Hawa, 14 years old, stands confidently in her new school uniform, ready to take on the 7th grade.

Hawa is a 14-year-old girl from Sare Mamudou, one of the 30 communities undergoing Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in the Gambia. She is an exemplary student who ranked first of her 6th grade class in early 2019. Hawa’s father passed away when she was in the first grade, leaving Kadjatou, her mother, to take on the sole responsibility of supporting her education despite her difficult financial conditions. When it came time for Hawa to move on to the 7th grade, Kadjatou was no longer able to support her schooling.

Hawa’s mother, Kadjatou, is a very active participant in Tostan’s CEP classes in Sare Mamudou, and was democratically elected as head of the education commission within their Community Management Committee (CMC). It is during one of this committee’s information sharing meetings that she brought up her daughter’s schooling situation in the hopes of obtaining guidance and advice from her fellow committee members on how to address this issue. Impressed by Hawa’s performance in school and conscious of the importance of education for both boys and girls, the CMC decided to come together to support the realization of Hawa’s full potential.

Although basic school fees are free for girls, school supplies are to be purchased by the student’s parents or caregivers. Sare Mamudou’s CMC consequently allocated approximately 50 USD to support Kadjatou in paying for Hawa’s school uniforms, shoes, bag, textbooks, workbooks, dictionary, and school badge. This contribution to Hawa’s education was facilitated by Tostan’s Community Development Grant to the CMC. The purpose of this grant is to provide the means necessary to develop initiatives that help achieve the community’s shared vision of development. Typically, CMCs use this grant as a rotating microcredit fund to make the investments necessary for income-generating activities. In this case, the community chose to dedicate a portion of this grant to ensuring Hawa could further her education and continue to set an exemplary standard for girls in school.

Like her mother, Hawa is also a CEP participant and she attends the classes designed for adolescents. When her community collectively encouraged her to continue her education, she responded:

“I was most happy today when I was informed that I will be supported by the CMC so that I will be in grade 7. Without their support, I would be a drop out and may be left vulnerable meaning that I am not in school, no opportunities, and I may be forced to marry. I wish all girls like me could benefit from this chance.”

She then added, “My elder brother dropped out of school due to financial problems. Back then there was no Tostan in our community.