Newsletter - AVENIR PLUS
After a difficult start, with only 100 students enrolled the first day of classes, we ended up with a little over 400 students by November, which enabled us to come closer to reaching financial equilibrium. Parents enroll students only when financially feasible, and by waiting to enroll their children in November they do not have to pay for the first two academic months. This explains the increase in enrollment in November.
The beginning was far from easy; we have no resources, so everything we needed had to be created, at times invented, from scratch. The children's smiles kept us going. The days were long and little by little, things started falling into place. I also had to learn how the system works; here everything is negotiable...
Furthermore, we had to learn how to work together. All of my colleagues are Muslim men, and our cultures are light-years apart from each other. We had no choice but to adapt, which is easier said than done. Here, women very rarely hold a position with supervisory responsibilities and men never answer to women, so when I was asked to take charge of the finances, I was rather surprised. In the end, we all worked well together. We have learned a great deal from one another and the results have been more than encouraging.
So after the craziness that the first two months brought on, we all settled into a routine and the days started passing by a little more peacefully. I became solely responsible for the pre and elementary schools, in addition to all financial matters. Much of my time was also spent with parents, explaining that if their children's tuition was not paid they would put "their" school's success at risk. Little by little this worked and big efforts were made by many to pay on time. As a result, if parents were unable to come up with the funds, they would inform me.
By the end of 2008, we approached the rural community of Malicounda to grant us a parcel of land. After several meetings we were allotted a lot of 1200 square meters, located at Saly Carrefour, where one day we hope to be able to build a second pre/ elementary school.
Right now, we must concentrate on what we have and how to consolidate it. The children who come to Grand Mbour would not be able to afford transportation to get to Saly Carrefour. So, our goal is to collect funds that would enable us to either purchase the building where we are currently located, or purchase another parcel of land in the same neighborhood where we could build. Since we are not funded by anyone in particular and at the moment we are not making any profits, we can only count on the generosity of our sponsors and friends.These sponsors and friends in question have come through for us this year. Many of you visited us, to show and provide your support by sponsoring a child in need. Your generosity enabled us to also purchase two trucks of sand for the youngest children's playground, put shelves in the nursery school classrooms, and purchase two armoires for the classrooms.
The sponsored students worked hard--two of them will actually be able to even skip a grade due to their outstanding results. As more and more of you generously donated and brought us books, students started reading more regularly as our library starting growing. Keep in mind that this is crucial in this country where no one reads!During the year, three of our students lost one of their parents. Once again because of your donations those children were able to finish their academic year with us, and one of them is now being sponsored for next year.To all of you, thank you so much for everything that you are doing and for all of your support.
In February, the nursery school organized a carnival that some of the sponsors were able to attend.This was a wonderful experience. The little ones went all out; they were so happy to be able to dance and move around. This took place during the winter and we were all cold since the school lacks windows and doors. Towards the end of the year we proposed to take the preschool and elementary school aged students on a field trip. In order to do this we asked parents for a rather small contribution. The preschoolers were taken to the beach and had a blast; most of them had never seen the ocean even though they live in Mbour. The elementary school students went to Bandia, an African reserve.Finally we had the award ceremony at the elementary level, not only did the three best students of each class, but also the two who deserved them the most, were awarded prizes. We thought it was important to show students that if they worked hard they would be rewarded.
The award ceremony was also made possible due to what you brought us during your visits. Take a close look at the picture; you will be able to recognize your sponsored child, as well as the backpacks that you brought us. Parents came to thank us for a great year.
Now we are left to conclude this first year, which we are all considering a success. We have close to 1,000,000.00 CFA in outstanding tuitions that have still to be paid. We will most likely be paid some of it, but probably not before the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. This creates significant budget challenges, as we still have to pay for rent, yet we have no money, but this is how it often works here.
We need to find the funds to start the cafeteria program for October, where children will be able to benefit from a more balanced meal--protein is almost completely absent from their daily diet. A French couple will be volunteering next year. She will help me with the administration while he will start a soccer team for the children at the elementary level, which is sure to be a huge success with the students.
We have to continue with our efforts to educate parents and make them realize the importance of paying tuition. The economic crisis exists here too; many Senegalese families live off what their relatives who reside in Europe and the U.S. send them. Sadly many of the relatives, having lost their jobs, have nothing to send. As a result, many here no longer receive any financial support. Today, we already have promises of 27 sponsors for next year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Together we are one step closer to our goal.
Last but not least - please share the school's link with all of your friends, relatives, and colleagues. Tell them about our struggle and that we exist. We know that many agencies often dupe people and as a result people are wary. By having you tell them about us and what we do and how the students benefit 100% from your donations maybe we could have more sponsors and put more students through school.