First day at school for the triplets

In Mopti, thanks to Aoua, a Youth Ambassador for the Back to School Campaign, three young internally displaced girls discover first grade in school.

By Julie Crenn
IMG_9877	Dans leur salle de classe de l’établissement Boucary Ouologem Fatoumata, Aoua et Safiatou Fongoro apprennent studieusement l’alphabet. « Elles sont très éveillées et leur intégration n’a pas posé de problème » affirme leur enseignante, Fatoumata Keïta. Les trois fillettes ont effectué leur première rentrée scolaire le 25 janvier 2021 en classe de première année grâce à la sensibilisation de la campagne Back to School.
UNICEF Mali/2021/Crenn
16 March 2021

Mopti – " A, b, c, d, e... " They repeat the alphabet in a chorus before counting from 1 to 10, radiating pride from their faces. Fatoumata, Aoua and Safiatou Fongoro, 7-year-old triplets, started their first school year on 25 January 2021. As displaced youngsters, they had not been able to enter the first grade in 2019 because of the ongoing conflicts in central Mali.

"We abandoned all our millet," says their father, Adama Fongoro.  "We had cultivated the land but didn't get the time to harvest, our village was attacked." The man, who now works as a guard in the Million Kin district of Sévaré, fled with his wife Oumou and his four daughters, the triplets and their youngest daughter Aminata, aged 4.

While in their village Dialagassou, in the Cercle of Bankass, the triplets attended kindergarten but in September 2019, when they arrived in Sévaré, the girls stopped going to school.

"Girls have to go to school so they can find work later and have a better future."

Aoua Togo
IMG_9934	Aoua Togo, 19 ans, élève de 9e année à Sévaré est ambassadrice de la rentrée scolaire pour la première fois. Après une journée de formation, elle a silloné Sévaré pendant cinq jours afin de sensibiliser les familles et enfants à l’importance de l’éducation. Lors de son porte-à-porte elle est passée au sein de la famille Fongoro.
UNICEF Mali/2021/Crenn

"I knew that the Fongoro (family) were displaced because we are from the same family" explains Aoua Togo, 19 years old, Youth Ambassador for the 2020-2021 school year.

Thanks to funding of the Canada National Committee for UNICEF, the European Union, Norway and Denmark, every year since 2017, UNICEF has been supporting the Government of Mali in organizing the Back to School campaign and mobilizing Child and Youth Ambassadors to explain to communities why schooling is so important.

So, for the start of the 2020-2021 school year Aoua, like 4800 other Child and Youth Ambassadors, has gone out to meet households, raising awareness of the importance of education with door-to-door activities, through radio broadcasts and community dialogue sessions.

Awa Togo, 19 ans, élève de 9e année à Sévaré est ambassadrice de la rentrée scolaire pour la première fois. Après une journée de formation, elle sillonne Sévaré pendant cinq jours afin de sensibiliser les familles et enfants à l’importance de l’éducation. « Si je n’avais pas été à l’école, je n’aurais jamais pu passer à la radio ! Les gens doivent comprendre que les études peuvent mener à tout, on peut avoir un travail et enrichir sa famille. Et les filles surtout ne doivent pas être oubliées ! »
UNICEF Mali/2021/Crenn

The young woman, in grade 9, is participating in the campaign for the first time and takes her role very seriously: "If I didn't go to school myself, I would never have been able to speak on the radio to tell parents to send their children to school."  Proud of her new role, Aoua aspires to become a customs officer once she has passed her baccalaureate and insists on the importance of not giving in to early marriage: "I'm willing to get married, but only after I've finished studying! It's not good to leave the girls at home or to marry them off."

As a Youth Ambassador, the young woman naturally stopped by her extended family home, to sensitize the Fongoro parents on the importance of education.

« I hope that the girls who see me will also want to study. » - Aoua Togo

In the courtyard where the Fongoro family has temporarily settled the teenager insists "Especially for girls, it's very important to study!" "Girls must go to school to learn to count, read and write, to be able to find a job later and have a better future," says Aoua. Adama and Oumou agree: "Neither my wife nor I went to school, neither did my father and his father before us," explains Adama, happy to see his daughters leave to school every morning.

Une des triplets entrain d'ecrire sur son ardoise
UNICEF Mali/2021/Crenn

"At the beginning, school was difficult, I remember I couldn't read or write, and I even repeated my 3rd year," says Aoua. "But now I'm going to pass the baccalaureate and I hope that the girls who see me also want to study," she insists, wanting to pass on the torch and serve as a model for future generations.

In their classroom at the Boucary Ouologem school, the girls of the Fongoro family seem happy and relatively studious: Safiatou, the most diligent, carries out the teacher's instructions to the letter while Fatoumata squabbles with her neighbor on the left and Aoua seems lost in her own thoughts. "They are very smart and their integration has not been a problem," says their teacher, Fatoumata Keïta, who grew instantly attached to these three girls with contagious energy sees big things ahead for them in future: Safiatou imagines herself as a teacher, Fatoumata as a soldier and Aoua as the president of Mali.

Like the triplets, nearly 6 million Malian children went back to school in January 2021 to prepare for a better future.