Benin is a tiny resource-poor country. It has a literacy rate of less than 50%, and literacy among women is less than 25%. Even where there are means, girls often remain uneducated, while their brothers and sons go to school. They marry early and die young. Women are just now beginning to enter the professional workforce, but are still often confronted by discrimination and even harassment.
Because professional women are so rare, those who succeeded in the business world feel an obligation and need to encourage younger women (girls) to continue their education beyond that of the 9th grade, and continue onto high school, and even university. As a Peace Corps volunteer, this year I have the privilege of coordinating an internship program with a network of professional women who want to mentor and support girls who seek professional careers, but face grave
difficulties at home. The program is called Etoile Apprentissage.
This internship program targets urban girls going into (the rough equivalent of) the 11th grade. The girls range in age from 16 to 25. They are from Cotonou’s most disadvantaged families, but demonstrate continued scholastic excellence and dedication to continuing education, despite the difficulty of paying theirschool fees each year.
Each girl is paired with a professional woman in her chosen field. Four days a week, the girls will intern with their mentors in a structured setting. The girls will not only be shadowing, but also
interviewing both men and women in their offices, making contacts in the professional world, and gaining a detailed prospective of what it’s like to be a woman professional.
Fridays will be spent working with the other girls in the program. The girls will enjoy training sessions on money management, feminine hygeine, and ways to continue their educations. In the afternoon,
they will work in groups to prepare projects related to their chosen field. At the end of the program, each group will travel to a rural village and teach 5th and 6th grade girls about their field. For example, girls studying law and government might organize their students and stage a mock-trial, or teach how a bill becomes a law. These brief workshops will give the girls practical experience in public speaking, as well as encourage a spirit of volunteerism and greater community.
It’s a fantastic project. We’ve selected our girls and are in the process of tapping networks of professional women to find the best possible mentors.
But all of this costs money. These girls are incredibly impoverished, to the point of having trouble paying 16 000 CFA ($32) school fees each year (yes, Peace Corps Benin runs scholarship programs too). We hope to not only pay their transportation fees, but also provide for meals during the day. The community of Cotonou has offered space for classes, to teach the Friday sessions, and to arrange transport for the mentors, but it is up to us to find a way to finance the girls’ internships.
As Americans, we’re privileged that primary education is universal and free. No one has ever questioned whether those of us who are female have the right to learn how to read, and no one ever will. These Beninese girls are not so fortunate. For $3055, we can provide 15 girls with amentor that will last a lifetime. This money includes their transportation to and from the internship each day, lunches, opening and closing ceremonies, a French-French dictionary (the girls may or
may not be familiar with certain field-specific vocabulary), and basic office supplies.
Please, consider donating. These girls have virtually no role models, and this is a chance to expose them to women who have dedicated their lives to advancing women in their chosen professions.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via email at theresac@gmail. I can also be reached by telephone at (229) 97 31 26 12. This is an incredible program, and I’m honored to be workingwith the women and girls who will be particpating in it.
The Peace Corps donation page is :here.