Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Excitement Builds in Anticipation of Public Declaration in Kolda

Story by Sydney Skov, Tostan Volunteer in Dakar, Senegal

Equipment for the celebration makes its way 
to the village of Tankanto Mauondé in Kolda. 
November 26—It was a long and bumpy car ride from Dakar to the southern city of Kolda, Senegal. Two Tostan volunteers – Amma Serwaah-Panin, the Program Assistant for the Jokko Initiative, a program focusing on literacy through text messages, and myself, the Assistant to Tostan’s International Communications Team – are joining a delegation of Tostan staff from all over the country in preparation for the grand event to take place November 28: a public declaration for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.

Over 700 villages will come together this weekend to make an incredible commitment, one that will bring the country of Senegal one step closer to the total abandonment of a 2,000 year old practice which undermines the rights of women and girls. We will have the amazing opportunity to witness history in the making and to watch as over 2,000 women and men from rural communities raise their voices to help end harmful traditions.

The department-wide declaration is happening at an appropriate moment, as world leaders turn increased attention to the importance of women’s empowerment and the delicate issue of changing harmful social norms. November 25th marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and in a piece which ran in The Vancouver Sun, Hillary Clinton boldly stated that men are equally important in the effort to eliminate gender based violence. Through holistic, human-rights based education and a community-led approach, Tostan is helping to do just that: bring women and men together to change the course of history. 

It’s muggier here than in Dakar, the big city seems far away, but the atmosphere of excitement has already begun to seep into the Tostan office and into my little hotel room where I’m anxiously awaiting the festivities planned for tomorrow. A documentary filmmaker and I will be traveling to a nearby village with a group of journalists representing all facets of Senegalese news media. There, Tostan will hold a press conference in order to share details of the upcoming declaration. Tomorrow night will be a cultural celebration including music, dance, and cheer. I will continue to post on our blog as the events unfold!   

Photos by Sydney Skov: Top- preparations begin in the village of Tankanto Mauondé. Below- men and women dance together in the village as declaration day approaches. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gnima Diamé, Treasurer of the Mbour Association of Ex-Cutters

Story by Matthew Manley, Tostan Volunteer in Mbour, Senegal

It has been five years since Gnima Diamé last performed female genital cutting (FGC), the trade her mother taught her.

Originally from Biñona in the Casamance region of Senegal, Gnima has been a resident of the city of Mbour since 1992, as well as the treasurer for the Mbour Association of Ex-Cutters since its formation in 2004. The organization—comprised mostly of women of Mandinka ethnicity except for Gnima who belongs to the Diola ethnic group—raises awareness about the risks associated with FGC and supports women who have abandoned careers as cutters.

The goal of the group of ex-cutters is to attain government-recognized status as an economic interest group. This status will enable the women to acquire financial assistance from government lending agencies and other sources. Other goals include implementing income-generating initiatives and developing awareness-raising programs focused on the health of young women.

For Gnima, her decision to abandon a career as a practitioner of FGC stemmed from recognizing the health hazards related to the procedure. However, abandoning her career took a leap of faith. Over the course of six months in 2004, she took classes in order to become a physician’s assistant and is now certified as a childbirth specialist. She is currently looking for a health related post in Mbour.

Gnima has four daughters and one son of her own. None of her daughters have undergone FGC, and according to Gnima, they will never feel pressured to cut their own daughters.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Story by Katie Seward, Tostan Volunteer in The Gambia 

As we ride the 30 kilometers from Kuraw Kemo to the next village of Touba Wuli, my fear of motorbikes begins to give way to exhilaration. I feign nonchalance by resting one hand on my knee in an attempt to look casual, while still tightly gripping the tail light behind me with the other.

Day 2

In the village of Touba Wuli, education is on the tip of everyone’s tongue when I ask about challenges facing the community. There is no English school here, only a Koranic one, and even that has no desks, no chairs, and just one blackboard for over 100 students. Nearly all adults in the community are illiterate but they have greater hopes for their children, many of whom attend English schools in neighboring villages.

Unlike many Gambian villages, there is no skills center in Touba Wuli where residents can learn  marketable trades. Ajafay Camara, the head of the women’s kafo (committee), attends meetings in Basse as part of her duties and on one such occasion, she received a brief training in fabric dyeing. Though she wants to teach this to the women of the community, there is no money to hire a more qualified instructor or even to purchase the necessary supplies.

On the subject of female genital cutting (FGC), Karmo Sanuwo, the secretary for the Village Development Committee (VDC) expresses his support for the practice on the basis of religion, tradition, and the necessity for “cleanliness.” But Ms. Camara told me previously that she attended the Tostan declaration in the nearby village of Darsilame. When I turn to ask her opinion she sighs and says, “It is very difficult to stop this tradition, but if people are educated about the problems, if they are sensitized, they will abandon.”

Despite never having previously met any of the inhabitants of Touba Wuli, Lakamay and I are graciously fed and lodged that night as guests. We join the community in watching a soccer game until the sun sets. Without electricity, the arrival of night feels more profound, but it is still not as dark as one would expect as we sit outside for hours. The village is illuminated by the Milky Way, the flickering of candles, the flashing of a lightning storm on the horizon, and the glow of the coals used to brew attaya or green tea.

Photos by Katie Seward: Top- Sunset over Touba Wuli, Middle- fom left to right: Ajafay Camara, head of the women’s kafo; Ibrahim Jawo; and Karmo Sanuwo, VDC secretary, Bottom- A soccer match in which the juniors beat the seniors 3-1

Monday, November 8, 2010


Story by Katie Seward, Tostan Volunteer in The Gambia 

It is the rainy season in The Gambia and the river had risen up to seize the streets of Basse, making the nearest blocks almost Venice-like as they are only navigable by boat. Tostan Supervisor Lakamay Gaye and I began our journey. Once we get out of Basse and across the river, we climb onto the motorbike; an anxiety-inducing experience. A barely competent bicycle rider, I have never ridden on a motorcycle before and I am terrified by the bumpy, red dirt roads I know lay before us, but I strap on a helmet and throw my leg over the vinyl seat. The bike sputters and starts and we are off, heading towards the Mandinka villages that will constitute the newest participants in the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in The Gambia.

DAY 1 

The village of Kuraw Kemo feels empty upon our arrival. The alkako (village chief), the record keeper, the head of the women’s kafo (committee)—they are all out working in the community garden. A small boy leads the way and when we approach the group, I am handed a hoe, to everyone’s amusement. After a few minutes of haphazardly hacking at rice, the village decides it has been sufficiently entertained by the agricultural ineptitude of a toubab (foreigner) and we settle beneath a wolo tree to discuss life in Kuraw Kemo.

The surrounding field, they explain, is full of knee-high rice now ready for harvesting and also knee-high mango tree seedlings that are five years away from bearing fruit. The village purchased 141 trees for 75 dalasi (about 3 USD) apiece and they will share the benefits communally, as they plan to do with the rice. Using the same idea, the women’s kafo in the village intends to start a vegetable garden once the rainy season is over.

This community, so proactive about initiating their own development, has already started to feel the impacts of the Tostan program. The neighboring village of Kuraw Arafeng participated from 2007 to 2009 and has shared the knowledge they acquired about the harmful effects of female genital cutting (FGC). Now the community says they have largely abandoned the practice as they found it difficult to continue once they became aware of the consequences.

Photos by Katie Seward: Top- the streets of Kuraw Kemo. Middle- Hawa Konoba in front of the rice and mango fields and community-gathering wolo tree. Below- Ibrahim Danso (right) and Bacary Malang (left), discuss problems in the village

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Portrait of a Leader: Aïchèttou Babou and Tostan Partner for Women’s Empowerment in Ranérou, Senegal

Story by Michelle Rintelman, Tostan Volunteer in the Fouta

Born in 1968, Aïchéttou attended primary and secondary school in Matam, Senegal and is fluent in French, Pulaar, and Wolof.  She travelled extensively throughout Senegal before returning to the northern village of Ranérou in 1992. When she arrived, she felt that women did not have anything to occupy themselves with outside of laundry, cooking, and housework. With this realization, she was inspired to create a local Groupement de Promotion Féminine (GPF), a Ranérou chapter of the women’s development organization called Groupement Bammtare.

Aïchèttou Babou was instrumental in welcoming the Tostan program to Ranérou and remains a strong advocate and partner to this day. She has devoted her adult life to women’s empowerment. Currently serving as the President of Senegal’s Comité Consultatif National de la Femme for the Matam Region of Senegal, she represents more than a thousand women’s groups, associations, and income generating enterprises in the regions of Matam, Ranérou, and Kanel. For the 28th anniversary of the Quinzième de la Femme, or Senegal’s annual Fifteen Days for Women, Aïchèttou helped to produce a video highlighting her organization’s goals and priorities. With the recent passage of legislation promoting gender equality in electoral positions, Aïchèttou takes advantage of every available opportunity to encourage the women in her community to continue their education and political involvement.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

When Europe Meets Africa

Story by Sun-Min Kim, Intern at Tostan France, Paris

October 6 – I am standing in front of the Satellit Café, a world music bar in the 10th district of Paris, waiting for the rest of the Tostan France team to arrive. I started interning at Tostan France in June, and today, I will have a chance to be part of an off-site event. Volker Goetze, a German friend of the organization, is performing tonight with his Senegalese partner and fellow musician Ablaye Cissoko, and he invited Tostan France to come and present its activities during the break.

Volker plays the trumpet, Ablaye plays the African string instrument the kora, and together they perform jazz music. While I am trying to picture how two such different instruments could fuse into jazz, everybody begins to arrive; that is, the three regular members of the Tostan France office, Sabine, Marine, and Seydou, two volunteers Eric and Makhoudia, two friends of the organization, and Gannon who is visiting us from the Tostan DC office.

Established in Paris in 2007, the Tostan France office was born out of the need to involve members of the African diaspora in the development process in their communities of origin. Through years of experience in Senegal and other African countries, Tostan has learned that members of the diaspora are influential forces that can either hinder or fuel social development. Development in African villages is only sustainable when the diaspora communities are involved in the decision-making process. Tostan France therefore meets the crucial need of maintaining an on-going dialogue between those who have emigrated and those who have not.
Blog adapted by Salim Drame