The Only Time I Ever Have—Or Will—Asked for a Donation

Last month, I celebrated two years in Senegal with the Peace Corps. That’s two years since I’ve tasted fresh strawberries, two years since I’ve been chilly enough to wear anything made of wool, two years since I’ve worn high heels. As many of you know, my time here has been incredibly challenging, yet also very rewarding.

Up until this point, I have been firm on not asking friends and family for donations in any projects that I do. I believe that support must come from within and that budgets should remain small.

But the program I’m seeking funding for— the Michele Sylvester Scholarship—is an unusual case in that it is so straightforward, and its effects have been proven over many years.

The link to make a tax-deductible donation is here.

Aissatou Combe Djiba, one of the young women whose good grades qualified her for the scholarship last year.

For the past two years, I have taken part in the Michele Sylvester Scholarship, which was started in 1993 to honor the memory of a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal who was killed in a car accident during her service. Both years, I worked with the principal and a female teacher at a local middle school to select 9 girls who had good grades but were needy financially. The 9 selected girls were then evaluated by a writing contest, teacher recommendations, and interviews with me and the teacher where we visited their homes and asked them questions about their aspirations as women. I also helped organize workshops for them on self-esteem building.

3 girls went on to become winners and received school supplies ($30 each), and all 9 candidates got their school entrance fees for the next year paid for ($10 each). While this is a tiny amount of money by American standards, for the poorest Senegalese families this goes a long way. Many girls do not continue with school because it is too expensive for their families. Instead, they often get married off (sometimes in their teens), while their brothers are encouraged to continue with school.

The principal at my school has said that the scholarship has already encouraged young women to keep up their grades. We often don’t realize how rare it is for young women in this part of the world to have people tell them how smart they are, how hard they’ve worked, and how going to university is a worthwhile dream.

Together with other Volunteers, I am helping to raise the $10,000 it will take to fund this program for more than 400 girls nationwide. While this may sound like a lot, even contributions as small as $10 can help one of these girls stay in school for another year. The cost for the entire program in my community is just $200, and any funds raised above this target will be used to support the program in other schools and to fund follow-up activities to further empower these young women. To make a tax-deductible contribution, follow this link.

I truly think basic girls’ education is one of the most pressing issues in development. Research has shown that advancements in education, particularly for girls, lead to faster economic growth, smaller and healthier families, reduced rates of HIV transmission, and more equitable and democratic communities. As leading economist Lawrence Summers puts it, “…investment in girls’ education may well be the highest return investment available in the developing world.”
Thanks for your support.


“Peace Corps provides the best return on the dollar in America’s entire foreign policy budget. The program educates thousands of young Americans in each new generation about the reality of life as lived by most of the world’s population. It creates a permanent constituency of informed Americans who will go on to work in development, politics, journalism, diplomacy, and other fields, and will care about the underdeveloped world and carry an intimate knowledge of one corner of it for the rest of their lives. It builds long-term relationships between Americans and people around the world who ordinarily are forgotten when foreign policy is discussed. It leaves behind a generally warm and hopeful view of America and Americans in the minds of people around the world whose individual and collective lives can have a profound effect on the rest of us. In an age of chronic anti-Americanism, with the U.S. portrayed in cartoon-like fashion by much of the global media, the presence of a flesh-and-blood American for two years in a poor village or city slum is a badly needed corrective. Generously funding Peace Corps is a no-brainer for anyone who cares about poverty around the world and America’s standing in it.” -Rajeev Goyal


Spreading the word on Unwanted Pregnancy and Self-Esteem

Over the past weekend, I helped lead a few events targeted at young people on the topics of preventing unwanted pregnancy and early marriage. The focus was also on self-esteem building, staying in school, and how to assert oneself as a woman. My site-mate Nathalie and I organized the events, which took place at a school and in an open public area, although we did none of the talking. We used Awa Traore, a motivational speaker who works for Peace Corps, to facilitate discussion among girls and between young men and women. We also had a local youth theatre group in Kolda do performances on the subject of unwanted teen pregnancy. It was overall a successful weekend, if exhausting and a bit chaotic. We estimated that we spread the message to over 300 people.

Kawral, the theatre group, performing. Their presentation was about a teenage girl who gets pregnant, and her family who must then deal with the consequences.

The crowd at the public event

Awa Traore speaking to young women and men. She has charisma and is forward-thinking. Among her messages: Women want sex too. If abstinence doesn't work, how does one protect themself? Women can be assertive/work outside the home, and still be good mothers. The two aren't mutually exclusive. The subject of unwanted pregnancy is not only for women to speak about. Men must take responsibility too.