“My struggle to become a teacher” - Awa Sow tells her story

Awa Sow from Senegal has fought hard to become a teacher © UNESCO

Awa Sow from Senegal is one of Africa's hundreds of thousands of literacy facilitators. She provides non-formal education to women in remote villages as part of a UNESCO-supported literacy project.

Since the age of 12 Awa has fought gender stereotypes and parental resistance to her becoming a teacher. Today she is the first female teacher in her village.

Awa Sow's story begins in the village of Ndjedoudal Soli, some 15 kilometers north of Saint Louis in northern Senegal.  

She was born 26 years ago, the daughter of merchant Youga Sow and his wife Abi Sow. In the beginning her parents supported her education. 

"As a Muslim I first went to Koranic school and later my father took me to a French school," tells Awa. 

But her school career was short. She obtained her primary education certificate but failed her entrance exam to continue in secondary school. Her father wanted her to follow in his footsteps and sent her to nearby villages to work in his shops.

Then a literacy project started in a village three kilometres away and Awa wanted to start learning again, this time in her local language Pular. 

Parents refused literacy classes 

"My mum and dad refused, and said I had to get married. It was my aunt who helped me out, she convinced my parents that I should go," tells Awa. 

They imposed one condition: Awa had to perform all her household chores before going to the literacy class. 

After a month, a new opportunity came up. A test was organized in her region to recruit "literacy facilitators" to teach non-formal education classes in rural villages. Awa passed the test and was ready to attend a 15-day training in Saint Louis.

Threatened with suicide 

"Again my dad refused. He said, you are a girl and you cannot go and sleep somewhere else," Awa recalls. "But I wanted to go and threatened him that I would commit suicide if I wasn't allowed to attend".

Finally her parents accepted and in 1999 Awa became a certified facilitator.

Since then she has taught literacy classes in many villages around Senegal. 

A UNESCO-supported project recently brought Awa back to teach literacy in her village. The PAJEF project is a joint effort by UNESCO and the multinational firm Procter & Gamble to bring literacy to 40,000 Senegalese girls and women within the framework of UNESCO’s global partnership for girls’ and women’s education,.

The girl who hangs around 

"People in the village used to see me as the girl who hangs around. Today, I'm the first girl in the village who has become a teacher,” Awa says.  “Being back here is an opportunity for me to show that what I have accomplished in other villages, I can also do it here". 

Today she is giving literacy classes to some 40 girls and women from the village.

 "Even my mum who was so much against education asked if she could join in. She sees that the other women are learning to read and write and says, ‘why not me? I believe in education now’," says Awa.

The classroom in the village is a shelter made of straw, partly destroyed by heavy rain and wind. The five tables and couple of chairs are saved for the pregnant women in the class. 

Devoted to education 

"My message to girls and women is that you need education. Today, I wish I had continued in secondary school," she says. "If you cannot read, write and calculate you are nothing. You need to believe in yourself and then you can achieve anything."

Awa is currently studying to obtain the Brevet (lower secondary school exam). She also has obtained a certificate in Information and Technology and was offered a job.

"My dad said, take it, you will have an office, a driver and a mobile phone, but I said, this is not what I want. I want to teach". 

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