Friday, April 30, 2010

The Inter-parliamentary Conference on Female Genital Cutting (FGC): An Opportunity for Collective Action

The Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Female Genital Cutting (FGC), to be held at the Conseil Economique et Social in Dakar, Senegal May 3-4, presents an opportunity for African leaders and government officials to find a common approach for the continued efforts to encourage the total abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC). A resolution to be drafted and presented to the United Nations (UN) will call for a continent-wide ban on the harmful traditional practice. Delegates from Dakar plan to travel to New York in an effort to bring international awareness to the event and the cause.

The conference, organized by No Peace Without Justice and the Senegalese organization La Palabre, in partnership with Senegal’s “Ministère de la Famille, de la Sécurité Alimentaire, de l’Entreprenariat Féminin, de la Micro Finance et de la Petite Enfance” aims to provide a forum for reflection on past laws and gains in the abandonment movement in order to establish criteria for a UN resolution effectively prohibiting FGC across the African continent.

In 2003, the UN adopted an international convention with the aim of eliminating discrimination against women in Africa: the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Nineteen African countries have adopted laws banning the practice of FGC. In Senegal, a law outlawing the practice was established in 1999 and has since been included in the penal code. Many strides protecting human rights in Africa have already been made. Besides providing a chance to reflect on these past achievements, the Inter-Parliamentary Conference will provide the opportunity for legislators at the center of national institutions – including national parliaments, the Parliament Assembly of the Economic Community of West African States (CEDEAO), the Pan African Assembly, the African Union, and the UN – to come together to agree on a common approach as they move toward the abandonment of FGC.

Click here to read more about the conference.

Photo by Cemre Yesil

Bignona Departmental Public Declaration

April 24, 2010 proved to be a remarkable day for the region of Ziguinchor, in south-western Senegal, as 330 villages of the Bignona department gathered to publicly announce their decision to abandon the traditions of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. This is the fourth departmental declaration in Senegal, bringing the number of communities that have abandoned FGC to a total of 4229 since 1997. This declaration represents a significant step towards Senegal’s goal of complete abandonment of FGC by 2015, and represents a landmark in Tostan’s work in the region of Ziguinchor.

Click here to read more about the declaration and about Tostan’s work in the area.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

April 20, 2010: Senegal’s National Day for Talibé

Talibé are boys between the ages of 7 and 15 who can be seen on the streets in urban areas of Senegal carrying large tin cans and asking for food and money. These boys are sent by their families to Qur’anic schools known as daaras to learn the tenets of Islam from a Marabout or Quar’anic teacher. Begging was once a part of a talibé’s education in order to teach humility but in urban centers and towns, these young students end up spending more time on the street than in the classroom.

Collaborating for change: Tostan and Operation Smile in Senegal

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, a trust established in 1944, supports non-profit organizations dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people throughout the world. When receiving the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2007, Tostan began discussing potential partnerships with past recipients, which led to a collaboration with Operation Smile.

A children’s charity working to treat cleft lips and palates─ facial deformities that can have life threatening effects─ Operation Smile brought its services to Senegal in 2008. Tostan, already active in the country since 1991, helped Operation Smile by informing communities of the organization and the free services they provide on radio programs, and by finding a hospital in which they could work. Tostan also provided housing for the team and for families of patients, as children were brought from all over Senegal to receive surgery and care. By working together, Tostan and Operation Smile were able to change the lives of 70 people and the collaboration presented an inspiring example of innovative organizations partnering for progress.

You can click here to read more about this collaboration, or here to learn more about the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tostan Welcomes New Volunteers!

Six new faces have arrived at Tostan! Flying into Senegal last week, these men and women join the ranks of dedicated volunteers working with Tostan to bring non-formal education programs based on human rights to communities across Africa. The six new volunteers who hail from different areas of the United States as well as Ireland and Chad, will be stationed across Senegal in the regions of Dakar, Thies, and Kaolack. During the cultural orientation held in the city of Thies, volunteers learned the intricacies of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program, key aspects of Senegalese culture, and basics of the Wolof language. Each volunteer will hold a unique post in their respective offices and will assist in capacity building within the organization while bringing unique talents and diverse educational and professional experiences to Tostan. Find out more about Tostan’s volunteer program on the website and join us in welcoming our new volunteers!

Photo: new volunteers in Saam Njaay

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tostan in Gambian News

In March, staff from the Tostan International Headquarters in Dakar, Senegal, visited The Gambia to meet with colleagues working to bring the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) to Gambian communities.
Tostan has been active in The Gambia since 2006, working in 80 Fula and Mandinka communities in the Upper River Region. The Gambia is the smallest country in continental Africa and has a 78% prevalence rate of female genital cutting (FGC), according to a UNICEF survey. Since Tostan began implementing its program in the country three years ago, three public declarations have taken place in The Gambia and 48 communities have come together to proudly announce their collective abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriages.

During their trip to The Gambia, Tostan staff met with many local NGOs and organized meetings to spread knowledge of Tostan’s program, which brings education based on human rights to thousands of rural community members. Over the years, Tostan Gambia has built a successful relationship with the Gambian government and was recently recognized by President Jammeh for having the best approach in regards to community empowerment leading to FGC abandonment.

A national newspaper, the Daily Observer, met with the Tostan delegation and reported on the successes of the Tostan program in the country. While interviewed by the newspaper, Muhammeh Alkabir Bass, the Tostan Africa Director, expressed his gratitude to President Jammeh and the Gambian government for their continued support of Tostan.

Photo: Darsilameh Declaration, URR, The Gambia, June 2009

Monday, April 19, 2010

Traditional Dance Ends Inspiring Awards Night

Last Thursday in Oxford, the Skoll World Forum awards ceremony ended in an unusual way: with dancing! Molly Melching, Founder and Executive Director of Tostan, was the last of nine recipients to be presented with the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. When accepting the award, she expressed her gratitude to the Skoll Foundation with a traditional dance from Senegal, adding to the inspirational mood of the evening.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Video: Molly Melching Receives the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship

Yesterday, the world looked to Oxford University where Molly Melching and other recipients were presented with the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship during an awards ceremony at the Skoll World Forum. The three day Forum brought together social entrepreneurs from around the world to discuss innovative approaches to pressing international issues. The award recognizes the work of Tostan and Executive Director Molly Melching in developing the holistic, 30-month Community Empowerment Program (CEP) which promotes basic education and increases community engagement in projects related to human rights, democracy, health, and hygiene, among other topics.

The Skoll Foundation’s website is a great place to check out all the news- browse the blogs and track tweets from @Tostan, @SkollWorldForum, and others who watched the events unfold. Navigate to the Forum’s homepage to watch Molly Melching accept the prestigious Skoll Award and express her thanks to the Foundation for honoring and supporting Tostan’s work in bringing about community-led development in Africa (minute: 113/129).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tostan honored this evening at the Skoll World Forum

This evening at 17:30 GMT, Tostan was presented with the 2010 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. The Skoll Foundation has recognized Molly Melching, Founder and Executive Director of Tostan, for her innovative work in bringing about positive, scalable community-led change in thousands of African Communities. The award ceremony took place at Oxford University, 17:30-21:30, and was attended by Skoll Founder and first President of eBay, Jeff Skoll, and hundreds of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs.

You can watch a live streaming of the ceremony here, and find out here the latest news from the Skoll World Forum.

Africa-Middle East Microcredit Summit

Cody Donahue, Tostan’s Coordinator of Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning reports from Nairobi, Kenya on the Africa-Middle East Microcredit Summit.

In attendance at last week’s Microcredit Summit was Cheikh Diouf, Tostan Senegal’s Empowered Communities Network Coordinator and microfinance coordinator. Cheikh has spent the past 15 years working with communities at the grassroots level, helping to establish community-led microcredit systems and social microenterprises that generate increased revenues for family expenses and community projects. Cheikh has also led the partnership between Tostan and Freedom From Hunger on the implementation of Saving for Change, savings-led microcredit programs in Senegal. To date, 55 savings groups have been established, reaching approximately 6,000 women with financial resources generated from their own savings and enterprise. Cheikh had the chance to explain to Christopher Dunford and Myka Reinsch Sinclair, President and Vice- President for Programs of Freedom from Hunger, how the microcredit revenues have been instrumental in supporting health infrastructure in Senegal.

Finally, Tostan Mbour’s regional coordinator Aida Mandiang was invited to speak at the panel, “Building on the Strength of Women in Africa and the Middle East: Innovations from the Region.” Aida spoke about her experience mentoring the Federation of Community Management Committees of Mbour. The federation supports a group of enterprises led by women which generate revenue in order to promote healthy behaviors such as prenatal visits, testing for HIV/AIDS, and the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC). (Image: Salim Dramé: A microcredit venture in Senegal- participants making bissap jam, a local favorite.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Africa-Middle East Microcredit Summit

Cody Donahue, Tostan’s Coordinator of Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning reports from Nairobi, Kenya on the Africa-Middle East Microcredit Summit.

This week, Nairobi is the meeting place for over 2,000 microfinance professionals, NGOs, government officials, and donor organizations dedicated to sharing their experiences and innovations from the world of microfinance and economic empowerment in Africa and the Middle East. I am attending the Africa-Middle East Microcredit Summit with two of my Tostan colleagues, Cheikh Diouf and Aida Mandiang, and have had the immense pleasure of seeing many Tostan friends, partners, and supporters from all around the world!

I’m taking advantage of immersing myself in the amazing community that has gathered here in Nairobi and taking the chance to share with summit delegates what Tostan is all about.

Some of the key messages Tostan is sharing at the summit:
1. When providing financial services to those who are poor and do not have bank accounts, it is important for new clients of microcredit programs and the community as a whole to be prepared with education and training. Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) allows individuals to be smart and safe with the loans they take out. Human-rights education, which is the basis of the CEP, is an incredibly important foundation for economic empowerment.
2. Tostan is urging microfinance institutions (MFIs) and donors to promote the connections between MFIs and NGOs working in the community. These organizations provide invaluable training and education, especially in the realms of literacy and new technologies like Tostan’s Jokko Initiative which helps communities to harness the power of SMS messaging.
3. Along with our friends at International Network of Alternative Financial Institutions (INAFI), Tostan and Tostan France are reaching out to the African diaspora and are working to connect immigrants to communities in Africa. In addition, INAFAI is actively working on a solution to facilitate sending remittances from African immigrants in Europe back to Senegalese communities.

On behalf of the entire Tostan delegation, we’d like to thank the partners that helped us get to Nairobi in order to attend this extraordinary event:

Thanks to everyone that made this trip possible!
More exciting news and videos to come!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Village of Gniling Mbao, Senegal, Completes Tostan's Community Empowerment Program

The small Senegalese village of Gniling Mbao in the region of St. Louis recently celebrated completion of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) with much enthusiasm. The only village in the region to currently participate in Tostan’s CEP, Gniling Mbao celebrated with a full day of festive events in honor of the positive developments that have taken place in the community. The 30-month Tostan program was established in February 2007 thanks to the financial support of Sara Minard, in partnership with the Yarum Jin Project (funded by the Minard-Garfinkle Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative). Entitled Integrated Development in Health and Aquaculture in Senegal, the cooperative project aims both to preserve the culture and way of life of a people who have traditionally depended on the sea for their livelihood, and to provide the knowledge and resources for community members to become independent agents of development.

Click here to read the full article by guest author Jen Keuler!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tostan’s Jokko Initiative: Empowering Communities through Mobile Technology

By Rebecca Tapscott

THIES, Senegal 19 March 2010 – 30 Tostan facilitators traveled from regions across Senegal in order to attend a four-day Jokko Initiative Training seminar, which began on Tuesday, March 16th in the city of Thiès. The fruit of an innovative partnership between Tostan and UNICEF, the Jokko Intiative uses mobile phones as pedagogical tools to support the Aawde component (literacy, introduction to management, and post-literacy) of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP).

The goal of the Jokko Initiative is to empower people to harness the power of accessible mobile technology to improve their lives and those of their children. Mobile phones serve as practical tools for learning and reinforcing literacy and numeracy skills, while offering various applications that are relevant to the daily lives of community members and which allow them to practice the organization and management skills taught in the CEP. Tostan has also seen that SMS texting- a more economical means of communication than a phone call – has the potential to accelerate positive social change, as it provides a platform for exchanging information, broadcasting ideas and organizing community advocacy efforts.

During the training seminar, conducted in Wolof and Pular, the facilitators performed skits, sang, danced, and used illustrations to ready themselves for teaching courses on sending and receiving SMS text messages, registering contacts, and using the calculator function on cell phones, etc.

One of the participatory teaching tools to be used by facilitators (community trainers in Tostanese) to teach CEP participants is an illustration of a mango tree, with each branch representing a different level in the menu of a cell phone. The illustration helps those who are new to the technology to navigate menus and reach their desired application. Facilitators practiced making their way along the branches of a model tree and narrated their journey.

Guillaume Debar, the Jokko Initiative project manager, expressed optimism about the project’s future. “Our pilot in 200 villages in Senegal has showed that project participants see an immediate incentive to learn to read and write, as they use SMS texting to communicate better and at a lower cost. As a result, they are consistently motivated throughout the course of the Aawde, and other community members even applied to join the class.”

To read more about the Jokko Initiative, please click here. Click here to view additional photos and video clips.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tostan Program Participants Share Successes at Inter-Village Meetings

By Elisabeth Sexton

KAOLACK, Senegal March 2010
- As a volunteer in the Tostan Kaolack office, I have had the opportunity over the past two weeks to travel with my colleagues through six different villages in the Kaolack region of Senegal to attend inter-village meetings, or RIV (rencontre inter-villageois). These meetings give us at Tostan an opportunity to hear from representatives of each community hosting the Nike Project.

The Nike Project, an implementation of the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP) already present in villages across West and East Africa, is taking place in seven zones, six in the Kaolack region and one in Thiès. Each zone is made up of about 8 to 10 villages. Five of the seven zones are receiving Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), which includes three years of classes on human rights, democracy, health, literacy, numeracy, and problem solving plus an added component on gender issues. As these villages have now completed the first half of the program, RIVs give members of the community an opportunity to come together to reflect on what has been accomplished since beginning the program, what difficulties they are encountering, and what solutions are possible.

In many of the villages, participants report that before the gender sessions incorporated into the Tostan program as part of the Nike Project, men did not play an active role in household chores. Now men are beginning to collect wood and water to assist their families with chores traditionally reserved for women. Some men in the villages are also going to the market for their wives and are getting involved in village clean-up days. In addition, it was noted that men have started to take more of an interest in the opinions of their wives and children and are talking and interacting with them at home more frequently.

Present at the inter-village meetings are imams or religious leaders, village chiefs, youth representatives, Community Management Committee (CMC) members (who are also participants in the Tostan program), as well as members of the local government and development organizations, like USAID. Community members from the meeting’s host village also like to wander over to listen to the proceedings!

Tostan Kaolack’s Regional Coordinator Abdoul Aziz Sy along with the village chief and an invited speaker open the meetings before groups break off for discussion. During each RIV, community members highlight many of the achievements that have been made in their village since the beginning of the Tostan/Nike Project program including the implementation of community clean-up days and awareness raising initiatives about health and hygiene. Community members also discuss the shifts they have seen in gender roles.

The RIVs wind down in the late afternoon with closing speeches and a closing prayer by the village imam. Then comes lunch! In the heat of the afternoon, our stomachs empty, we slowly make our way over to where we finish the RIV with a large, delicious dish of rice and meat for everyone to share.

Blog adapted by Salim Drame