15 April 2009

Correspondence Match 15 April

15 April 2009

Dear class,

Thank you so much for your letters and photos – the students love seeing them. They have so many questions! I will try to keep track of them and send them out to you ASAP.

In the meantime, just a little update on the rest of my life in Togo. I’ve been settling in with a kitten called Odysseus (because he’s always getting lost and into trouble). I made him a little playground to keep him interested (and off the screens in the windows!)

I was just elected to a position on the Gender and Development committee among the Peace Corps volunteers in Togo. I will be taking charge of our girls’ scholarship program, started over ten years ago by the family of Karren Waid, a Peace Corps volunteer who was killed in a road accident during her service. We pay a girl’s school fees from primary school all the way through university if she meets certain requirements. The requirements help illustrate the big differences between school here and in the United States.

The girl has to pass every year. It’s much more common here than in the states for students to fails and be held back. There are a couple 20 year olds in my 8th grade equivalent class! Every year the scholarship girls have to send in their bulletin (report card) to prove they’ve received a passing grade – an average of 10 out of 20 points. Grading systems here are very harsh – they use the French system. When I was studying abroad in France, my grades carried over to the University of Notre Dame were adjusted to be equal to the US system – a 14 out of 20 was considered an ‘A’. My professors used to say 18 out of 20 is for the archangels, 19 out of 20 is for God, and absolutely no one gets 20 out of 20! Harsh, especially when I think back to getting an occasional 105% grade on a test at La Reina – bonus questions are awesome.

The girl can only get pregnant once. Teenage pregnancy is frustratingly common here. Most girls are excluded from school as soon as they become pregnant and it is very hard for them to come back to school since she is raising the child. Adoption only really happens if a parent is deceased and even then it is rarely formalized – aunts and uncles will take in their siblings’ children.

The girl cannot get married. Girls can sometimes marry very young here. It is extremely rare to find a married girl at school. The husband will occasionally continue his studies but the woman is expected to stay at home to tend house and work in the fields.

I’m really looking forward to working on the scholarship program and making it more sustainable by recruiting a Togolese girls’ education organization to start taking over the management and paperwork of it. It’s a big job but I’ve always like challenges and I have two other great volunteers to help me with it.

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