By Sophie C. & Ilhan A., School Girls Unite at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School
School Girls Unite Skypes every Wednesday afternoon with Fatoumata Coulibaly, the president of Les Filles Unies pour l’Education in Mali. We are both of French heritage and are bilingual. When we aren’t busy with our extracurricular activities, we chat online with Fatoumata, who goes to an Internet cafe in Bamako. Since last November our sister organization, which runs our scholarship program started in 2004, has been planning to hold a Day of Awareness about the importance of education of girls in rural Mali. The idea was to bring together students, their parents, teachers, school directors, and government representatives for the first time to the central community of Ouolodo, located 75 km from Bamako. This event had to be postponed twice because of security issues in Mali, but on January 30th, the ceremony was anything but bleak. Between 10am-3pm, there were speeches, eating, singing and dancing!
Due to poor living conditions, societal and financial obstacles, only one out of every four girls in Mali will reach 7th grade, and only 4% will be enrolled into college. Batoma Diarra is part of Les Filles Unies and writes in her report to School Girls Unite: “This was my first time going to Ouolodo, my trip allowed me to see another reality facing girls.” A large setback for girl’s education in the region is child marriage and its impact on young women. In her speech, Fatoumata told the crowd of over 100 people:
“Mossodje was given away to child marriage during her 7th year, so she was unable to continue her studies. In most rural areas, especially in Ouolodo, once a girl is married off, she no longer has the right to attend school.”
The Mayor spoke of the importance of educating girls and applauded the efforts of Les Filles Unies. Alima, one of our scholarship recipients, stood next to the Mayor and spoke into the microphone, saying how the school supplies and monthly tuition provided by School Girls Unite allow her to get an education.
Many of the attendees, including parents, expressed their support for the organization and their hope for a bigger, better and brighter future for their daughters. The current director of one of the schools made an appearance and presented his optimism and confidence in the efforts of Les Filles Unies. Despite being on strike, many of the teachers attended this ceremony. Whether the advice was given to current or potential students, the message was successfully communicated.
During one of our Skype calls, Fatoumata told us how proud she was and in her own words: “The ceremony was super!” A 15-minute broadcast by Mali ORTM, the national television station, aired about this Day of Awareness, and Fatoumata anticipates a similar ceremony next year in hopes of spreading the word to an ever larger audience. As Batoma concludes in her report: “Vive les FU, vive les SGU!”