From 2011-2012, I lived in a small town called Joal in Senegal. I worked as an English teacher in a middle school, but it soon became apparent that there were many people that didn’t go to school at all, notably girls. This was sometimes because of tradition. Our neighbour, a shop owner who originally came from a village told us that not one woman in his family had ever gone to school and he didn’t see why it should change. He sent his children to Daaras where they learned the Qur’an. However, when I mentioned to him that my PT partner, Julia and I had plans to set up a girls’ club, he allowed his two daughters to join. We recruited other girls from the neighbourhood, some who had dropped out of school due to pregnancy or marriage and others who had always done the housework. We initially had plans to teach them basic French and help them learn technical skills so that they could find work, like cooking and sewing. Though we soon realised that they couldn’t read or write, so that, along with addition and subtraction skills, became the first thing we worked on. We also provided them with exercise books where they decorated the cover page with drawings and learned to write their names. Now that my partner and I are back in the UK and at university, the project is still continuing with the new volunteers, as well as a Peace Corps volunteer we met in Senegal and our host mother, Aicha. Unlike many other women in Senegal, Aicha works outside the home as a primary school teacher. She was really keen to help us with this project by finding girls to come to lessons and came up with ideas of things to teach them. We called the girls’ club, ‘Fas Jom’ which is Wolof and roughly translates for empowerment, as our aim is to give these girls strength, confidence and knowledge with the chance of an education that they would not have otherwise received.
Ciara Cohen-Ennis was a volunteer in Joal, Senegal. The video was made by Peace Corps volunteers with whom Ciara and her partner Julia helped set up the girls club. Ciara is now studying English and Drama at Birmingham University.