Mentoring Successful Scholars
- Women & Gender
The Mentoring Successful Scholars program (MSS) began in 1993 as the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship program in memory of Michele Sylvester, a former PC Senegal Volunteer dedicated to gender and development work. In Senegal, school retention rates among middle school girls are low due to early marriage, pregnancy, and household responsibilities. The MSS program strives to improve these retention rates by decreasing financial barriers to attendance and increasing girls’ support networks through scholarships for inscription fees and school supplies and through clubs focused on building confidence and teaching practical life skills. This year, we are also requesting funds to start more sustainable clubs that will continue regardless of the presence of a volunteer. In their community, PCVs Sabrina M. and Allegra C., with their counterpart, will host an MSS club of 15 female students ages 13 to 17. The community is supportive of MSS, assisting in organization and implementation from selection of scholarship members and providing input for each club meeting. Sabrina, Allegra, and the counterpart aim to develop participants’ agency and confidence while providing trainings on life skills and agriculture. Bi-monthly meetings will include lessons on leadership, women's issues, varied agricultural topics, public speaking, writing skills, and money management. These meetings will combine seminars and activities with guest speakers in order to effectively engage the participants. At the close of the school year, both volunteers and community partners hope to see increased confidence and leadership skills, broader agricultural knowledge, and improved understanding of practical life skills.
From the beginning, community partners have been key to the organization and implementation of the MSS program. Through discussions between PCVs, the MSS counterpart, and school administrators, the goals of the club (agriculture and life skills) were confirmed and a selection committee was established to choose scholarship recipients based on objective factors, such as academic performance, location, and previous MSS scholarship, and on the subjective input of committee members’, i.e. local knowledge and insight into each girl’s home and financial situation. The principal of the Lycee, led this committee. Our in-classroom counterpart was also part of the selection process and is an enthusiastic co-facilitator and co-planner. As an English teacher at the Lycee, she is well positioned to facilitate between the volunteers and the students. This year, she will work with MSS to publicize the program, plan lessons, and host a congratulatory ceremony for scholarship recipients. In the community, as throughout the country-wide program, volunteers play a supporting role and make sure to avoid being in a position where they might be perceived as handing out money or being able to sway the decisions of the committee members with regards to the selection and evaluation of scholarship students. During the bi-monthly meetings, we will be inviting local speakers, including women’s group leaders, the health post director, a Water and Forest representative, and the midwife, to share their experiences. In additional to the counterpart, who plans to be present at every meeting, another community member will serve as the male counterpart for any co-ed meetings. He is a well-respected resident of the community and has been involved in youth sports for many years. As a counterpart of MSS, he would facilitate for roughly fifteen hours. These community partners are absolutely essential to the success of the club, leading the volunteers and supporting them throughout the implementation of the program. In addition to these counterparts, we hope to see parent and student involvement throughout the year. Specifically, students will be involved in topic selection and club management, and parents will be invited to the first MSS meeting to improve understanding of the aims of MSS and the importance of keeping their daughters in school.
The local MSS program is supported by the activities of the Senegal Gender and Development (SeneGAD) committee and the Food Security initiative of the Peace Corps. To work towards greater sustainability, this organization and initiative are emphasizing community supported clubs and transitioning away from annual tuition funding. Parental support is important in this transition; in the local community, PCVs plan to hold a meeting with parents to re-emphasize the importance of female scholarship and to create an action plan for the financial future of the program. Additionally, the counterparts, PCVs, and principal are working collaboratively to publicize the club and establish community leaders to allow the club to continue effectively after the volunteers depart or funding ceases. These local counterparts are well respected in the community and are committed to furthering women’s education. By collaborating with them, we have the opportunity to communicate well with the community, encourage student leadership, evaluate the programs failures and successes, and create a record of lesson plans for future use. Furthermore, the MSS participants themselves support the club’s sustainability: members of the club are in the best position to understand the importance of MSS and in the best position to encourage people to join or to form other student-run clubs that emphasize female education. With this in mind, volunteers and counterparts will work with the MSS members to establish a strategy for moving from a student-centered to a student-run program. At a minimum, we plan to hold elections for members to elect peer leaders who take on club responsibilities and help with club administration to create a sustainable and involved youth leadership base. Finally, through the future planning essay, club members will be asked to look at their futures in education and careers, reinforcing the value of education that should serve to prolong their studies and encourage their peers to do likewise.