, through the future planning essay, club members will be asked to specifically look at their futures in education and careers, building sustainable knowledge that will hopefully be shared with their peers and impact subsequent generations.