AGSP/Sierra Leone At a Glance:
During Year 6 of AGSP, World Education continued work with its five partners, Christian Extension Services (CES), Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), Forum for African Women Educationalists Sierra Leone (FAWESL), Community Empowerment for Rural Development (CEFORD), and Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) in Sierra Leone. In Year 6, World Education and the NGOs provided 3,013 scholarships to 1,989 girls and 1024 boys, in 129 schools (see Table 1).
Table 1. AGSP Scholars in Sierra Leone in Year Six
To date 21,829 scholarships have been distributed to 18,423 girls and 3,406 boys (see Table 2). This year, no new scholars were selected so as to focus on achieving desired outcomes and responsibly completing the remaining two years of the program with only current scholars.
In previous years however, scholars were selected through a transparent process which increases accountability and inclusiveness. The girls were chosen by selection committees at the local level (mainly at the chiefdom level in each district) made up of head teachers, district paramount chief and/or village chief, women’s leader, youth leader, representatives Ministry of Education and/or Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Inspector of Schools, and religious leaders. The composition differs from district-to-district with committee membership typically ranging from 6-12 persons.
The scholarships are comprised of uniforms, tuition, study light (and batteries), schoolbags, school supplies, raincoats, textbooks, and shoes and socks. Distribution activities took place across all districts with high levels of community participation. Distribution of scholarships amongst the various NGO partners for this academic year is indicated in the table below.
Table 2. AGSP Scholarship Distribution in Senegal
Mentors in Sierra Leone are volunteers who are social workers, development practitioners, teachers, nurses, HIV/AIDS specialists, and counseling officers. Mentors, for the most part have been recruited by our NGO partners to work with AGSP scholars and other students. The mentors have been actively monitoring the girls’ academic work, they organize home visits, and help organize and supervise study groups both at the school and in the girls’ homes. Mentors also work with the NGOs to conduct HIV awareness programs and discussions for the students as well as talks on other health issues, child rights and leadership training for communities. We expect the mentoring activities in Sierra Leone to build the scholars’ self-esteem improve their academic performance and provide them with essential life skills.
Mentoring activities are designed to provide the scholarship recipients with role models, access to sound advice and someone to share ideas with about the future. The mentors provide the students with academic help and are resources for other questions related to issues such as nutrition, adolescent reproductive health (including preventing unwanted pregnancies and the spread of HIV/AIDS), environmental issues, and future opportunities for girls who wish to continue their education, such as technical or trade education, attending university or professional schools.
This year, all mentors will undergo training in the use of the AGSP Mentoring Guide to enhance their mentoring sessions in schools, homes, and communities. Some partners in Sierra Leone report that mentoring has almost become a common practice in project communities, particularly the routine home visits made by mentors. Over the years as a result of the sustained mentoring activities, strong relationships have been built between and among parents and mentors. Even without funding, mentors continue visiting and supporting parents/children through home discussions and during night studies.
Over the past five years NGO CEFORD has continued to conduct adult literacy sessions twice a week in the targeted communities. The intervention has helped develop the reading and writing skills of both parents and children, building their confidence and providing opportunity for the effective use of resources provided by AGSP. The intervention has resulted in the creation of six functional learning corners in the project communities. Though in its preliminary stage, it is hoped that learning corners will continue to increase as community members become more interested in and committed to educating their children and themselves.
Communities are very involved in all stages of the AGSP. Parents were involved in verification exercises and in choosing what other materials apart from textbooks and school uniforms their children might need to enhance their schooling. Community meetings continue to form part of NGO strategies to enhance the participation and involvement of the project communities.
Through monitoring visits, community members were briefed on the duration of the AGSP program and the need to find alternate means of sustaining the pupils in school. Parents pledged their commitment to continue sending their daughters to school even when the scholarship period would have ended. They also helped in monitoring the use of scholarship items by recipients. In some districts, books collected from recipients were as agreed upon by community members to be redistributed to other needy students or put in school libraries.
Other ways in which communities have been involved in the program include the study groups and evening studies which have become increasingly popular among students, mentors, parents and teachers. Study sessions are supervised by mentors, parents and teachers. Parents’ involvement and participation in the project activities have increased their confidence and willingness to visit schools and enquire about their children’s progress and encourage and make time and space for their children to study at home. Contrary to past practices, the education of youth has become an increasing priority amongst the community.
In addition, to supplement the nutritional value and sustenance of school meals concerned parents have mobilized themselves and cultivated backyard gardens close to the schools.
Each AGSP year the NGOs conducted workshops that are open to the wider community on topics related to girls education, children’s rights and health and HIV/AIDS issues. An example of the impact of this successful strategy has been in the support of a Chief who had previously supported the early marriage of girls. The Chief who has had many wives and over a dozen daughters had been in the habit of giving up his 15 and 16 year old daughters for marriage so he could benefit from the dowry associated with the union. After participating in a FAWE-SL sensitization workshops and then loosing two of his young daughters in child-birth he came to understand the dangers of inadequate education and premature marriage, and has since become a staunch supporter of FAWE-SL and AGSP. The Chief now actively discourages community members and other Chiefs from marrying their young girls until they are older and have at least had a chance to complete secondary school.
In a small classroom in Segbweme, Sierra Leone, a powerful voice reverberates off the concrete walls leading a call-and-response song as a chorus of young voices echoes. The energy and joy in the room is palpable. Suzie Jajua sits surrounded by her mentees, a group of girls she is entrusted with inspiring towards higher learning. As their young voices join as one to rejoice, Suzie smiles, silently celebrating her success over the years as a teacher, mentor, surrogate mother, and friend to her flock of scholars.
As a qualified teacher with many years of experience, Suzie felt committed to raising the standard of living for women in her area. She was troubled by the low literacy rates and the early sexuality of girls in her community. When USAID’s Ambassadors’ Girls’ Scholarship Program became active in this area, Suzie was an obvious choice for the mentoring program; she was already a well-respected teacher at the school. Suzie was the first community member to volunteer her services as a mentor through the AGSP program. Her hope was that she would be able to encourage the girls to take a genuine interest in their education. Her efforts have clearly made a lasting change for the better.
Suzie brings AGSP scholarship recipients together for group mentoring sessions, regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds. Under her leadership, the girls listen to lectures and discuss other important issues related to relationships, communication and goals, as well as health topics such as HIV/AIDS, STIs. Suzie also makes sure that they have plenty of time to share their stories, sing songs and play games. Their meetings have helped to create a strong community of support on which the students can rely. The girls testify that the meetings have allowed them to form relationships with girls they would not otherwise have known. These bonds encourage the students to look out for one another and strive to excel academically. The group sessions have given the scholars a sense of responsibility to both themselves and each other. The community Suzie has helped to create through the AGSP mentoring program is central to keeping the students motivated and inspired. Her mentees say that Suzie’s efforts have made them feel like they belong to one big family.
Suzie strongly believes that it is important to make sure that the home lives of the students support their pursuits of education. Fortunately, Suzie lives in the same neighborhood as many of her mentees, allowing her the time to routinely visit them in their homes. Many of the girls live with guardians rather than birth parents. Suzie reduces potential stress on relationships in these situations by acting as a mediator and advising the guardians through issues that are often difficult for them to navigate. She also teaches her mentees communication skills that help them to better express themselves when speaking with their elders both at home and at school. Suzie helps the girls’ families to understand the importance of decreasing the girls’ workload so that they have more time to focus on their studies. This advice helps the scholars succeed more consistently.
Suzie takes the initiative to educate her mentees on aspects of women’s health often regarded as taboo. These sensitization sessions have proved essential in helping the girls maintain healthy lifestyles. Not far from the center of town there is an army barracks that poses a threat to the girls in terms of HIV/AIDS as well as a host of other issues. Suzie’s knowledge and guidance helps the girls to advocate and stand up for themselves.
One of Suzie’s mentees testifies that with the advice she gets from Suzie, she has been able to take proper care of all the items provided to her by AGSP. Furthermore, the mentee feels motivated to come to school regularly and she now appreciates the value of education. This scholarship has assisted her in becoming one of the leading students in her school. She listens keenly to talks on HIV/AIDS and feels comfortable sharing with others her knowledge about the disease and how to prevent it. Like her peers, she heartily appreciates the efforts of her mentor and the AGSP donors for the scholarship itself.
Suzie’s participation with AGSP has made the program more effective throughout the community. The community concurs that Suzie’s mentees have become more confident and self-aware since the inception of the mentoring program. The confidence and commitment to education that Suzie’s mentees exude have made them role models for AGSP scholars and non-AGSP scholars alike. Thanks to mentors like Suzie Jajua, AGSP has helped to educate many under-privileged children and set in motion a vehicle for positive social change.
Ambassabors' Girls' Scholarship Program (AGSP) is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development