In their words

How three Senegalese girls overcame significant obstacles to stay in school.

Fanta, Safi, and Dieynabah are three Senegalese girls who defied the odds to stay in school. From managing the burdens of unpaid care work (fetching water, cooking, caring for others in the household), to traveling long distances to school, to going without electricity and water either at home or at school, these girls have overcome significant obstacles to pursue their dreams. These firsthand accounts of their amazing stories were documented by the ONE Campaign—a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 9 million people around the world that is taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa—in collaboration with Tostan, a nonprofit that works in African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation. Critical to the ONE Campaign’s mission is making sure that every one of the over 130 million girls currently out of school is able to access and complete a quality education. 

Fanta Mballo

Fanta Mballo, 18, lives in Kolda, Senegal. She was able to avoid early marriage—despite her parents’ encouragement to marry—in order to stay in school. She wants to become a midwife to ensure that there are more healthcare workers in her community.
I get up very early in the morning. Sometimes as early as 6. I revise my exercises a little. I sweep the house. I go and get water, wash the bowls, wash myself, and go to school. Sometimes I go [to school] at midday, sometimes from 10. In the afternoon I also go to school from 4 p.m., sometimes until 6, sometimes until 7, sometimes until 7:30. Every day, except Sunday.
We have a lot of problems back home. But it’s different now from what it used to be. Before they would marry us very young and without having been to school. But it’s not like that anymore in the village. Now, they allow girls to study.
When I was 13, three men came to my home to ask to marry me. I refused. My parents wanted me to marry the last one. I explained to my parents, “I’m 13 now, if you marry me, it will be very difficult for me to have a child.” I didn’t want to get married, and I also wanted to learn at school. If you marry very young, you can’t go to school. You have to stay at home. So that’s no good.
I love studying. My favorite subjects are history, geography, French, and science. I want to become a qualified midwife because I’ve seen a lot of difficulties in my community, especially where I live. We don’t have a health center and all that. So that’s what I want to become: a qualified midwife.
It’s important for all girls to have a good education because girls today need to have the same place as boys. Because today, girls who have a good education will be able in the future to get positions to help, to provide services in the community.

Safi Mballo

Safi Mballo, 18, lives in Sare Kante in the Kolda region of Senegal. She persuaded her parents that she should not get married and should be allowed to continue her education for as long as possible.
The village is far away. Every day we come [to school], seven kilometers away. We walk from 6 to 8 a.m. on foot. We don’t have bicycles. We have no way of getting there other than on foot.
Before we leave here to go to school, we have to get water from the well, grind the millet, sweep the room or the yard of the house, wash the dishes, and go. The clock won’t be waiting for you. Time passes, and when you finish there is no bicycle. You have to walk the seven kilometers. The teacher is already there, and you are very late.
The boys don’t have to do that work, just the girls. The boys just take the bucket to the well, wash, and leave. But before the girls can leave, they have to work a bit. Even if you’re back at 2 p.m., you still have to grind the millet and prepare. And it’s not preparing to learn your lessons—that’s not it—or doing your exercises. First, you have to prepare dinner. And by the time you finish that, if it’s nighttime, you will get tired, and then you can’t take your books to learn. All you can do is wash and go to bed, sleep.

I never asked why it’s like that. I don’t have a little sister, just a little brother. He’s small. He is in the second year of primary. I’m the only girl. I’ll go to school. I’ll work because I don’t come back too late, then, at 2 p.m. I will start again from scratch. It’s like that. We do it.

It’s important to study because in the world today; if you don’t study you will lose out. But if you study you will get a job. For me, I study to be a Spanish teacher, señorita. I want to be a Spanish teacher because of all the subjects—maths, biology, English—it’s the Spanish language that I like. I like the Spanish language a lot.

Dieynabah Mballo

Dieynabah Mballo, 18, lives in Sare Kante in the Kolda region of Senegal. Her mother did not want her to have an early marriage and has supported her decision to stay in school.
We are so tired in the village because the women work so hard. The women cook, they draw water from the well, they sweep, they grind the millet, they do everything. Because the women work very hard, that’s why I want to learn until I achieve something, until I have something.
My family, they wanted to give me away for an early marriage, but my mother opposed it. She has taught me a lot to make sure I am not married now because I am still a child. You can’t give away girls for marriage at 13, 14.
Education taught me to learn, to be something at school, because when you don’t go to school, you don’t know much in the world. In Senegal you need to learn a lot to have something. Something like being a doctor or a teacher or a midwife. Studying allows me to get something, to help my parents in the future and my friends, my children, and my husband. I want to help my parents to get equipment, buy sheep, a house, to bring a health center here. Education will give me spirit. It will help me, it will give me a lot of things. It will give me spirit for my children. I will help my children. I will help myself. I will know how to give my own children an education.