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 have been involved from the beginning of the program at each participating school by establishing a selection committee to select scholarship recipients 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 will use a committee of teachers for scholarship recipient selection, where they review the list of eligible recipients as a team. Volunteers must not be in a position where they may be perceived as handing out money or be involved in the selection or evaluation of students as recipients of money. The project must demonstrate 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.
Relationships with community organizations and government organizations in town will developed to ensure community ownership of the 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.
At our school, savings plan lessons will be taught, and have a written version available for the club historian. Sustainable funding sources will be identified, and PCVs will work with families to create savings strategies to be able to afford next year’s school fees. The Volunteer will also write a pledge with the club and recite it before every meeting to instill cohesion and attitude expectations. Also, teachers and community members will be instrumental in creating and facilitating classes. Finally, it is important to ensure that counterpart and students feel valued, appreciated and an integral part of the group. To keep students motivated and invested in the club, yearly elections for leadership positions will be held.