Sonia and Rachida, 12 and 15 years old, now attend CE2 (4th grade) and are very proud of it. However, without determination, a huge desire to learn and a little luck, they would not even be in school. The girls are lucky because they live in Méreï, one of 613 villages targeted by the “Support to Integrate School Feeding and Literacy Program” that AVSI implements.
The project is funded by USDA/McGovern- Dole Program and led by World Food Program (WFP). Among the activities, AVSI promotes reading animation sessions outside of school to ensure that parents and the community can witness and realize the importance of education.
As luck would have it, during one of these sessions under the mango tree just in front of Méreï's school, the two friends Sonia and Rachida were closeby. "At the beginning Rachida did not want to come near, it was I who encouraged her," said Sonia, "there was a man who was reading out loud and making strange gestures and all the children sitting with him were having fun. We just wanted to know why the others were laughing,” she continues.
The gentleman Sonia remembers is Job Kouadio, principal and teacher of Méreï primary school. He was reading a theatrical reading to his students. “As soon as I saw the two girls approaching, I invited them to sit with the others. I recognized them right away because they did not come to school, but I often found them listening to lessons outside of my classroom," says the teacher. Job knew very well why the girls didn't go to school and after finishing the reading, he asked Sonia if he could go talk to her family.
"It makes me too sad to see that there are girls, who still don't get sent to school just because of the beliefs we have here in the village - says Job upset - I wanted to do something for them". A simple family reunion in the presence of the teacher and Sonia found the courage to ask if she could go to school, because she wanted to learn to read like he did under the mango tree.
"I've always wanted to go to school like my friends, but I didn't know why my mom didn't want me to. I was helping her a lot so I thought she needed me at home and I didn't have time to go, " Sonia says. To support the young girl and her desire to learn, Job did not hesitate for a moment: “I knew that the parents would not be able to resist such a strong wish from their daughter. In addition, I told them that we already had the books, notebooks and pencils at school, as AVSI had given them to us, so they wouldn't have to spend too much money to send her to school.”
The cost of school is often a pretext that some families use to justify the lack of education of their daughters. However, Sonia and Rachida, and many other girls in Côte d'Ivoire, do not go to school because parents fear that once they get to middle school, they may get pregnant.