Sunday, December 11, 2011
Profiles: Ado Camara
Adama (Ado) Camara
Schooling: Yes. She is in her last year of middle school for the second year in a row. She failed the previous year and will be retaking the school year at a private school this year.
What she likes to do in her free time: She likes to study and dance in Toulaye's (me) room with her siblings when Toulaye has dance parties.
Relation to me: My younger sister. We have the same Nene (mom) and Baba (dad) in Coumba Diouma.
Future plans: She wants to continue studying and hopefully make it to high school. After high school, she wants to go to the University in Dakar where she can study either medicine or nursing.
Ado is without question the smartest child in my family. She is bright and driven, always with a smile on her face. Nene (mom) and Baba (dad) recognize that Ado is particularly special and actively encourage her to pursue her studies. Ado's final year of middle school, known as 3iem in the colonial French model used in Senegal, was in 2010. At the end of 3iem students have to pass the BFM final exam to gain entrance to lycee, or high school. The BFM is a rigorous and extensive exam covering the entire years worth of material. It must be passed in order to move on even if the student received continued high marks throughout the academic year. Many fail due to its challenging material, especially girls whom are often too shy to seek extra help or are inundated with house work taking valuable time away from studying.
Ado prepared diligently for her final exam staying up late in to the night. Pinching a flashlight between her neck and shoulder to see, Ado quietly recited a year's worth of material repeatedly, under the moonlight. Nene and Baba ensured studying was Ado's top priority delegating chores to other family members and even bought her an extra notebook. If Ado passed, she would be the first family member to enter high school.
Unfortunately, Ado failed the BFM. It was a shock to the family as Ado never before failed. She received a 6 out of 20 on her final exam despite her status as one of the top 5 students in her class. Ado was very upset, but there was something else in the way the family reacted I could not decipher. It took me a very long time to figure out what led to her failure. I found out the other night. Ado's teacher, a man, tried to sexually bribe her for a passing grade. When she refused - or at worst, I dont know all the details - fought him off, he failed her.
Ado said nothing to her parents for along time. She was too ashamed and traumatized to talk. Nene and Baba figured it out quickly, though, as she was crying frequently for no apparent reason. They decided to act as best as they could and sought council from the Director of Education in the rural community, my own work counterpart and Coumba Diouma native, Diery Signate. After the first fail, students are allowed to repeat the year. However, this was not an option for Ado. She refused to go back to the same school. Her school is one of two middle schools in the surrounding area, the other has an equally poor reputation. Other middle schools in the department of Velingara where Coumba Diouma is located are over 40k away, an unrealistic option since commuting is unpredictable, expensive and time-consuming. Ado seemingly had no options.
After much struggle and fighting with the regional school board, Signate managed place her into a private school in Velingara - the town about 15k away from Coumba Diouma, and arranged for a safe homestay. But January rolled around and she still wasn't going to class. At the time, not knowing her circumstances, I couldnt understand why. It appeared to me that she did not take her education seriously and was waisting this incredible opportunity of private school education. To the same effect, her parents seemed not to push her to start school which I interpreted as indifference. I was very, very wrong. A year and a half later, now considered to be one of the family, I understand what transpired.
After talking with Nene the other night about girls education, she brought up Ado's experience and explained everything to me. At that time, Ado was still too frightened to return back to school. Her trust had been violated and the avenue to her future had been horribly tainted. In addition, Ado's intended husband, a formerly wealthier neighbor her own father's age with a long-time wife and several children who recently lost all his money after investing in cows that quickly died, was demanding that she take up with him and refused to give consent for her return to school. Nene and Baba fought this as best they could but it further delayed Ado's enrollment. Penny-pinching any chance they had, Nene and Baba eventually bought back their daughter and sent her to private school.
Ado is now free from the betrothal. She is also back in school studying hard to try to pass her final year of middle school. Watching her with this new understanding, she seems to be moving forward with poise. But the feeling of powerlessness and hurt is heartbreaking.
Unfortunately Ado's story is not uncommon. In fact that same teacher targeted two other girls in Ado's class the same year. They, too, refused to be taken advantage of and were failed. Both girls are no longer in school and have returned to their villages to cook for their family and wait to be married off.