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Teaching Senegal's girl house servants

Innovative project educates girls in literacy and entrepreneurial skills.

Senegal girls
Dieynaba Sene, 16 (left), Coumba Guigue, 17 (center), Marie Sene, 15 (right), are underage domestic workers. Here they are pictured in their home, where they work and live. (Drew Hinshaw/GlobalPost)

Photo caption: Dieynaba Sene, 16 (left), Coumba Guigue, 17 (center), Marie Sene, 15 (right), are underage domestic workers. Here they are pictured in their home, where they work and live. (Drew Hinshaw/GlobalPost)

RUFISQUE, Senegal — Sixteen and tired of sweeping floors, Dieynaba Sene is thinking management.

“I want to know how to lead a business,” she said. “A small store, perhaps.”

It’s an aspiration she shares with two friends, Coumba Guigue, 17, and Marie Sene, 15, but for the moment, it’s only that — a dream.

The three girls are cooks and maids, called "femmes du maison" in French, meaning women of the house or house servants. They, like thousands of their peers in Senegal, entered this life when they were only girls.

None of them learned to read or write, and they giggle when asked what they’d like to do when they grow up. It’s a strange question for three teenagers managing on their own off $40 a month.

Five years ago, these girls were sent from their village, one after the other, to come to this Dakar suburb and work in the homes of families they didn’t know, “preparing every meal, cleaning all the floors, doing all their laundry,” said Dieynaba Sene (no relation to Marie Sene).

Dieynaba was 11 when she came to work in Dakar.

“It’s been a bit rough,” she said, although her 10-hour work days compare favorably to the 14 and 16 hours some of her friends clock daily.

The girls say they pocket nothing to send home, and the best housing they can afford is at “le site,” a waterless and furniture-free building with a leaky roof.

The girls want out.

“I want to do something more valued,” said Fatou Sene, 21. “Like run a drink stand.”

There may be several hundred thousand girls like Fatou and Dieynaba across West Africa, working in unregulated household labor markets like Senegal’s.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/education/100607/teaching-senegals-girl-house-servants-0