Facts about ELCA work in Senegal
It's a Wednesday afternoon in the village of Keur Massar, outside Yeumbeul, Senegal. Most women are busy with household chores -- watching children, sweeping the yard, or preparing supper.
In a large classroom at the local elementary school, 18 women are slowly gathering. Some are chatting quietly in small groups and others are simply sitting, waiting. One woman walks in a few minutes late with a sleeping baby strapped to her back and two timid toddlers holding her hands. The woman and her children take a seat towards the back of the room -- the front seats have all been taken.
Women from Keur Massar put aside their household duties for the afternoon in order to learn to read and write in Wolof. Many of the women have never before attended school.
Despite the darkness of the room, it's a colorful sight. Dressed in bright patterns and embroidered fabric, the women seem to have gathered for a social occasion. But something gives their purpose away -- they each hold notebooks and pencils.
Three times a week, for two hours at a time, these women come together to learn how to write and read their mother tongue, to add and subtract, to keep basic accounting books, and to care for their own bodies and their children's.
And, to hear from these women, book knowledge is not all they are learning.
"From being in this class, I feel I can control my life better. I understand more and I think more clearly," said Umi Daffé, a 40-year-old mother of five and a student in the Keur Massar class.
Daffé's group is just one of 77 such literacy classes operated since 1997 through the ELCA-supported Galle Nanondiral Community Center in Yeumbeul, near the capital city of Dakar.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the Center has made a big difference in many lives in Yeumbuel. Its program, dubbed "Programme d'Alphabetisation, Priorite Femmes" (Literacy Program, Priority on Women), has included over 2,600 students, 95 percent of whom are women, with classes in Pulaar and Wolof, said Peter Hanson, an ELCA missionary and the former director of Galle Nanondiral.
The decade-long national program, which targets illiterate women between the ages of 15 and 39, was originally funded by World Bank matching funds as well as by the ELCA's World Hunger Funds and a grant from Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), Hanson said. Since 2005, the Galle Nanondiral's literacy programs have been funded exclusively by ELCA World Hunger Funds and CRWRC.
But despite this diverse funding, it is the Center that holds "operator" status, a job that includes everything from organizing the location of classes to hiring teachers.
"This program has been a great success for us on a number of levels," Hanson said. "In the past 10 years over 2,500 women have become literate in their own language. Galle has also begun to reach a different audience than was being served with our library, sewing classes, or sports programs. And finally, this was our first venture begun by our being an operator of an out-funded program. We have been able to expand our ministry beyond the limitations of our own space and funding."
Awa Cissé, who has served for seven years as a supervisor for Wolof classes and now oversees the women's micro-finance program for the Community Center, said the program attracts women from a variety of different educational backgrounds.
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"In a few cases the women are learning to do in their own language what they can now only do in French, but in many cases the women have never been to school at all," Cisse said.
In addition to the literacy, math and health education, the classes serve yet another purpose. Each class is given a small amount of cash at the beginning of the program with which they can do anything they want.
Some choose simply to divide it equally and purchase things they need. Most, however, agree to use the money to invest in a small business that the group organizes themselves, such as selling small bags of bouillon, sugar, dish soap or oil. Many groups also use the money as a bank, in which class members are able to borrow money and pay it back slowly with interest.
"Some groups are able to make a good business that continues after the classes stop," said Amadou Diol, another supervisor for the program. "The hope is that this is an initiative program that will continue even after the funding ends."
Several miles down the road from the Keur Massar village class, another class is meeting inside a member's home.
On this particular day, the group leader, Helene Diouf, is teaching her students how to do simple math problems.
This program has been a great success for us on a number of levels . . . In the past 10 years over 2,500 women have become literate in their own language.
"These three here are my best students. They never miss a class," Diouf says proudly, pointing to three 20-something women sitting on the colorful mat covering the cement floor.
"There are 27 on the roll, but only 15 come regularly," Diouf explains. "It's because they can't get away from home. They have too much work to do. It's not that they don't want to come."
Education for women has never been a priority in Senegal. Indeed, neither is it yet a priority. Current statistics show that only about 28 percent of Senegalese women are literate; this compares to 47 percent of the men. These statistics quickly come to life when the women participants tell their stories.
Rokhaya Aw, the group leader for the Keur Massar class, said she quit school when she was 13. "I left because it was not important for me, for any woman, to continue. I was needed at home," she said.
"I never had the chance to go to school," Daffé said "It was never an issue, never a question."
And this is exactly what the ELCA hopes to change.
Adapted from the ELCA's Global Mission stories, originally published in 2003.Since the print ad was created, the women from Keur Massar have reached their literacy goals. They still meet regularly for other activities, including micro-credit and income-generating activities. Together, they have formed the Galle Nanondiral Women's Federation. The TV ad picks up this thread of their story.