In the village of Noogtenga, Sanmatenga province, 62 women who never attended formal school themselves have become tutors and mentors for school children, most of whom are girls. They are currently doing their best to ensure that students consistently attend classes, earn good grades, and successfully complete at least their primary education in the village’s only school—a school built for them by the BRIGHT (Burkinabé Response to Improve Girls’ Chances To Succeed) project, funded by the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation, managed by USAID, and implemented by NGOs Plan International, Catholic Relief Services, Forum for African Women Educationalists, and Tin Tua.
BRIGHT’s adult literacy training program helped 7,920 previously illiterate women living in 132 communities take up community responsibilities, starting with the tutoring and mentoring of school children. Today, they are genuine advocates in education circles. Unlike many remote areas in Burkina Faso, there are no empty classrooms in Noogtenga, and it is not common to see children leaving the classroom to herd cattle or girls kept at home to do housework by parents who do not value education.
The tutoring and mentoring initiative has created a strong link between literacy and formal education. After a series of training sessions on gender, women and young girls' rights, HIV/AIDS, mentoring and tutoring, and cattle breeding, the 62 tutors have taken up a monitoring and supervision role for student performance. Each tutor is responsible for five to six children. They talk with students to identify personal and specific problems that they encounter, give advice, pay visits to their homes, and talk with their parents. One of the tutors notes, “After each end of term test, we go to the school to inquire about the results of the children, and after seeing the results, we give them some advice so that they [can] improve their performance. Sometimes, we provide them with missing school supplies when the parents are not able to do it.” When necessary, tutors collaborate with teachers to resolve some issues. Such solved problems include the return of absent children to school and replacement of supplies (notebooks, pens, and chalk). Teachers and tutors urge parents to see to it that dinner is given at a reasonable time, that they have light by which to read at night, are not overwhelmed by household chores, and have decent and clean clothes.
Before the BRIGHT project, the women of Noogtenga were illiterate, with little awareness of development and formal education. Today, the women read and write in their local language, have some basic knowledge of their country and development issues, and have become much more aware of the issues affecting their environment and the realities at stake regarding education. The Noogtenga tutors also share their experiences, lessons, and advice on particular issues among themselves and with tutors in other communities.
They also celebrate a special tutors and mentors day and maintain working relationships with local Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs). Most of all, their relationships with the children have developed in con-fidence, respect, and trust. The children feel proud to tell their peers about their mentors, and do not hesitate to pay visits to them at home.
In addition to their work with school children, 30 tutors have achieved impressive results from their training on cattle breeding. They have been raising small cattle as one tutor confides: “I bought 2 sheep at 10,000 CFA (about $20) each in May 2010. For their medical care, I spent in all 2,350 CFA (~$5). I fed them with hay that I collected and stored myself. After seven months, I sold each for 30,000 CFA (~$60). Part of the money was used to purchase another set of two sheep, sold again seven months later at 60,000 CFA (~ $120). I bought beans for 30,000 CFA (~$60), and stored and sold them months later when the price was higher at 50,000 CFA (~$100). I am combining cereal selling and cattle breeding. Right now, I have four sheep and 330 Kg of beans in storage waiting for the best time to sell it, and was able to save 25,000 CFA (~$50). My objective is to reach 50 heads.” In a country where the average annual per capita income is roughly $600 and most people make a living in agriculture outside the formal economy, these are significant earnings.
The successful tutoring and mentoring program has enabled the women to gain new perspectives on how to help their community deal with its difficult living conditions. They now want to learn to speak and write French, develop their advocacy skills, increase the size of their cattle before they sell them, and create more income-generating activities to vary their income sources and make their families more secure. Their main wish is to gain access to microfinance.