Awa’s Story — A Quest for Literacy

When Awa Sagne first arrived in Senegal’s capital city of Dakar at age 25 she was astounded by her new environment. But it was more than just the crowds or taller buildings that caught her attention– it was the ease in which other women her age were able to utilize mobile phones and read newspapers to understand current events. 

As a child Awa had never learned to read or write because there was no school for her to attend in her small community of Nérane Diarrére. Like many families living in rural Senegal, Awa’s parents struggled to provide for themselves, so Awa chose to leave the community and find work as a maid in Dakar in order to support her family. “It hurt me not to know how to read and write so I went to see a teacher who held evening classes for students at a nearby school,” remembers Awa. “I agreed to pay the teacher 1500 FCFA per month (roughly US$2.50) and I did my classes in the evenings from 6pm to 8pm because I had to work in the mornings.” For Awa, these classes were the first step on her journey towards receiving an education. She could finally write her own name in French and even learned to operate a mobile phone for the first time. 

After some time, Awa ended up returning to Nérane Diarrére where she married and became the proud mother of four children. It was through her return home that Awa, now 36, got the unexpected opportunity to continue her education once again. When Awa heard of the Adult Literacy Program at the newly constructed buildOn school in her community she immediately signed up. Through her Adult Literacy Classes Awa not only learned to read and write in her first language of Serrere, she was also able to use the skills she gained to start a small business. “With the money I received through the Adult Literacy Program’s Income Generating Initiative, I was able to buy milk, millet, shoes, and bedsheets which I then sold in the village market,” says Awa. The adults in Awa’s class also made and sold traditional Senegalese tie-dyed fabrics. By giving women like Awa the opportunity to contribute financially to their households and communities, buildOn’s Adult Literacy Program is also ensuring that they are given a voice and seen as leaders by the men in their villages. 

Awa holds up one of the traditional fabrics she made to sell in the market.

Today, Awa feels a greater sense of independence and self-sufficiency. She takes great pride in the fact that she can be more involved in her children’s education, often helping them with their homework at night. She says, “I am very happy with the change in my life now.” To other women thinking about pursuing an education later in life Awa adds, “I want you to know that you should never give up even if it is difficult sometimes. You can do it. Believe in yourself, you are strong!”