Success Stories

Meeting Girls' Educational Needs in Benin | Ghana | Guinea | Liberia | Mali | Mauritania | Nigeria | Senegal

Benin: Bringing Communities Together to Support Children

The residents of Nikki village in northeast Benin face many problems. The community has experienced an increased number of undesired and at-risk pregnancies, medical complications from abortions, rising divorce rates, poor student grades, and emerging complaints from parents about their children's behavior. In response to these challenges, the people of Nikki decided to organize a festival to encourage parents and residents to take a more active role in the lives and successes of their children.

Since 2004, AGSP has been active throughout Benin, providing nearly 8,000 scholarships to primary school girls and boys in areas where financial hardship is most pronounced.

The Nikki Family Festival
In May 2009, with support from the USAID-funded Ambassadors' Girls' Scholarship Program (AGSP), the Nikki Family Festival brought the citizens of Nikki together to discuss the ongoing problems in their community and develop potential solutions to address them. Participants from the village assembled early in the morning on the day of the festival. Following welcoming speeches and sketches delivered by school children—including AGSP scholars—the mood of the participants was upbeat. Under a hot midday sun, special guest speaker Dr. Cyriaque stood to speak. Highly regarded for his expertise and service as the chief doctor at Nikki Regional Hospital, he began his speech with data gathered from recent hospital admissions.

"In the last three years, of all the cases of dangerous abortions due to complications, like perforated uterus, 86% were school girls," he said. The crowd grew very quiet. "And between 65-70% of those patients who were treated for risky pregnancies were, again, female students simply too young to be carrying children of their own." The statistics were sobering, and the message was clear: School attendance alone is not sufficient to keep girls from experiencing unwanted pregnancy and its associated risks.

Over four consecutive days, more than 3,000 participants including parents, students, journalists, and professionals watched documentary films, attended lectures, and participated in group discussions about the greatest threats to the welfare of Nikki's youth: Uninformed decisionmaking, risky behavior, and parental indifference toward school success. The major themes tackled during the festival were HIV & AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, quality education, child behavior, and the timing of marriage.

AGSP student being interviewed at the festival.
The Nikki Family Festival was a tremendous success. Participants young and old expressed their appreciation for its timeliness and inspirational impact. Many of those who attended took away important lessons with plans to incorporate them into their daily lives.

"The two documentary films shown during the festival truly made me discover things that will make me want to abstain from unprotected sexual activities," said 16-year-old Zakari Baké Doué, a student at Nikki Middle School.

The statistics that Dr. Cyriaque cited during his speech were mentioned repeatedly by participants as being among the most impactful of all the information given. As a result of this data, and the activities and resources at the festival, the residents of Nikki are committed to doing everything they can to maintain the momentum generated during the event.

"The statistics provided by Dr. Cyriaque on pregnancies and risky abortions had me thinking really hard," said Fatiou Dossou, Tchikandou School principal. "I took notes and intend to use them to raise awareness among my students and their parents."

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Picture of Asonah Nma. “I like school a lot and want to become a nurse,” says Asonah, an AGSP scholar in Ghana.

Asonah Nma is a second grade student at the Vea Primary School in the Bongo District in Ghana. When she was younger, Asonah was stricken with polio which left her handicapped. Her father is a farmer and her mother, a trader, occupations which are held by the majority of people in this part of the country. Bongo District is one of the most deprived districts in Ghana sharing its borders with Burkina Faso in the north. Asonah's family is very poor and with four other siblings in the family, there isn't much money to spare. With annual family incomes of less than $40 and a literacy rate of 30%, children here who find themselves able to attend school are fortunate.

Asonah is one of these fortunate girls. Chosen to be an AGSP scholar through a transparent, participatory process carried out in her community, Asonah is very excited to be part of the program. “I like school a lot and want to become a nurse. For this, I have to work very hard. I was given a bag, pencils, books, uniforms, and a bicycle which my brother rides me to school on. These things encourage me to come to school every day,” says Asonah. The Headmaster of Asonah's school, Mr. Patrick Ababisa is very happy that the AGSP is implemented in his school. “Without this support, some of the girls would have left school. Bongo district is much in need,” says Mr. Ababisa.

The Ambassadors' Girls' Scholarship Program (AGSP) began in Ghana in January 2005 and with it's Ghana Implementing Partners, The Ark Foundation, ISODEC, School for Life, and Red Cross Ghana has provided nearly 15,000 scholarships for 4000 children (4,076 girls and 923 boys) in 261 schools. With a goal of retaining girls in school, each scholarship covers essential items that a girl in either primary or junior secondary school would need to be able to attend school for each academic year. These include school uniforms, books, school supplies, shoes, food for school lunches, and in some cases, bicycles. A program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the AGSP aims to support girls through at least four years of their education. AGSP scholars are selected by a committee consisting of traditional leaders, district health and education personnel, NGO staff, and other community leaders who review applications and interview girls from the community along with their parents/guardians.

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Mariama Barry was born in 1991 in Doumet–Centre, Mamou, in a family of seven children, of which 3 girls. She and two of her brothers are the only children in school. Mariama was born with a birth defect at the left leg. She has to walk with a stick.

Mariama started school late, when she was 10, in 2001 because her parents could not afford to pay for all their children. Due to her physical disability, her parents did not think it was necessary to enroll her in school. Yet, thanks to intense sensitization by the PTA and the Local Girls' Education Alliance, her father accepted to enroll her in school.

In 2005, while she was in 4th grade, her father decided to withdraw her from school because he could no longer afford to pay the school fees. Luckily, because she met the AGSP selection criteria, The PTA and Local Alliance convinced her father to let her remain in school. So in 2006–2007, she became an AGSP beneficiary.

Mariama's family was very relieved to not have to pay school fees for her anymore and Mariama herself gained more self–esteem and self–confidence. Because she was a bright student, the material support AGSP provided her was all she needed to perform well in school. She was part of a study group where she held leadership roles. At the end of the third term, she was also ranked 8th out of 63 students in her class with a grade average of 7.5 out of 10. She was also the 2nd best girl in her class. She has become a role model for her classmates and her friends. Her hope is that the AGSP support allows her to complete her studies.

AGSP scholarships represent a great motivation for beneficiaries whose school performance is boosted. The scholarships reduces parents burden for enrolling their children, and communities get involved in their children's schooling.

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Picture of Deborah Bondo “I count myself blessed. I now feel joy because I can continue my schooling uninterrupted,” says Deborah, who is able to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse thanks to the AGSP.

Deborah Bondo is an 11-year-old student living in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. Just as she was about to start primary school, Deborah's father died. “My mother was left alone to care for seven children, but this didn’t stop my mother from sending me to school,” she says. Deborah began school, but there were many challenges; one month she would be in school while the next she would be driven out of school because her mother could not pay her school fees.

During the 2004-2005 school year, the Ambassadors' Girls' Scholarship Program (AGSP) began working with the Maggie Lampkins Institute, a school in Deborah's community. She was one of the fortunate girls selected as a scholarship recipient by the AGSP. Scholars are selected by the community through a systematic process for identifying girls most in need.

Deborah's school fees and school supplies, such as books and pens, are supplied by the project. “I count myself blessed. I now feel joy because I can continue my schooling uninterrupted,” she says. The Ambassadors' Girls' Scholarship Program is supporting Deborah's mother's desire to educate her daughter. This ambition is not often seen in mothers who have lost their husband’s financial support. Deborah's mother’s dream of having an educated daughter and Deborah’s dream of becoming a nurse is supported by the AGSP, which is being implemented by the Children Assistance Program in Liberia with support from World Education and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Deborah is now in the sixth grade and doing well in her classes. “I am very proud of Deborah for all her hard work,” says Deborah’s teacher.

Speaking with dedication and confidence, Deborah says, “When I become a nurse I will devote my time to saving the lives of mothers and fathers so I can save other children from the experience I had when I started schooling.”

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Photo of Badji Traoré “I knew that as a beneficiary, I would receive all the materials necessary to improve my studying conditions,” says Badji, an AGSP scholar.

Before the Ambassadors' Girls' Scholarship Program (AGSP), 11-year-old Badji Traoré was following in the footsteps of her older sister. Badji explains, “My older sister went to school through sixth grade, but then dropped out because she was not encouraged by our parents.” After the fourth grade, Badji dropped out of school because she had too many responsibilities at home which left her with little time to study. She would often help her mom sell small condiments door-to-door or at the market. Badji did the laundry and cooked, which sometimes meant she had to go to the fields to look for firewood. At the time Badji only had two textbooks at home — reading and math — which she shared with her brother. Living in a rural village without electricity meant that Badji had to go to a friend’s house to study because her family only owned one lamp for everyone’s use.

Today, Badji is in the sixth grade at the Sidi Mahmoud School in Timbuktu, Mali. This is her second year as an AGSP scholar. Badji's school was one of 118 schools in Mali selected by the community to participate in the AGSP. The program has provided her with books, notebooks, school uniforms, geometry supplies, pens, a slate, and a school bag. She also participates in remedial classes and study groups designed specifically for AGSP scholars. When asked how she feels about the AGSP, Badji says, “When I learned that I was at a school benefiting from the AGSP, I was very happy. I knew that as a beneficiary, I would receive all the materials necessary to improve my study conditions.”

She continues, “It is because of the scholarship that I was one of the top three students in my class both last year and this year.” At home, Badji now has more time to study because her mother was sensitized by AGSP’s partner NGO staff on the importance of balancing chores and school work. Local women who have completed their schooling have visited Badji’s school to encourage the girls to study and to stay in school. Badji says, “Both in school and at home, people appreciate me because they see the efforts I put into school. I will take the seventh grade entrance exam at the end of this school year. I will do all I can to pass the exam because staying in school is my dream. When I grow up, I want to become a doctor so that I can save many people's lives.”

To date, over 14,000 scholarships have been awarded to girls throughout Northern Mali

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In Mauritania, World Education partners with the Peace Corps to support 22 (up from 15) Girls' Mentoring Centers (GMCs). These centers provide everything from private academic tutoring and computer lessons to art classes and sports, health and life skills seminars. Members of the GMCs are students from each regional high school and various middle schools, chosen according to motivation and participation, achievement in school and entrance exams. Peace Corps volunteers, along with local partners, manage the centers. Motivated, educated local women also participate in center activities in order to mentor the girls and provide positive role models. The centers, along with other workshops and conferences, promote and facilitate girls' academic success and their attendance in school. Workshops are a good way for the girls to hone their skills and gain greater self–confidence, as noted by one Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) who conducted presentations of lessons by the girls. In that PCVs are able to involve religious leaders is an added value to the activity, as reported by the PCV in charge of the sessions:

The Peace Corps Volunteer noted a drastic improvement in the presentation of lessons by the GMC members this year. Last year during a similar exchange, the girls presented all the lessons within 30 minutes, reading directly from their notes. This year, the presenters were well prepared with engaging information, activities and skits. The young girls were attentive, actively participating, and taking notes. The set of lessons lasted all day and they were actually unable to complete all the planned activities.

The PCV's account below describes the impact of the session:

Everyone had fun and I heard reports back from community members who had a niece or cousin that participated and said that the young girls came home talking about the day and were very happy. Some girls even asked if this was something they could do every weekend; I said if they continue on to Boghé (for middle school) then there are many groups and activities that they can participate in like this one.

We were excited about the idea of an Imam attending and speaking at the workshop. Ousmane Sow has worked with Peace Corps in the past and is familiar with this type of event. Unfortunately, he fell ill and sent his brother (also an imam) in his place. Oumar was not given an adequate explanation of our expectations. Instead of giving a talk on Islam's view of girls' education, he simply introduced himself and spoke briefly about his personal views. Although he did not formally address the topic, his presence and participation were a support and guide to the mentors, especially those from his community, Kobenni.

AGSP scholarships represent a great motivation for beneficiaries whose school performance is boosted. The scholarships reduces parents burden for enrolling their children, and communities get involved in their children's schooling.

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Azeezat Oyedokun is from a family of five (5) made up of the mother and four (4) daughters. Mr. Oyedokun abandoned his family because his wife had only daughters. Azeezat would not have gone beyond primary school but for AGSP. Her mother had no life skill and was in a state of depression when her daughter was given the scholarship in 2005. After the award of the scholarship Mrs. Oyedokun was encouraged to take on such odd jobs as laundry and house cleaning in some identified FAWE members' homes. As soon as she started getting some income, her self–esteem became boosted and this infected her daughters. At the end of 2006/2007 academic year, Azeezat was first (1st) in her class (basic 8) and has promised to clear her Junior School Certificate Examination. Her mother has been transformed into a confident woman looking forward to a brighter tomorrow. The other three daughters she had wanted to give out to people as house maids still live with her and have not missed school for one day.

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Picture of Mansata Balde “I want to be the president of Senegal,” says Mansata, who is able to continue pursuing her education thanks to AGSP.

When asked about what challenges she and her classmates face in getting an education, 16-year-old Mansata Balde speaks of poverty and early marriage. “I have friends who have already been married off. Their parents can't afford to send them to school and when the opportunity for marriage comes up, parents often think that it is the best option,” she says. As her uncle, Bokar Balde, explains, “If your child has a scholarship, you, as a parent, have no economic barriers to educating them. If they don’t have a scholarship, you have to budget for their school supplies and often you don’t have enough to support them adequately. That is when marriage, in the father's eyes, becomes a better option.”

Mansata has been an Ambassadors' Girls' Scholarship recipient for 3 years and is currently in ninth grade in the town of Bagadadji in the Kolda region of Senegal. Mansata lives at home with her extended family, including her parents, uncles, aunts, siblings, and cousins. In addition to helping with household chores, Mansata helps her younger siblings review their homework daily. Even before she was an AGSP scholar, Mansata helped her siblings so that they too could be successful in school.

The most important part of the scholarship package, according to Mansata, is the textbooks. Books are expensive in Senegal and the AGSP provides scholars with books on math, history, geography, science, physics, English, and even dictionaries. When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Mansata says “I want to be the president of Senegal.” She goes on to say that, “If you are a scholar, you are independent. You can learn anything you would like to learn, you can do any school exercises you would like to do. You can know things that your parents never knew.” Just like Mansata, there are currently 420 other girls in the Kolda region and more than 1,200 additional girls in Senegal who will continue to study and have more opportunities to avoid early marriage in large part due to the support they are receiving from the AGSP.

World Education, in partnership with Organization for Training and Support to Development (OFAD), has been implementing the AGSP in Kolda. Since the program's inception, over 1000 scholarships have been distributed in the region. This support has provided the girls with much needed scholastic supplies such as books, school fees, and meals. The AGSP also supports extra classes for scholars, providing them with academic assistance outside the regular school day.

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