Something very special happened in Sierra Leone last week. For 300 girls, it was a moment they’d been looking forward to for months, and for some, maybe even years… they started a new school year!
Sierra Leone runs on a September – June academic year, so for the past two months our in-country Programs Coordinator, Emmanuel (who you met in our previous blog) and his team have been flat out.
If you’ve ever had to get 1-2 kids back to school you’ll know how much running around that can take. So imagine getting 300 girls ready! And this year things were extra challenging because the Ebola outbreak created mayhem with the school calendar, when schools were shut for an extended period. The result was a 7-month school year in 2015-2016, with hardly any summer break. And for Emmanuel that meant way less time to get through his very long to-do list.
So what does the One Girl team do to prepare for the new school year?
Perhaps the question is what DON’T they do? Because there is a whole lot of work that goes into sending our scholars back to school. Much of this isn’t particularly glamorous, but it’s incredibly important and the reality of our work – so here’s a behind the scenes look at what it takes to send 300 girls back to school….
This year there are 39 NEW girls starting on our Scholarship Program. To select those girls Emmanuel has been speaking to community chiefs and elders, and getting to know some of the girls in the community who have dropped out of school for one reason or another.
Our scholarships are focused on supporting the most vulnerable girls – girls who have overcome extreme hardship or tragedy. Who may have lost one or both parents. Who have been denied an education by their circumstances – but who all have one thing in common: they want to be back in school more than anything else.
Our scholars are the girls with the most potential, who have the greatest desire to be back in school – and who will benefit most from our support.
Emmanuel then needs to work with their families or guardians so they understand the commitment we need from them to support the girls on scholarships. Girls who have been out of school for a while (many of our scholars have been out of school for years) may have trouble finding their old school records that they need to provide to re-enrol, so Emmanuel will work with the schools that the girls attended to track down their records and get the girls enrolled! It’s a lot of back and forth and logistics to make sure the girls have everything they need to go back to school.
Bringing on new girls is the biggest job, but for the 241 scholars continuing their next school year, there’s still plenty to be done! There are girls who are graduating from Primary School and moving into Junior Secondary School, and others graduating from Junior Secondary School and moving into Senior Secondary School – all who need to be enrolled in their new year levels or schools. This means even more paperwork and liaising with school staff.
Once all enrolments are completed at the 39 partner schools in Freetown and up-country, it’s time to start ordering uniforms and purchasing materials. Every single girl receives a ‘Scholarship Pack’ that includes textbooks, pens, exercises books, bags, shoes, and lots of other bits and bobs, basically everything they need to start school. All these materials have to be bought, sorted and delivered to each of the 300 scholarship girls! This means Emmanuel and the team are travelling all over Freetown and into our rural communities to PERSONALLY deliver the materials to each girl.
Here’s Christiana from our Sierra Leone team sorting out the materials for the Scholarship Packs
Here are some photos of the girls receiving their packs last year – we love seeing how excited they are!
And here are some brand new pictures from THIS year that Emmanuel just sent over….
Some of our partner schools are very remote and it takes a few hours by car along very rough roads to get there. But we know how important it is for all the girls to have everything on their first day of school! Can you remember back to when you started a new school year… lining up all your books and pens, packing them tightly in your new school bag? Maybe colour-coding your books to subjects, or decorating your pencil case?
Imagine that for every single one of our 300 scholars, but add the extra weight of knowing that you are BACK in school. After years of being out. After years of waiting, longing, dreaming of being back. NOW times that by 300 girls and you get a sense of just how important this work is for Emmanuel and our team in Sierra Leone.
In other exciting news, for this new academic year we’re adding a lunch component to the Scholarship Program! Why? Well when we visited Sierra Leone earlier this year in April, one of the most common issues we heard was that the girls were not eating lunch.
It’s hard to concentrate at school when you’re hungry, and it’s such a common problem we couldn’t ignore it. So now in each school a focal teacher will look after our scholarship girls – they’ll distribute “lunch money” to the girls who will then be able to purchase lunch from the stalls that are set up in the schools, kind of like a canteen.
These stalls are run as small businesses by local women in the community and aren’t formally part of the school, though every school has them. So not only are we providing lunches to our scholars so they can concentrate in school, we’re also supporting womens’ small businesses. Pretty cool!
And – as if this wasn’t exciting enough – the final piece of awesome news is that we are going to pilot an Alumni Program to continue to support our Graduating scholarship girls! As of this year we will have a total of 46 One Girl Graduates. These are the amazing girls who we have supported till the very end of their high school education – all the way to their Graduation Day.
It’s a growing group and we’re exploring what is next for them. We want to build an Alumni Program that will give our Graduates opportunities to continue their education through vocational training, computer classes, starting their own small businesses, volunteer opportunities, and even a University Scholarship!
It’s all in the very beginning stages – so consider this a bit of a sneak peek of some very exciting things to come. Yay!