pearls around the neck • 127
Author: Catherine Beeckman, 2012
In collaboration with Viola Vaughn, founder of
10,000 Girls, Kaolak, Senegal.
Illustration: Viola Vaughn
Soon, a group of failing school children from the neighborhood asked Viola to help them pass their
classes and in no time she had a class of 20 children! The bedrooms in her house were turned into
classrooms. Viola realized that the failing children were mainly girls. Generally, girls would attend
school for a few years, but were then obliged to work at home and perform daily chores. These social and
economic norms were forced upon these young women. The graduation rate was significantly lower for
girls as they missed more and more classes and eventually dropped out of the educational system. Viola
began to teach any of the girls that were keen to study and eager to acquire new skills.
In order to supplement the girls’ education without having to hire teachers (at the beginning of the
program), Viola borrowed a premise from the famous Montessori system: let the older girls teach the
younger ones! And the results were stunning.
When the number of students under Viola’s tutelage reached eighty, she requested financial support
from local and national institutions… but was turned down. Her methods and philosophy did not follow
or do things by the book.
In order to stay afloat and to be able to purchase schools supplies and eventually hire teachers, the girls
started to bake and sell their goods. And as often happens in Africa, sisters, aunts, cousins and mothers
soon pitched in to help!
In Africa, it does not ‘take a village,’ it ‘involves a village’… Shortly after, a pastry shop was opened, a
catering business serviced events and a sewing workshop flourished. Gorgeous African dolls and house
hold linens are now shipped all around the world.
Private support was forthcoming, as Viola’s 10,000 Girls program garnered local and international
attention. The story of perseverance, patience, success and above all the love of education touched many
hearts. This is a story of “LOVE” in the purest meaning of the word.
And how large is the program today? More than 3,500 girls are now enrolled and the program has spread
to six different locations. Girls are sent to College after graduation, others start their own local businesses.
Hundreds of additional girls are waiting to join.
Is that it? No. Viola Vaughn had more visionary thoughts. The program has turned “Green”. It now
offers environmental education and an agricultural entrepreneurial degree.
Viola, you will live in everyone’s good book!