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American Grandmother Helps Educate Senegalese Girls

An American grandmother thought she was moving to Africa in order to homeschool her daughter's five children. As it turns out, Viola Vaughan is helping thousands of Senegalese girls with their school work, in a place where girls can often be left behind.

Viola Vaughan's five grandchildren came to live with her when her daughter died 14 years ago.

She moved the new family to Sengalese city of Koalack to homeschool them in Africa instead of in [the central U.S. state of] Michigan.

That's when the real changes started.

"There was one little girl who was nine-years-old, who was the same age as my granddaughter, who played with my granddaughter and saw that she was being tutored in class at our home. She came and asked me if I could assist her with her education. I told her, 'Of course not.'" she said.

But the girl kept coming back. So Vaughan went to her parents who said their child was last in her class.

"And the reason she was last in her class was because she was not intelligent. And I told her mother that obviously she was intelligent enough to come and find me, so therefore allow her to have class with my granddaughter."

In two weeks, Vaughan had 20 girls. She figured her pension could support another 80. She learned so many girls needed help because their mothers often found them useful at home.

"And so the girls start missing days. She starts missing days in school. And when she starts missing these days, she starts losing her place in class, Vaughan said. "She starts missing her lessons, and she starts to fail."

Vaughan's program called 10,000 girls now helps thousands' with tutoring, study space and by monitoring the girls' progress. And she asks parents to sign a contract committing their daughters to attend everyday.

There is a bookmobile that serves surrounding villages and literacy programs for girls who have never been to school.

And some girls sew soft dolls, bags and clothes for sale through a California company as part of Vaughan's entrepreneurship program. Here young women who left school can get vocational training and a job.

Dassira Samba Ka started selling juice and cookies door-to-door. Now she is Vaughan's account manager. "In this program, we take the girls who are last in their class and we give her school supplies and everything," Ka explains. "We help her with studies, with her math and English. And we pay the teachers to come help them."

Vaughan says this work has changed her own life more than any other job. "I had to be 50 some years old before I found a job that I could stick to that I really, really like," she said. "I had to retire before I started to work again."

Vaughan has more than 2,500 students in her program, with 700 more on a waiting list and a ten-year goal of helping 10,000 girls do better in school.