Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tostan and Molly Melching receive the 2010 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship

This morning the Skoll Foundation named Tostan as a recipient of the 2010 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. Tostan is to be honored at the Skoll World Forum, taking place in Oxford, April 14-16, 2010, alongside four other organizations employing innovative resources to catalyze change in global issues, ranging from climate change to community development.
Created in 1999 in an effort to promote a more peaceful and prosperous world, the Skoll Foundation supports social entrepreneurs who address the world’s most pressing economic and social issues. The Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship is the foundation’s flagship program and groups more than 60 prestigious organizations that work individually and together to deliver solutions to these critical issues.

This year, the Skoll Foundation recognizes the work of Tostan and Executive Director Molly Melching in developing an innovative method that utilizes human rights education as a framework for community development in rural Africa. As part of the award, Tostan will receive a three-year $765,000 grant that will be used to further support community development efforts and extend the Tostan program to new communities in East and West Africa.

Click here to read more about Tostan and Molly Melching receiving the 2010 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Musicians Ablaye Cissoko and Volker Goetze at Tostan

Performing in Washington, DC for the first time, Ablaye Cissoko and Volker Goetze visited the Tostan office before their show at Twins Jazz on March 10, 2010. On their first tour of the United States, the musicians follow a strict schedule, staying in Washington for only a few hours, before leaving again for Boston. This grueling schedule did not impact Cissoko and Goetze’s good mood, and they pleasantly discussed their background, their art, and their hopes for the future.

As Cissoko is part of the griot tradition from Senegal while Goetze is of German background, the two musicians seem at first glance to have nothing in common. However, one quickly realizes that is not the case, hearing them speak about their ever-growing friendship and musical collaboration. “We still don’t understand each other and are both strange to each other. I learn from him and he learns from me” says Volker Goetze. Their willingness to absorb new ideas and their fascination with each other’s music are what attracted the two artists to each other. “Our music is very much created in the moment. We don’t try to change our music to adapt to the other; we stay in our respective musical traditions and combine the two. This becomes a sort of meditation or trance.” This cross-cultural collaboration results in a fluid and peaceful type of music.

When asked about his background, Cissoko explains the West African griot tradition. Trained as an orator, lyricist, and musician, the griot keeps record of all the births, marriages, deaths, and cultural tradition through the generations of the family or village. Most prevalent in Senegal, Guinea, Guinea-Bissao, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania, the griot legacy stretches back for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years.

“You do not become griot, you are born into it, and it is an important and full-time occupation” says Cissoko. Today, this tradition is still present but takes on a different shape. Griots nowadays often become djs or radio show hosts, incorporating other types of music such as jazz, blues, and rock into their music. Cissoko remains faithful to the tradition, accompanying his songs with a kora, a 21 string lute which sounds like a harp.

Blending beautifully with Cissoko’s singing and the tunes from his kora, Goetze adds jazzy trumpet music to the mix. Originally from Germany but now living in the United States, Goetze is of an entirely different background than that of his musical partner. Chosen in 2001 to be part of a musical exchange program for young musicians, he was invited to perform at the African-European Jazz Orchestra in Saint Louis, Senegal, alongside local artists. He speaks with emotion of his meeting with Cissoko and other musicians, explaining how enriching it was to be exposed to new types of music. Goetze hopes to one day implement exchange programs similar to the one he participated in, to introduce young musicians to new musical sensibilities.

Having come a long way since their meeting in 2001, Cissoko and Goetze released their first album in 2008 and are now promoting Sira, their second album. Learning of Tostan while in Senegal, the artists have since collaborated with the organization, lending their music to Tostan videos and short films, and mentioning the organization at every one of their performances. They also generously donate a percentage of their album sales to Tostan, helping Tostan support and empower local communities in Cissoko’s native country as well as other African countries. While visiting the Washington, DC office, the artists humbly reiterated their willingness to support Tostan in whatever way possible.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tostan’s Program Recognized as Best Approach for Community Empowerment by the Government of The Gambia

BANJUL, The Gambia- Over the past few months, Tostan has been participating in a nation-wide NGO Conference on Community Empowerment Programs that address the issue of female genital cutting (FGC) organized by the Gambian Policy and Analazies Unit, Office of the President. The main goal of the conference is to enable the Gambian government to have a better understanding of the operational systems of all organizations involved in supporting the movement toward the abandonment of FGC. The Government has also been seeking to determine, in the course of the conference, whether or not legislation regarding the practice should be drafted and enacted. Having reviewed the approaches of all invited NGOs, the Policy and Analazies Unit declared that Tostan has “the best approach for projects that empower communities, especially in the area of education on female genital cutting.” Essa Kanuteh, A Tostan community facilitator, gave an engaging and inspirational explanation of the Tostan approach and was awarded the title of “Best Presenter at the NGOs Conference.” Tostan's approach to community empowerment is respectful as well as non-judgmental, involving all members of the community in the effort to end harmful traditional practices such as FGC and early/forced marriage. Tostan facilitators will conduct two, week-long awareness-raising programs and will present at the national assembly building in mid-April.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


“How can we harness innovation’s power to empower women and promote greater gender equality?”
A new study launched by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) looks at recent innovations designed to improve women’s lives in developing countries. While some of these innovations have greatly benefited women, others have had the opposite effect and have been more beneficial to men. Looking at past successful initiatives such as microcredit and mobile phones, the study discusses the different elements necessary to create a pro-women innovation.

Innovative Ideas For Women's Empowerment

Update From Women in the World Summit

The Daily Beast, host of the recent Women in the World Summit in New York, has published a list of the six most innovative ideas to come out of the conference. Number one on the “Solutions Cheat Sheet” is advice from Tostan’s Executive Director Molly Melching.
The innovative idea? Get men on board!

Without the support of local men and backing from the community, there is little hope for female empowerment. Molly Melching reminds the world that female genital cutting (FGC) is a complex issue because often, women support the practice as they believe it is necessary in order to find a husband. Some believe that it bestows a certain societal status.

“It’s like their initiation into a higher level of womanhood,” Melching explained to The Daily Beast. The solution, therefore, is to show men that change is in their own interests, that a woman who has undergone a harmful traditional practice will not necessarily be a better mother or homemaker and to introduce that human rights are due to all people, men and women.

Read more about the ideas proposed by Tostan and other innovative organizations here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Sustainable Approach to Eradicating Malaria

Tostan Partners with Malaria No More (MNM), Peace Corps, World Vision, the Senegalese Government and 600 communities to Distribute 76,000 Bed-Nets in Senegal

Though largely preventable through the use of bed nets year-round, malaria remains the number one cause of child deaths in Senegal.

In a partnership program launched in January 2010, Tostan is working in collaboration with NGOs Malaria No More, Peace Corps Senegal, World Vision; the Senegalese Ministry of Health and 600 communities in Senegal to distribute over 76,000 bed nets in the district of Velingara, Senegal. The aim of the partnership is to provide bed nets for every household in the district of Velingara and to ensure they are used effectively for a sustained period of time. 150 villages have been reached so far!

Click here to learn more!

Photo: Courtesy of ©MHallahan/Sumitomo Chemical-Olyset Net®

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tostan and UNICEF open 50 new centers in Bakel, Senegal

Tostan and UNICEF do not sleep when it comes to helping communities abandon harmful traditional practices. 50 new Tostan centers will open their doors in the department of Bakel, Senegal to help accelerate the process of abandoning female genital cutting (FGC) as well as child/ forced marriages. This past Sunday, facilitators began a review session to reinforce their knowledge of the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP). Tostan and UNICEF are reinvesting in the department of Bakel as two areas, Bala and Kidira, have already received the CEP. Of the 50 new centers, 20 of them will conduct the Tostan program in the language of Soninké, 25 will conduct the program in Pulaar, and five in a zone near the border with Mali will conduct the program in Mandinka.

Tostan’s Prison Project celebrates Women's International Day

On March 8, 2010, Tostan staff and volunteers visited the Dakar Women’s Prison to take part in the day-long event organized by Tostan’s Prison Project. Held on Women’s International Day, this event honored women from the prison who are taking their future into their own hands by participating in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP). As the majority of the women incarcerated have never had access to schooling, Tostan’s program gives participants a new outlook on their present situation by teaching them skills such as literacy, numeracy, and project management, among others. It also brings hope of a brighter future, helping inmates prepare for their life outside prison.
To read more about Tostan’s Prison Project and its progress to date, click here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Davos Debates 2010 on Female Genital Cutting

Davos Meeting 2010: Executive Director of UNICEF Ann Veneman, and NY Times Columnist, Nicholas Kristof, praise Tostan’s role in the global movement to abandon FGC

Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, January 30, 2010- During the Davos Debates 2010, Tostan was recurrently mentioned for its success in the movement to abandon female genital cutting (FGC) in East and West Africa, and in particular in Senegal. The organization was praised for its novel and effective approach to development, namely that of empowering communities to lead positive change from within.

To read more, click here.

Watch the video of the Davos Debates:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tostan's Jokko Initiative highlighted in The Daily Beast article

Amongst other topics, the Women in the World event held this past weekend discussed the use of powerful new technologies to change the fate of women in developing countries. A few days prior the event, The Daily Beast mentioned ten technologies in particular that have had a successful impact on women’s lives. One of the technologies highlighted was Tostan’s Jokko Initiative, a program that uses text-messages to create a social and educational network, and that has helped communities to further discuss the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.

Here is a paragraph of the article “Technologies That Empower Women” by Tom Watson:

10. Connected Communities
When remote villages are interconnected, cultural biases against women can change rapidly. Take the Jokko Initiative in Senegal, named for the word that means "communication" in Wolof, Senegal’s national language. Jokko is a joint project of UNICEF and Tostan, an NGO that has led the movement to abandon female genital-cutting and forced child marriage. The program uses a text message-based social-networking platform to more rapidly "train the trainers," local volunteers who go village to village talking to their peers about “democracy, human rights, problem-solving, hygiene and health, literacy, math, and management," according to Tostan. The result? Less female genital-cutting and child marriage.

To read the full article on The Daily Beast, click here.

Powerful video at Women in the World Summit

March 15, 2010
Last Saturday evening, Tostan program participant and social change agent Marietou Diarra captivated the audience at a major conference in New York with an account of her personal experiences of female genital cutting (FGC) and her subsequent involvement in movement to abandon the practice in Senegal.

The Women in the World 3-day summit in NY, organized by The Daily Beast, was attended by hundreds of influential women leaders from around the globe including Hillary Clinton, US Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, award-winning actress, Meryl Streep and Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan.

Marietou Diarra’s presentation, one of the most memorable moments of the 3-day summit according to Daily Beast reporters, was part of a panel led by ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer and translated on stage by Tostan Executive Director and Founder, Molly Melching.

Reaching out to men to fight for women's rights

March 14, 2010
In the Daily Beast article "Getting the Guys to Help," Dana Goldstein discusses how women activists in Africa are finding ways to reach out to men to involve them in the fight for women’s rights. Involving both men and women in this fight has proven to be more successful than targeting only women, as the lives of women are largely controlled by deeply rooted traditions and ideologies. The author mentions Tostan as one of the organizations that have successfully reached out to both genders with messages of human rights, empowering communities as a whole to make positive changes.

Click here to read the article "Getting the Guys to Help" by Dana Goldstein.

Blog adapted by Salim Drame