Awareness caravan: Meet young volunteers advocating for girls’ education in Senegal

Many girls tend to drop out of school, and take up work in small shops to financially support their families”, said Ndeye thioro Teuw, from Pikine, Senegal. Ndeye thioro is a member of the Mouvement Citoyen BanlieueUP – “banlieue” being the French word for suburb or inner city – and one of 12 young volunteers advocating for girls’ education in the suburbs of Dakar, Senegal.

Women make up more than 50% of the population in Senegal, yet few are literate. Harmful gender norms, poverty, early marriage, early and unintended pregnancy and house and care work, disproportionately impact girls, their continuity of learning and their journey on the path to education.  

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these existing challenges to girls’ education. Nationwide school closures caused an increasing number of girls to dropout, with the risk that some may never return to the classroom. To address this, Mouvement Citoyen BanlieueUP launched an awareness campaign through a mobile caravan to support the reintegration of girls in schools.

Meet Ndeye thioro Teuw and Ndiack Dieng, two of the 12 young volunteers who tirelessly advocated for girls’ education on a mobile caravan through the suburbs of Dakar, Senegal.

The caravan traveled through 14 suburbs of Dakar. How important is it to advocate for girls’ education in these areas?

Ndeye thioro: It has become essential to keep girls in school to build a more balanced world. We need to defend girls’ right to education and encourage girls to face and overcome social, cultural and economic barriers. Because of the pandemic, many girls tend to drop out of school, and take up work in small shops to financially support their families, especially in remote areas. Messages by the caravan helped spread awareness in communities and encourage girls to continue their education.

Ndiack: Education allows girls to know their history and values. It empowers them to build their own future in a changing global world. Keeping girls in school sustains human capital and constitutes a cross-cutting factor that influences employment, health and women’s capacity to claim their rights. I think it was crucial to focus on girls’ education in suburban areas because more girls there were dropping out of school.

Through sound messages, the caravan reached a total of 20,000 people at community-level. What kind of impact do you feel these advocacy efforts made? How were they received?

Ndeye thioro: The campaign had a strong and immediate impact in my locality in Pikine, on the local administration as well as on young women and their parents. We also directly interacted with community members, reaching girls who were at risk of dropping out and those who were behind on their school registration. 

Ndiack: The caravan aired messages in national languages. Examples of messages were: “Yaye booy xaléla baayima ma Jangui!” meaning “Mom, I'm young, let me go to school to learn!” and “Lou goor meune, jigeen meen na louko raaw!” meaning “Everything a man can do, a woman can do and more!”. Messages showcasing successful women were also instrumental. We had a lot of positive feedback from parents who promised to do their best to keep their daughters in school. Many parents have contributed by speaking directly on the caravan speaker about maintaining girls in school.

You were among the 12 young volunteers who received two trainings on gender equality and advocacy work. How have these new skills and knowledge helped you advocate for girls’ education?

Ndiack: These training sessions equipped me with relevant tools to advocate for girls’ education. For example, I learned how investing in quality education for girls would enable Africa to take advantage of the demographic dividend to drive development through science and technology. I also learned that the social and economic inclusion of women is the basis for sustainable and inclusive development in Senegal. 

What are your takeaways from this experience? What should be done to promote girls’ education in the future?

Ndeye thioro: This was a beautiful experience. For future efforts, we have to work together to promote girls’ education. We plan to continue this work in the years to come to make more impact because the work is far from over.

Ndiack: I was honored to participate in this project and contribute to our society by keeping girls in school. The caravan is an innovative approach to reach many at local level and its impact was immediately felt within communities. It is important to support more local organizations like BanlieueUP working on promoting women's leadership and girls' education at the grassroots level.

Each of the 12 volunteers directly engaged with at least 50 heads of family, for a total of 600 people. An estimated 1,000 people were also reached in each of the 20 communes through the caravan’s sound system. Another 300,000 people were reached through social media networks.

This initiative was part of the “Taxawau Banlieue, Aar Jangu Xaleyu Jigeen Yi” (in English, “Rise for the suburbs, rise for girls’ education”) project, supported by the Embassy of Portugal in Senegal. On top of the sensitization campaign through the caravan, BanlieueUP aims to support 60 girls in the three regions of Pikine, Guédiawaye and Rufisque through the provision of school supplies and COVID-19 masks and covering the costs of the universal healthcare for an entire year.

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Photo: © Mouvement Citoyen BanlieueUP