Friday, April 26, 2013

FINAL POST: Tostan launches new website and brand!

 We've launched our new website and brand together with a new blog! This will therefore be our final post at this blogspot address.

Check out our new website and blog for our latest news and updates.

Thank you!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Using social mobilization techniques to grow the movement for the abandonment of female genital cutting

This post originally appeared on Orchid Project's blog on April 17, 2013 and is reproduced with Orchid Project's permission. To view the original post on the Orchid blog, click here

Story by Allyson Fritz, Tostan

When looking at the number of villages who have decided to abandon FGC, over 5,500 in Senegal alone, it’s easy to forget just how difficult it is to shift this social norm. In many villages in Senegal, as in other countries, female genital cutting (FGC) is a tradition deeply embedded in the culture. Communities that practise FGC may think it is important because it has been done for as long as they can remember, or they may be subject to the misconception that it is a requirement of Islam.

Tostan social mobilization teams address concerns like these in a respectful manner while sharing information on the harmful effects of FGC and, specifically, how other communities in their social networks are choosing to abandon. In partnership with the Orchid Project, the social mobilization team based in the Kolda region of Senegal conducts a 12-day long visit to multiple communities every month. Their goal is to share information and facilitate discussions in communities about human rights and the harmful traditional practice of FGC, as well as the growing movement to abandon the practice.
Through this dialogue, communities are able to discuss the harmful consequences of FGC and why other communities like their own are abandoning the practice. Collectively, they are then able to decide for themselves if they want their community to join others in abandoning.  At times this process can be rapid, but most often it occurs slowly as communities build their understanding of human rights and how the practice of FGC hinders the development of their community.   

When the team works with a community, they start by spending the first day with key members of the village, including the village chief, imam, president of the women’s group, school director, elected representatives, and president of the youth group.  They introduce themselves and inquire as to whether or not they may conduct a village meeting the following day at a time convenient for the village. If the village agrees, the team will spend the night in the village and facilitate the meeting the following day.

It is critical to get the support and approval of these persons of authority before beginning any meetings with the rest of the community. They are respected voices within their communities and without their consent, it would be very difficult for the team to gather the community and share their knowledge, experiences and information.

At the appointed time on the second day of the team’s stay in a village, the meeting is convened and everyone is invited to participate. The team structures the meetings so that they start out with general information and slowly move into more sensitive topics.  The rationale behind this is that if the team jumps right into discussing FGC, which has been a taboo subject for so long, the community may be hesitant to share because they do not know the team or their purpose.

By transitioning slowly from talking about human rights, specifically those rights of women and children, and moving into violence committed against women and eventually FGC, the community is able to get a sense of who these agents are and what they are trying to accomplish. They are then more likely to feel comfortable enough to engage in a dialogue.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Free medical consultations for communities in Thiès, Senegal

Story by Courtney Petersen, Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur

“My head is aching, and the rest of my body has been in pain for a couple of years,” Mame Ndingue told the visiting medical team in Senegal. Because of her pain she is unable to tend to her normal responsibilities, and, like many others in her rural community, she cannot afford medical treatment. 

From March 19 - 29, Tostan is collaborating with the Mary A. Tidlund Charitable Foundation to increase access to healthcare through free medical consultations in rural communities in the region of Thiès, Senegal. The medical team includes two doctors, five nurses, and three volunteers from Canada along with a team of Tostan staff and volunteers acting as translators. 

The Senegal medical team and translators 
holding Tostan health and human rights posters.
The medical team is working together with the Head Doctor of the region and local nurses at the health posts in Saam Njaay and Tassette to host free health consultations to community members like Mame Ndingue. These communities built their understanding of health as a human right through participation in our Community Empowerment Program (CEP) or through community-organized social mobilization activities. Through the CEP and activities community members learn the importance of consulting a doctor when they are ill.

Each day the nurses register patients, record their medical concerns and history, and make a basic health assessment. The doctors then sit with each patient to consult them on their main health concern and give a medical exam. This continues all day until every patient has the opportunity to be consulted.

One of the doctors at the consultations, Dr. Gulshan Lodhy, shared that the most common illnesses being treated are ear, eye, and respiratory tract infections, as well as chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, and muscle and bone pain.

For many patients who attended the free consultations, seeking regular medical attention is not an option because of the high cost of medication and treatment, especially for chronic illnesses. The free consultations provide much needed access to affordable healthcare in the region.

Mame Ndingue shared how important this health consultation was to her: “[The consultation] was very good because I am not paying for anything. Usually, I don’t have enough money to go to the doctor so I am very happy to have had this opportunity.”

So far 380 patients have received medical care through the free consultations.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Community Development Grants Plant the Seeds for Community-led Development in Guinea

Article and photographs by Julie Dubois, Tostan Guinea.
The roads of Guinea Forestière.
The lush region of Guinea Forestière is always spectacular during the coffee bean harvest because if you take the time to smell the fresh air, the odor of the roasted coffee will tickle your nose and transport you directly in front of a cup of espresso.

On February 5, Tostan Guinea had the opportunity to discuss with the coffee bean producers at a Community Development Grants Project meeting in the community of Gnalakpalé. The meeting brought together all of the Community Management Committees (CMCs) of the zone of N’Zérékoré in order to evaluate the project, which gives small grants to CMCs so that they can lead their own development initiatives in their villages.

The community of Gnalakpalé was chosen as the location of the meeting for its dynamism. Since the last meeting held eight months prior, Gnalakpalé has demonstrated very productive use of the community grants through its activities.

Early in the morning, we were greeted by the village elders offering the traditional ten kola nuts and reciting the phrase “you have left your home, you are home here.”

Community Management Committees (CMCs) from the zone of N'Zérékoré gather for the meeting.
After greetings and an introduction, representatives from each CMC took the stage to share with neighboring communities how their village used the community grants. This allowed them to learn about the inspiring initiatives of other communities, sharing successes and learning from one another’s mistakes.

The coordinators and treasurers of each CMC currently participating in Tostan's Community Empowerment Program (CEP) as well as CMCs from communities that have completed the CEP were invited to the meeting.  Former participants were given the opportunity to come together with current participants, several years after completing Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), to demonstrate that communities remain active and engaged in their development initiatives after the Tostan program thanks to CMC efforts.

Each community benefited from a grant of two million Guinean Francs (approximately $290). Most of the CMCs chose to use the money from the community grant to support agricultural production in the region, such as the production of coffee. At the beginning of the growing season, CMCs give money to farmers who reimburse them in goods, such as rice and coffee, which are then resold by the CMCs at higher prices. This system allows the CMCs to support the farmers who often face financial difficulties when leaving the fields to sell their goods.

Sacks of coffee for sale by the Gnalakpalé CMC.
Other CMCs put community grant funds towards a rotating credit system for the community, which enables groups and individuals to lead development initiatives and small business ventures.

In the community of Duola, the CMC has put in place a shared fund, which provides interest-free loans for the purchase of medicine in case of illness. In Tamoé, funds were used to buy school supplies for the recreation center. In Kpoulou, Koakpata, Ouléla, and Komata, roads and bridges were improved, and currently the villages are collaborating on the construction of a health center and an addition to the local school.

The day ended with a delicious meal and a visit to the granary where the CMC of Gnalakpalé stores bags of coffee. The CMC has more than 40 bags of coffee that can sell for upwards of 500,000 Guinean Francs (approximately $70) each. By selling this coffee, they will raise the funds for their most recent development initiative: the construction of a nursery school. 

Blog adapted by Salim Drame