American First Lady Michelle Obama visited an all-girls high school in the Senegalese capital Dakar Thursday, along with Senegal's first lady, Marieme Sall, to stress the importance of girls' education. While girls' enrollment in primary school has increased in the past 10 years in Senegal, drop-out rates are high and keeping girls in school remains a challenge.
Hundreds of students at the all-girls Martin Luther King high school danced and sang to welcome Michelle Obama.
Mrs. Obama praised the students for their academic achievements and urged them to stick with it, even though she said she knows it is hard for some families to afford to send their daughters to school.
"I know that it can take real courage to pursue your dreams, to come to this school, to pour yourself into your education, to envision possibilities for yourselves that no one could ever imagine," she said. "But don’t ever forget that by investing in your education, you are doing the very best thing you can do - not just for yourselves, but for your children and your grandchildren. And you’re also doing the very best thing you can do for your country."
UNESCO reports that just 27 percent of students in Senegal's secondary schools are girls. Many girls, particularly those in rural areas, are forced to drop out to care for their siblings and help with housework.
Mrs. Obama said she knows about sacrifice. Her father struggled to pay for her education.
"That’s why, day after day, I made sure I did everything in my power to make him proud," she said. "So I got up early to study. I stayed up late doing my homework. And despite my efforts, there were still plenty of people who doubted whether a girl from my humble background had what it took to succeed."
Student Safietou Mboup said she and her friends were very happy to hear Mrs. Obama speak. She said they really understood Mrs. Obama's message and that all the girls will continue to work hard.
Mrs. Obama shook the girl's hands and hugged many of them as she left.