A second chance at a good education prevents early marriages.

By all accounts Khadidiatou Wade was always different. In a culture where women don’t carry much currency, Khady had big dreams, a big personality and an even bigger mouth. In most families, this kind of behavior would have never been tolerated. But Khady’s father was a very powerful man in this town. And he saw something special in his daughter.

When Khady turned 14, she learned she had been promised to her cousin. The thought of marrying made her sick, and on her wedding day she went to her father and asked for a reprieve. He called it off on the spot. Khady’s mother, Penda, didn’t speak to her for a year because she had brought such shame to the family by bucking the system.

But deep down, Penda always wanted a different life for her daughters. She never had the opportunity to learn to read or write, but she fought for her girls to be educated, just like their brothers.

As a woman in Nioro, Senegal, even one married to an extremely influential and progressive man, Penda never owned anything. So as an adult, Khady set out to buy her mother a plot of land to call her own. The process was long and complex, but when the sale was complete, Penda couldn’t contain her excitement. Because of her daughter’s success, she felt like she had finally had some worth of her own. That evening, Penda said her prayers and laid down to rest before dinner, just as she did every night. But this time she never woke up.

Today, College Adja Penda Ba stands on the land Khady purchased for her mother.

While education is supposed to be compulsory in Senegal, students must pass national exams at the end of 5th, 9th and 12th grade to move on to the next levels. The equation is pretty simple: if you don’t pass, you don’t come back.

The students who fail are overwhelmingly female because education comes at the end of a very long list of responsibilities. They are expected to cook, clean and take care of the younger children. Only after all of those tasks are complete is a girl permitted to focus on her studies, assuming she has the energy (and electricity) to do her homework late into the night. 

When they reach the age of 12-15, most girls only have one option if they cannot pass the test; they are forced into marriage. But College Adja Penda Ba is a safety net for students who want to learn. They can continue to be enrolled in classes and study to retake the national exams. Originally, the school was created specifically for girls, but when boys who had also failed the test started showing up on their doorstep, it was decided that CAPB would be a haven for all children in need.

The school itself is basic: Two concrete block classrooms that measure about 15 x 25 feet, where nearly 40 students are packed in at any given time. And they’re sitting on top of a construction zone, as more desperately needed facilities are being built. The students study wherever they can and without any modern conveniences. The bare-bones surroundings are the perfect reflection of the community's determination to make this school work.


Click on any photo to enlarge and scroll through the gallery.
Check out more about College Adja Penda Ba here.