Alan Riding’s interview with Maimouna Ka Sow, Director of Foyer de Jeunes Femmes
May 02, 2017

Ms. Ka has been the director of the Foyer de Jeunes Femmes in Tambacounda since 2016. As such, she is in charge of the welfare of 74 girls and young women between the ages of 12 and 22 who have come from surrounding villages to Tambacounda to attend secondary school. They live in a leafy compound in dormitories, each with twelve beds. They also have study areas and a library.

Q – What brings the girls to Tambacounda?
A – They all have the ambition of continuing to study. In the villages, they are often under pressure to get married and have children very early on, but these are very determined girls. Some of them were to be given away in marriage at the age of twelve but they refused because they wanted to study.
Q – Why is the Foyer necessary?
A – It offers them security becomes they are very vulnerable. Sometimes when they are sent to stay with relatives here, they are treated as maids or suffer sexual abuse or get pregnant. Here, the first course I give them is on reproduction, on health and sexuality, on the dangers of AIDS and STDs, on being responsible. This has been very useful. Some have boyfriends, but none has become pregnant while I’ve been here.
Q – What about female genital mutilation?
A – We talk about it but it’s often too late because it happens at the age of seven or eight. But many of the girls want to prevent it happening to their younger sisters.
Q – How are the students at the Foyer chosen?
A – They cannot come from Tambacounda itself. They must come from the villages. Then their parents must ask for a place and bring a birth certificate and proof she is a student. She must also have been accepted by a secondary school.
Q – Do they have similar backgrounds?
A – No. We have girls who speak four different languages apart from French. There are also Muslim and Christian girls and I mix them up in the dormitories. In fact, the majority are Christian.
Q – How come since this is an overwhelmingly Muslim region?
A – Because Christian communities near the Gambia River were the first to ask Catholic sisters for help in educating their girls. Traditionally, Christians believe more in education while Muslim families were ready to give away their daughters for marriage. But this is changing. Some Muslim mothers who only had primary education now want their daughters to have the chance to study that they missed.
Q – What are their prospects after they leave secondary school?
A – Last year, eight young women left for university in Dakar. Others undergo training courses here. That’s why some of them are as old as 22.