Why I Support Pathways Togo: Stephanie's Story
By Board Member Stephanie Palmer
I’m dozing on a mat in the shade outside my hut, trying to keep cool from the intense heat in the small village of Glitto, Togo, where I served in the United States’ Peace Corps from 2001-2004. A small voice comes through the gate to my house: “Tanti, a do le hum!” (Auntie, I’m hungry!). It’s Habiba, the daughter of my host father’s fourth wife, and my favorite among the many children in the compound. Habiba is around seven years old and my constant companion: when she’s not at school or in the fields, she’s at my house, helping me with my chores or playing games. In the late afternoon, we often go to the village market for a snack and then to visit some of my friends around the village before she needs to be home to help her mother cook dinner.
When I first arrived in Glitto, Habiba was not yet in school and spoke only Mina, the most commonly spoken language in our village, where more than 20 different languages were spoken. Despite her age, Habiba taught me many things: basic Mina, so I could communicate with others in the community; how to light and fan a fire; and the many delicious foods Togo has to offer by her pointing to them in the market, and then me handing over some money to the market woman.
Through Peace Corps training and working in the schools in my village, I knew that most girls do not attend school, even elementary school. So, when Habiba was old enough to go to school, I was pleased that her father enrolled her, as he did for his sons. Because my host family was so generous to me, often providing me meals and always offering company and assistance, I told my host father that I would like to pay Habiba’s school fees and buy her uniforms and school supplies. Of course, her family was thrilled, and I loved feeling useful to my family.
Unfortunately, my Peace Corps service came to an end all too soon, and I had to leave my host family and village. At that time, there was no phone service at all in my village or anywhere nearby, and I soon lost touch. To this day, I don’t know what happened to Habiba, who would now be in her early 20’s. Did she finish elementary school? Middle school or even high school? Statistics from Togo suggest not: even as recent as 2014, only 53% of girls enrolled in primary education finish and females are much less likely than males to enroll in secondary and university education (http://uis.unesco.org/country/TG).
I’ve thought a lot about Habiba and her family in the years since I left Togo, and this is one of the reasons I decided to join the board of Pathways Togo: there are many girls and young women in Togo who do not have the opportunity to go to school, particularly past elementary school. Pathways Togo’s model of providing comprehensive support to its scholars throughout their educational cycle, rather than just providing a year or two of tuition, increases the likelihood that these young women can succeed. While I may not have been able to provide this support to Habiba, I am committed to providing this support to as many young women as possible through Pathways Togo.
Support Stephanie's match campaign in memory of her father, John Palmer. John's Match