During the summer of 2007 Allyson Goldsmith spent 10 weeks as a volunteer intern for Women’s Health Educations and Prevention Strategies Alliance (WHEPSA) in Kaolack, the second largest city in the Republic of Senegal. Kaolack, a city of 200,000, is located 100 miles inland of Dakar, the capital city, which sits on Cape Vert Peninsula overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Kaolack is the commercial center of the richest peanut area in Senegal, and is home to both a plant that makes salt from evaporated seawater and a peanut oil refinery. The population of Senegal is poor, with most families living on less than two U.S. dollars a day. Allyson learned that limited education, especially for girls, was a contributing factor to the poverty that characterized Kaolack, and dedicated herself to helping young girls obtain the literacy and numeracy needed to improve their well-being.
Allyson developed and led courses on English, computer skills, and civic awareness at a school for girls run by WHEPSA.She lived with a host family headed by Madam Sanokho who works for the Koalack Regional School Board. Madame Sankho’s primary responsibility is to increase the number of girls who stay in school and ultimately complete secondary school. Madame Sanokho also taught in the public school system for many years. One day she asked Allyson to join her on a journey to one of the rural townships to deliver books and talk to families about the importance of education. This was a fateful day, and planted the seed for the development of ELEVEate.
Allyson met many girls’ ages 13-15 who lamented that they would not be able to continue their education once they completed the 6th grade, and hence would be unable to realize many of their dreams and hopes. In order to attend secondary school a student must pass the national Secondary School Entrance Examination, and a requirement to sit the exam is a birth certificate. However, approximately half of the children in Senegal are unregistered, or do not have a birth certificate. A birth certificate costs about $25 U.S. to obtain and is simply too costly to purchase for many families. Ghandi said, “be the change that you want to see in the world.” Motivated by this and guided by a longstanding belief that one person can make a difference she set about to give many girls a chance to realize their dreams.
Over the course of the next year, from August of 2007--July of 2008, she raised enough funds to purchase birth certificates for 172 girls of whom 165 have taken the Secondary School Entrance Examination and 84% (138 of the 165) passed the exam. On July 31, 2008 Allyson became the founder and Executive Director of ELEVEate, a charitable foundation incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the state where she grew up the U.S. The name ELEVEate is derived from eleve (student in French) and elevate (to raise up). The primary purpose of ELEVEate is to make a secondary school education available to more girls in the Kaolack region of Senegal so they can lift themselves, their families, and their communities. ELEVEate purchased birth certificates for another 168 girls in 2009.
ELEVEate plans to continue to purchase birth certificates for girls in the Kaolack region. In addition, ELEVEate intends to assist families in meeting the costs of materials to attend school. Moreover, because of family obligations many girls are called away from school on a regular basis leaving gaps in the education making it a challenge for them to pass the Secondary School Entrance Examination. Prior to the formation of ELEVEate, Allyson collected enough funds to support a pilot program to prepare girls for the Secondary School Entrance Examination called the Kaolack Summer School for Girls (KSSG). KSSG operated during the summer of 2008 with 130 students. ELEVEate intends to support KSSG, on a permanent basis through grants, beginning in the summer of 2009 (KSSG-09). Three hunderd girls are enrolled in KSSG-09 and their performance on the National Secondary School Entrance Exam will be available in October 2009.