Thursday, July 29, 2010

Photos from the Road: Tostan Volunteers Visit Regional Offices

Story by Sydney Skov, Tostan Volunteer in Dakar, Senegal

In a brightly lit Tostan building in the lush, southern region of Kolda, Senegal, regional staff and 16 supervisors gathered to welcome us, a convoy of Tostan volunteers based in the big city of Dakar. The Volunteer Coordinator Zoe Williams, her assistant Cassandra Scarpino, and I, the International Communications Assistant, took a whirlwind trip to each region in Senegal in order to meet the staff in the Tostan offices located in the towns of Ourossogui, Ndjoum, Tambacounda, Kolda, Kaolack, and Mbour. Our aim was to present information on the volunteer program and on the strides we have recently made in using social media tools – such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the blog - to share Tostan’s work with a wider audience. Supervisors, who are themselves Senegalese and who often work in their home regions, spend the majority of their time in villages overseeing the implementation of the Community Empowerment Program (CEP). It was thrilling to meet them and to discuss the happenings at the Tostan International office in Dakar as well as the work being done in communities across Senegal. Below are just a few photos from our journey. 

Tostan volunteers pose with Tostan staff at the regional office in Ourossogui, located in northern Senegal.

Volunteers and staff, including 16 supervisors, gather to discuss the volunteer program at the office in Kolda, located in southern Senegal. 

Photos by Cassandra Scarpino

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Evening with Tostan

Story by Kate Acosta, Tostan Intern, Washington, D.C.

On Thursday July 22, Tostan’s Washington, D.C. office held its first ever event.  Tostan alumni, donors, partners and friends all gathered at the local restaurant Busboys and Poets for a screening of “Walking the Path of Unity,” a  movie that discusses the decision of several Senegalese communities to abandon female genital cutting (FGC) after participating in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP).  Local Tostan alumni and supporters attended the event, and received an update on recent Tostan programs and successes from Molly Melching, Tostan’s Executive Director and founder. 
This event marks the first of its kind for Tostan’s Washington, D.C. office, and we were very pleased with its success.  Attendees had many interesting questions, and the evening was filled with thought-provoking discussions.  We look forward to future events that will bring the Tostan community together again!
Photos by Tostan International: Top- Molly Melching addresses the crowd at Busboys and Poets. Bottom- US Director of Operations, Gannon Gillespie, talks with former Tostan volunteers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tostan Team in Mbour, Senegal Celebrates the Day of the African Child

Story by Matthew Manley, Tostan Volunteer in Mbour, Senegal

Paralleling an event held in Dakar that featured performances by famous musicians Youssou N’dour and Baaba Maal, a coalition of NGOs, municipal governments, and primary schools hosted their own event on June 18 in Mbour, Senegal, celebrating the International Day of the African Child. Begun in 1991, the annual celebration is held in commemoration of a 1976 manifestation in Soweto, South Africa, in which thousands of black South African students held a demonstration, marching for their right to education.

Today, the event continues to promote the spirit of the march, calling all African nations to prioritize education for youth. At the Mbour celebration, the Tostan Mbour Coordinator Aida Mandiang and I were honored with a place on the stage, giving us an excellent vantage point from which to witness speeches by representatives from local NGOs and local governments. The audience was treated to theatrical sketches and dance performances by students from area primary schools.

The children of Thionck-Essyl Demand Recognition: an Excerpt from an Article in Senegal’s Online News Source, Le Soleil.  

The Day of the African Child was celebrated Wednesday, June 18 in Thionck-Essyl thanks to the initiative of the national coordination of the NGO Tostan which invited delegations from Matam, Kolda, Kaolack, Tambacounda, and Ziguinchor.

This year’s Day of the African Child was themed, “Planning and Budgeting for Childhood: a Collective Responsibility.” In response to the theme of the day, Penda Mbaye, Program Coordinator at Tostan Senegal said, “it has to do with all of the actors involved in the development of African children - parents, the state, NGOs - recognizing the central position of the African child in the overall development of the continent.” According to her, “a concerted policy, something coherent and coordinated with available budgets remains… the only alternative to economic policies which, in many African countries, are showing their limits.”

“If we want the African child of today to be the responsible and well-adjusted African adult of tomorrow… the decision makers of our country should focus on the most pertinent economic choices which take into account the important dimension of the well-being of children,” she concluded.

Photos by Matthew Manley: Children in Mbour, Senegal contribute to the festivities held to commemorate the annual Day of the African Child.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tostan Regional Volunteer Aua Balde Presents Research on Talibé at the European Report on Development Conference in Dakar, Senegal.

Story by Sydney Skov, Tostan Volunteer in Dakar, Senegal

Dressed in a suit, you would never guess that Aua Balde, a Tostan regional volunteer, had spent the past eight months living and working in the humid, rural region of Kolda, in southern Senegal. At the Novotel in downtown Dakar on Monday, June 28, this current Harvard Human Rights Henigson Fellow presented research on the subject of talibé in West Africa, an issue that recently has received much attention by international organizations, including Human Rights Watch.

The talibé phenomenon, according to Aua, is not limited to Senegal. It is trans-national in nature as around 40% of talibé in Senegal come from neighboring countries. Talibé, or Qu’aranic students, are sent by their parents, to daaras, or schools, in larger cities. There, talibé are to learn the Qur’an from religious teachers or marabouts. However, in most cases, marabouts do not have the means to support the students and the young boys are sent to the streets to beg. In doing this, the students are kept from a formal education. “They spend each day from 7am to 3pm begging,” explained Aua as she stood beside a poster board at the conference displaying the main points of her research and photos of young boys carrying oversized soup cans. “What time do they have to study?”

The conference, called “Promoting Resilience through Social Protection in Sub-Saharan Africa,” was sponsored by the European Report on Development and highlighted 14 young African researchers - including Aua, originally from Guinea-Bissau - who presented unique findings on an array of social protection issues. Aua’s specialty is child protection; with the completion of this paper, she will earn a post graduate degree in the subject from Coimbra University in Portugal. Previously, Aua earned a masters degree in international human rights law from Harvard Law School.

Photo: Tostan volunteers attend Aua Balde’s presentation on the talibé phenomenon. From left: Caitlin Snyder, Josephine Ndao, Marisa Hesse, Zoe Williams (Tostan’s Volunteer Coordinator), Aua Balde, and Sydney Skov. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Diola Women in Mbour, Senegal discuss FGC

Story by Matthew Manley, Tostan Volunteer in Mbour, Senegal

Last week in Mbour, Senegal, Tostan welcomed representatives of three Diola women’s associations from Thies, Dakar, and Mbour for a film screening of Walking the Path of Unity and an accompanying discussion. Titled, Buru bújojenuma sísukas in the language of Diola, Walking the Path of Unity was a collaborative effort of the Belgian NGO RESPECT, Tostan, and the Diola community of Diégoune in the Casamance region of Senegal. Told from the community’s perspective, the film shares the story of Diégoune’s decision to abandon female genital cutting (FGC).

Walking the Path of Unity is unique both because of its directors— the community members of Diégoune— but also because of the intended audience. While most films about traditional practices are created with the intention of educating foreign audiences, Diégoune’s film was created to share with other Diola communities the reasons behind Diégoune’s decision to collectively abandon FGC.

Following the film, organizers facilitated a discussion of the film. Madame Diamé, a woman present at the screening, shared her story. Originally from Casmance, Madame Diamé was a cutter by profession until 2005, when she decided to abandon the practice. After training to become a physician’s assistant, she helped to form the 15-member group of ex-cutters in Mbour. She concluded her story by encouraging others to abandon what she now views as a harmful practice. 

Photos by Matthew Manley

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Religious Leaders of Guinea-Conakry Issue a Declaration Against FGC

Story by Tostan International, Dakar, Senegal

Project Hope, a collaboration between Pathfinder International, Population Services International (PSI), and Tostan, organized a two day event on May 26 and 27, devoted to the discussion of Islam and female genital cutting (FGC). More than 60 religious leaders from Guinea-Conakry, including both Muslims and Christians, took part in the discussions held under the patronage of the Secretary General of Religious Affairs, the Minister of National Solidarity for the Promotion of Women and Children, and the Minister of Public Health and Hygiene.

The Minister of Public Health and Hygiene, Dr. Rachid Madina, reminded those gathered at the discussion that 96% of women in Guinea undergo FGC, and he humbly asked the religious leaders to actively engage in efforts to help the country abandon the practice.

Taking place at the Islamic Center of Donka in Guinea-Conakry, the discussions allowed leaders to harmonize their position on harmful traditional practices such as FGC and child/forced marriage. A declaration was then issued which condemned the harmful practice and called on the country’s political leaders to do the same. Through the declaration, Guinea-Conakry’s religious leaders demonstrated their belief that the physical as well as mental integrity of a girl or woman is negatively affected when she is cut. 

To read a list of recommendations issued by the country’s religious leaders adding momentum to the international movement for the abandonment of FGC, click the read more link below. 

Photo: Women in Guinea. Religious leaders in Guinea-Conakry acknowledge the harmful effects of FGC on women and girls and call for a ban on the practice. 

Blog adapted by Salim Drame