Michele Sylvester Scholarship Program 2013 part deux

The 2013-2014 school year is underway in Senegal, with scholarship monies disbursed and school supplies bought for over 450 girls throughout Senegal through the Michele Sylvester Scholarship program.

From Dabo Middle School here are the 3 grand prize winners:


Maimouna from 3eme with her new school supplies


Penda (on the right) from 4eme with her new school supplies, and her sister


Kadidatou from 5eme with her new school supplies


Coumba reading her application essay (excerpted here in my original post on MSS) at the scholarship awards ceremony


And here are the girls, plus parents and teachers, after the ceremony, in front of the school’s brand new sign, which I think looks pretty amazing!

And from Thiara Middle School…


Ndeye reading her essay at the awards ceremony


Kadidiatou receiving her certificate


Thiara scholarship girls with parents, teachers, and school principal

Congratulations to all the girls and their families!

One of the girls from Thiara, Ansata, transferred to another middle school in Kolda city. Her father told me he sent her to live with relatives there because it has a better school. What I found when I got there to visit her was a slightly different story – Ansata had gotten married over the summer, and had gone to Kolda to move in with her new husband’s family.  At 16, she just makes the cut-off for legal marriage in Senegal, and luckily her new husband is supportive of her continuing her education. Getting married young (for girls) is pretty commonplace in rural Senegal, Ansata is actually one of two girls in the program in my area who have gotten married over the summer vacation, the other, also 16, also has a husband supportive of her education, thank god. These girls are lucky, others are not so lucky, but the fact remains that they are likely to stop school once they become pregnant. I got to talk to one of the girl’s husbands about family planning but as you can imagine it is a touchy subject. I can only hope that they and their husbands will consider their long-term futures and wait to have babies. Ansata was very proud to show me her wedding album and insisted I take one of the photos with me as a gift. Here she is, fancy in bridal attire:


One thing I never thought I’d be doing as part of my Peace Corps service…competing in a half-marathon, but alas, I am about 2 weeks away from the Tamba Marathon for Girls’ Education.  A minor injury prevented me from participating last year but I am determined to do so this year, wish me luck! If you’d like to “sponsor” me for running this thing, I’d greatly appreciate it! Here’s the donation link and please write “Tamba Marathon for Girls’ Education” in the comments box. Proceeds will go towards the 2014 Michele Sylvester Scholarship Program. THANK YOU!!



tabaski street fashion and more

Last Tabaski/Eid al-Adha, I somewhat accidentally ended up taking fashion photos on the street – this year I tried in earnest to do so with only a few more results than last year, but it was still a nice relaxing holiday with lots of meat consumption, and I’ll spare you the gory bits this time. Most of the photos I took while walking around doing the evening special greetings of the neighborhood with my host sister Sali, which between hair, outfit and makeup took about 3 hours for her to prepare for and 1 hour to do the actual greeting – going around to people’s houses to say “May God protect you and give you health for the coming year” and such.

Tabaski street fashion 2013 – Dabo, Kolda, Senegal



DSC04474Hawa (Sali’s older sister), Sali, and Biri












DSC04483To recap: in this year are puffy sleeves and sunshine-ray embroidery!

And here are some scenes from Tabaski in my host family’s compound:






Alassane and Biri watch the killing of the sheep




My host mom and me



Biri in her evening wear





Biri, Sali, and me, finished with our evening greetings

And some random slices of life:



The view from my afternoon reading spot, everyday


DSC04448The wild tomato bushes in my backyard went crazy this season




As did my banana, which sprouts a new giant leaf every few days – today’s leaf was a real beaut, but no bananas yet

Michele Sylvester Scholarship Program 2013

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks of administering essays and interviews and am proud to say I have finished the applications for this year’s SeneGAD Michele Sylvester Scholarship program for two schools this year – in Dabo, my town, and Thiara, a neighboring town, as well as helped a neighbor volunteer with the program at the middle school in her town, Ngoky. It’s been hectic but definitely worth it, in getting to meet/catch up with all these wonderful, intelligent, fun, hardworking girls and their families.

This scholarship program aims to encourage middle school girls to continue their studies, as adolescence is an age where many drop out, frequently due to early marriage or pregnancy. I can see this first-hand in the dwindling numbers of girls in classrooms from the lower-level to the higher grade levels in middle school, and in high school, where female students are even scarcer.  This year I am coordinating the scholarship program throughout Senegal (the program’s 20th anniversary year!), with over 50 schools participating, I have been enjoying helping other volunteers set up the program at their sites. Next week I’ll be hosting a few Peace Corps staff members to run a discussion session for parents of daughters at my middle school in Dabo about the importance of education and how to best support their daughters staying in school, which I am very much looking forward to.

I feel like I’ve written a lot about this program and girls’ issues on here already (ie. last year’s post about MSS, and this one about the girls’ day at my middle school), so I thought I’d let one of the girls speak for herself – this is excerpted from her essay on her future life plans and how girls’ education can best be supported in her community. Coumba is class president, one of the few girls in her class who elected to take the difficult sciences track for her grade level, comes from a subsistence farming family, and is also an amazing soccer player.  In her (translated) words:

“When I finish school, I want to become a doctor, so that I will be able to help my parents, the girls in my community, and also the less fortunate.

To support girls’ education in my community, I propose raising awareness of early marriage, early pregnancy, girls dropping out of school, as well as violence towards girls at schools. I would also tell parents to not give up their daughters for early marriage because girls need education in order to one day be able to help their parents. I would do everything to help girls stay in school. I would also encourage others to practice abstinence, and encourage girls to not accept it when men betray us. Really, we, the young girls, say “no” to early marriage and pregnancy, but “yes” to staying in school.”

This scholarship program is funded by donations and with 3 schools this year, I have upped my fundraising goal to US$450. This will go towards the inscriptions fees and school supplies for the girls for next school year. Please consider joining me in making a donation to help fund girls’ education in my community! Using this donation link, please indicate in the comments section: “This donation is for MSS in PCV Sophie Danner’s community of Dabo, Thiara, and Ngoky.”  THANK YOU!!

Learn more… read a letter from CNN’s Christiane Amanpour to the girls of the world here. She writes, “Just imagine the whole world rising, as it will, when all women and girls are empowered.  It has to start with education. All the number crunchers have it right on this one: education = empowerment” Also here’s a presentation on “the girl effect” – from The Girl Effect, about how empowering adolescent girls is a key issue in the the fight to end world poverty.

And in case you missed it before, here’s the trailer for the eagerly anticipated (at least among Senegal PCVs!) new film, Tall as the Baobab Tree, which takes place in a rural Senegalese village – a teenage girl hatches a secret plan to rescue her 11-year-old sister from an arranged marriage.  And another, Girl Rising, which tells the stories of nine girls from nine different countries, illustrating how education can change the world!


Presenting …Dabo Middle School 2013 Michele Sylvester Scholarship Candidates! From 6eme: Fatoumata, Dienabou, and Kadidatou; from 5eme: Penda, Maimouna, and Binta (not pictured); and from 4eme: Fatoumata, Coumba, and Maimouna. Maimouna and Binta from 5eme and Fatou and Coumba from 4eme are all repeat scholarship girls from years past, way to keep the grades up!!

DSC03850and presenting…Thiara Middle School 2013 Michele Sylvester Scholarship Candidates! From 6eme: Fatoumata, Aminata, and Kadidiatou; from 5eme: Mariama, Ansata, and Kadidiatou; and from 4eme: Fatoumata, Ndeye, and Wourdi

DSC03856and here’s Ngoky Middle School’s candidates, with PCV Chelsea as well as the school principal and a teacher

health post refurbishment and training success!

Thank you again to everyone who donated to the refurbishment of my health post and training for the local health workers! We just had the training yesterday and the new beds are being made as I write this. Overall the whole project went smoother than I expected and I was especially happy that the training worked out with my health post staff, who turned out to be great teachers!


Here’s Badou, a metalworker in Dabo who we commissioned to make the beds. It was his first time making one, pretty nice job! He usually makes donkey carts, farming equipment, and shutters for windows. He’s made 3 of the beds now so far, and 3 to go!


These are the mattresses we bought and had upholstered in Kolda.  We were able to get a good deal on the mattresses, and then found out the local regional hospital had leftover pleather from upholstering their own beds that they sold to us at a discount, so we were able to buy 3 more that we originally budgeted for, to replace some of the existing dilapidated ones.

DSC03831Here’s Jean-Paul, who upholstered the mattresses in Kolda


And here we are at the training! Here’s me, the ICP (head nurse) of my health post, Keita, and Alassane, a local WorldVision representative. Keita and Alassane led the training on malaria, nutrition, and sexual health, while I and two other volunteers assisted on certain topics. The 3 topics were chosen by my ICP as the most pressing health issues in the local area.  The training was attended by 14 local health workers, called ASCs (agent de sante communitaire), relais (volunteers who help with educating the community about health issues), and matrones (basically midwives), about half from Dabo, and half from nearby villages. The biggest wrench in the day’s program was lunch, which came over 2 hours late, but as they say here, “c’est Senegal, quoi?”

DSC03737Alexia talking about net care and repair during the malaria discussion

DSC03739Alassane talking about nutrition


Alassane and I talking about the “complet” model of nutrition

DSC03760Health workers during a group activity


Talking about vitamins and minerals. I’d never have guessed in my life that I’d become a nutrition “expert” but somehow it happened, thanks peace corps training!


Julia talking about sexual health


Condom demonstration


Handing out certificates after the post-tests. I was especially proud of one older matrone, who was illiterate so I transcribed her test answers and she went from a  10,5/20 on the pre-test to a 18/20 on the post-test! In fact, the overall average improvement in test scores was nearly 70%, well over the goal of 50%, which I was pretty ecstatic about (that and calculating that out in an excel document) – so some learning did indeed go on! 🙂 I am excited to work more with the ASCs in doing health talks on these topics for nearby villages, passing on what was learned here.

UPDATE: Finally got a photo of the new beds in situ, with new rebar mosquito net-hanging structures that the health post installed as well. Here’s one, with Oumar Balde, a community member who was there to visit his sick wife, demonstrating how to properly tuck in a mosquito net.


THANK YOU again to everyone who made this possible!

Nightwatch and other anti-malaria fun

It’s that time of year again…BAMM!

No idea what I’m talking about? Why, Blog About Malaria Month of course! Malaria, in case you haven’t guessed already, is a serious issue in Senegal, and is the leading cause of death in children under 5 here in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the drier northern area of the country has nearly eradicated malaria, the south where I live still has a lot of this life-threatening  infectious disease going around thanks to the evil female anopheles mosquito. It is exciting to me that malaria could be eradicated completely from the globe within our lifetimes, even within the next few years!

There are a few different programs/projects that I as a Peace Corps volunteer help with at my site. You can read all about PCVs’ malaria work in Africa on Stomp Out Malaria. One thing I am just finishing up with is the “Nightwatch” or “Fanaan Jamm” curriculum at my middle school, developed by Malaria No More. Together with science teachers, I am teaching a 6-lesson curriculum on malaria prevention to the 4 classes of 4eme students (would be 8th graders in America). Despite plenty of teacher strikes and other scheduling difficulties, we got through it and  the students had impressive scores on their final quizzes! It was great to do together with the science teachers in their science classes because they are currently learning about blood and diseases of the blood so this fit right in nicely and I could ask the teachers to explain vectors and plasmodium in French (because I certainly couldn’t). The kids also enjoyed the final day’s activity which is to make “dream banners” to attach to their mosquito nets at home, to remind them that their mosquito net protects them and their dreams for the future.


Students read their dreams aloud to the class, lots of lofty dreams – many future potential presidents and ministers in my midst.


Students in the smallest 4eme class (the only one that would fit altogether in a photo – some of the other classes have upwards of 50 students!) with their certificates, which they signed, promising to sleep under their net every night and to help others do the same. Youssou N’Dour and Vivienne, two Senegalese rock stars, are also on there with their signatures.

Students with their dream banners

Today I also helped out with another net care and repair in another town  to show and help people repair any holes in their mosquito nets and also how to properly wash and dry them to ensure the insecticide in them stays there.

DSCN3167Yay sewing up nets!


Jessica, Alexia, me and Miranda, and ladies of the Bagadadji area repairing and caring for bed nets!

Another thing I am excited to get involved in coming up is the PECADOM  project, which involves community health workers working in areas far from a health post or any other health structure, doing home testing to find and treat malaria cases with rapid diagnostic tests and medicine without people having to travel to the health post, which is great for some of the more isolated villages in my area, where getting to the health post would involve a long ride on a donkey cart or on the back of someone’s bike, not a fun trip if you’re dealing with malaria symptoms.

In closing, mosquitoes suck! Kill them!

slide into the second year of service

Passed my one-year in country mark a few weeks back, and excited to begin my 2nd year of service…since I got back from America in January I’ve had quite a few work projects going on, but most importantly, I just found out today that my grant for the refurbishment of my health post and training of health workers has been fully funded!! So exciting – THANK YOU so much to everyone who donated! The funds will be arriving in a few weeks and I will then go with one of the health post staff to buy the beds, as well as finish planning the health worker training, which will probably occur in May.

In other news, back in January, I organized a one-day girls’ camp  together with another volunteer for each of our middle schools for 20 students, 9 of the scholarship students and 11 additional girls. I was really proud of this little program and think that the girls enjoyed it too. The themes for the camp were planning for the future and the importance of education, as well as sexual health, since girls dropping out of school due to early marriages and pregnancies is a big problem in our region. Our resident gender and development expert, Awa, who is also the cross-cultural trainer and homestay coordinator on Peace Corps staff, came down to Kolda to host the camps. She was amazing at helping the girls think about their potential  and how to navigate tricky situations with family, friends, and boys. We also invited the girls’ parents to participate in a session mediated by Awa, which led to some really interesting discussions such as a father saying “I don’t want my daughter to wear pants” and Awa replying “Pants are not the problem here”, to another father telling the other parents “I gave two of my daughters up for [early] marriage, and I regret it every day. I know that my daughter Fatou is very intelligent and will go on to study at university, and I will not marry her off.” At another volunteer’s site that Awa visited, during a similar discussion Awa asked the girls what their parents could do to better support them at school etc., and one girl answered, very bluntly but unfortunately true: “Don’t sell us for cows.” That sentence has really stuck with me.  Just a few weeks ago, a former middle school student in my town who had dropped out due to pregnancy gave birth at the health post. My host family’s compound is basically next door to the health post, so her piercing screams during labor were heard all afternoon, and served as a sad reminder of just how real the problem is.

Here’s a video of a new documentary that’s coming out called “Girl Rising” that really highlights the issue and here’s another of “Tall as the Baobob Tree” about a Pulaar girl who saves her 11-year-old little sister from an arranged marriage. 

I am excited to take on the role of Scholarship Coordinator for SeneGAD, to organize volunteers throughout Senegal in administering the scholarship program at their local middle schools. In my area this year, I plan to do the program at two additional middle schools as well as at my school. I also hope to start a way to track past and present scholarship winners to show school attendance v. drop-out rates as compared to overall for female students in each region.

Anyway, here’s some pics of the Dabo Girls’ Day Camp!

dabo girls camp 2

Awa play-acting a scenario with a student

dabo girls camp 4

Community health worker Wopa presented on reproductive health, condom use, and the different kinds of birth control available at the health post

dabo girls camp 5Group shot!

dabo girls camp 6Girls acting out a “sketch” scenario

dabo girls camp 7Awa mediating the discussion between the girls and their parents


Through the camp at my neighbor’s site we ended up meeting a former scholarship recipient from Dabo middle school from years back, Aissatou, now 27 (pictured here with her son Mohammed) who went on to finish high school and now works for ChildFund in Kolda, a organization which help rehabilitate malnourished children. A great anecdote to show the scholarship program works!

In other work project news…

Computers being installed at the middle school, with the middle school principal looking pretty happy about it!


Middle school kids at their new computer class, which I registered all the scholarship girls for as well


Here’s one of my fave bean sandwich ladies Djenabu, with some moringa powder at her sandwich stand – I’ve been trying to push for use of moringa powder in food in my town – brought a bunch of salt shakers back from America to package moringa powder I make from the tree in my backyard, and distribute it to the bean sandwiches ladies and elementary school snack sellers to us in their beans etc. It seems to be catching on a bit, although a lot of the moringa trees in people’s compounds are dead/dying because of excessive cutting (to use the leaves for leaf sauce, which, when boiled do not retain much of their vitamin content)- so am also trying to educate about proper tree care and also when seeds come in, think I will also do some trainings on how to make intensive beds that can be harvested regularly.


The school for the deaf in my town recently dug a new well which I checked in on periodically since myself and another volunteer want to help them build a garden there – here’s one of the workers being lowered into the well to manually dig it out – it’s a long process!


And here’s all the students and teachers rounded up for a photo with the finished well, which I helped the school director e-mail to the French donor who had helped fund it – you may be able to see some of the kids have little signs that say “Merci Patric”, the donor’s name

DSC03121 Here’s a crazy bug I found on my moringa tree flowers, like a white praying mantis with crazy design on its back



Me and my host brother/nephew Alassane hanging out outside my hut

DSC03137Mango flowers  which I tried to arrange ikebana-like in my hut – my old ikebana sensei would be proud I think!


I’ve been making a lot of friendship bracelets in my free time (thanks for the embroidery thread, mom!)  Here’s my host brother Moussa working on one – he was pretty good at it!


Bracelets I made for me and my host mom

DSC03153George vs. the giant cricket




Some mango leaf creations Alassane  made for me for the front of my hut

DSC03170Teaching how to make cereamine, a nutritional porridge for babies made form local ingredients, to a women’s group with Katie

DSC03173Cooking up some cereamine

DSC03174Babies love cereamine – proof!

DSC03181George Michael and friends playing in the hay


DSC03189Me and George being cute

DSC03192Some moringa-seasoned french fries that I made for my neighbors, very delicious


A weird but pretty plant growing in my backyard


In February, after our all-volunteer conference in Thies, Peace Corps volunteers participated in WAIST (West African  International Softball Tournament) which was more about the dressing up in costume and eating hamburgers and drinking beer than the softball, but was a very fun gathering – each region of Senegal competed as a team, Kolda’s theme was superheroes and mega-villains


Captain Planet and Wonderwoman in the outfield



Me as Rainbow Brite

DSC03226Quailman at bat

DSC03232One of the best parts of the tournament was that Dakar area ex-pat families invite volunteers to stay with them for the weekend. I lucked out at a house with not only a pool but also a bunny (and a very nice family too)

DSC03230Erandy with the bunny

DSC03290Chips I found at a random gas station on the way back – thyme-roasted chicken flavor, yum!


The secretary at my middle school and his new teacher schedule. As you can imagine if you know me well, I was bored one day and started making this for him. He’s so nice and helpful when I need stuff, so figured I’d return the favor! Next up: teaching him to use excel on his new office computer.

DSC03299One day a lady came around to our compound selling lettuce and I was inspired to make a giant salad with homemade dressing for my family for dinner. Salad is kind of considered rich people food and my family never makes it so I was happy that they liked it!

DSC03301Mother and baby at a vaccination day in a neighboring village


Me helping the nurse record vaccinations


Babies getting vaccinated

DSC03311A poster I made at the health post of community members with their bed nets “I sleep under my bed net, DO YOU?”

DSC03312I started an HIV prevention curriculum at the high school in my town as part of their English classes – here’s one of the students Kamiya, standing in front of his “mind map” of future plans – he wants to be the minister of foreign affairs. He also has a great t-shirt, reminiscent of the wedding scene in Romeo + Juliet


Me teaching about malaria prevention with a women’s group in a nearby village, talking about bed nets using visual aids provided by NetWorks. Kolda will do another universal coverage bed net distribution later this year so am excited to help with that.


Sanji, the community health worker, helping to demonstrate how to make neem cream (mosquito repellent)

DSC03321Ladies making neem cream


Sharon and I giving a talk on nutrition to women in Kandiator village with the amazing local community health worker Sambel and a WorldVision rep as well. Another volunteer came up with a way to explain the food groups as part of a women’s complet – the wrap skirt being the grains/carbohydrates, the shirt being the protein, the head wrap the fruit and vegetables, and your jewelry is the oil and sugar(as in, nice but not necessary), which I thought was a cool  and easy-to-understand concept so I made a visual aid for it, which was pretty well-received.


Kids from my compound and neighborhood doing homework by the outdoor lamp after dinner.


I started a “Nightwatch” curriculum developed by Malaria No More at my middle school, teaching about malaria to 4eme students, here is one of the teachers I work with talking about vectors and plasmodium.


Girls showing how to correctly set up a bed net in their Nightwatch class


Ladies sifting millet couscous in my compound


Bed net mural we painted at Christine’s village’s health post, with Chelsea, Cibyl, Christine and Julia

DSC03363The edge of Kandiator village


On a day when I visited Kandiator to help the community health worker with their monthly baby weighing, I found out his daughter was getting married and having the ‘going away’ party at her compound, so I offered to take pictures since they offered me yummy food. The bride-to-be, Kajatu, is standing in the middle with the patterned complet


Kajatu with her dad, moms, and other family members, and her “baggage” of about 20 plastic buckets and various cooking bowls that she will bring to her new husband’s compound


When I got back from America in January I discovered one of our huts missing, and in its place a pile of bricks – they had finally started building the batiment they had been talking about for so long! Here’s its progression:


Most recent look…


DSC03371Typical alham (public transport mini-bus)’s chaffeur photo collage – marabouts, wrestlers, soccer players, and a girl cousin

Improve community health in Senegal!!

I have applied for a Peace Corps Partnership Program grant to refurbish my health post and provide training for the existing health workers in my area, and I would greatly appreciate your help in making this project a reality!

The Dabo Health Post serves over 10,000 people in my town and surrounding villages, and about 800 clients are seen on average each month. The health post consists of three buildings with eleven rooms, with just eleven beds for patients. Overcrowding is a frequent problem, especially during the rainy season when malaria cases increase drastically, and the number of visitors increases by nearly double that of the dry season. When there are not enough beds to accommodate overnight patients, the health post staff sometimes ask neighboring families (like mine) to take in the patients for the night, or they have patients share beds. With the addition of six new beds through this grant project, the health post will be able to accommodate that many more patients. With only 11 beds now, this would be a 55% increase! The beds will be housed in two rooms of the health post that are not currently used for patients.

Dabo Health Post

Dabo Health Post

An existing patient accommodation room

An existing patient accommodation room

One of the rooms that will house the new beds, and Demba, who is training to be a pharmacist

One of the rooms that will house the new beds, and Demba, who is training to be a pharmacist

As part of this same project, local health workers will be given a one-day training on preventative health topics identified by the health post staff as the most pressing local issues- namely malaria, malnutrition, and HIV/AIDs. The 19 community health workers  in the area, that work at both the health post and health huts in the surrounding villages, receive some training by health post staff before they start working, usually one-to-two weeks-long, as well as supplementary trainings provided by NGOs when available. This training would supplement their education as a “refresher” course for some, and as new information to others, and overall will build their capacity to to pre-screen community members and direct them to the health post for consultation and/or treatment as needed, as well as teach healthy behaviors to prevent illness, thereby improving the overall health of the community.

Kama, a matron for the health post

Kama, a midwife for the health post

dabo girls camp 4

Wopa, a community health worker, teaching girls about sexual health

Samba, a volunteer health worker for a nearby village, and Sadu, who works at the health post in Dabo

Samba, a health worker for a nearby village, and Sadu, an assistant nurse at the health post in Dabo

Both aspects of this project will be “small” changes that will affect the overall health structure of my community in a very big way! Lack of knowledge of preventative health was identified by community members  as one of the biggest weaknesses of Dabo during my community assessment, and improvements to the health post structure was identified as one of the biggest opportunities for improvement in the community.

The total needed for this project is just over US$600, and any amount would help! The local health committee is contributing a 25% of the funds for this project (about $200).

Update:  THANK YOU!!! This project has been fully funded!!