Wednesday, December 29, 2010

From Bamako to Kolda: 54 Malian Representatives Take Part in the Public Declaration in Kolda, Senegal

Story by Claire Constant, Tostan Volunteer in Bamako, Mali

On the 28th of November, a very special event happened in Kolda, Senegal. Representatives from over 700 villages of this southern region of the country gathered to publicly declare their commitment to abandon harmful practices such as female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.
As a volunteer in Tostan’s Bamako office, I accompanied representatives from the Malian government and from Tostan partner NGOs, as well as religious leaders, Community Management Committee (CMC) coordinators, and community members on the long journey to Kolda.
Tostan's National Coordinator in Mali, Abou Amel Camara, his Assistant, Dieynaba Diallo Diop, and I traveled to villages in Mali where Tostan implements the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) to inform participants that they had been invited by their Senegalese neighbors to attend the declaration. The communities democratically chose representatives for the trip to Senegal.

At the declaration, seeing new dances and hearing different rhythms and songs was a highlight for the Malian participants. Oumou Coulibaly, one of Tostan’s facilitators in the Koulikoro area who had never visited the southern region of Senegal, was particularly happy to discover a different culture and be able to see such lively and joyful performances. “We were all very happy to meet with new people, to discover traditional dances that we had never seen before. Overall, being able to talk to people from different cultures, and to march with them here in Kolda as a family, made us all very happy,” she said.

The public reading of the declaration in three languages─French, Pulaar and Mandika—was a moving moment. “I was particularly impressed by the content of the declaration itself,” said Dieynaba Traoré, a participant from Sendo, Mali, a village in the Koulikoro area where Tostan works. “It was probably the most remarkable moment for me, and I will remember it for a long time.”
On the way back to Mali, despite fatigue, everyone reflected on the busy weekend. As their communities’ chosen representatives, the members of the Malian delegation now have the important responsibility to share their experience with their friends and families. This is a task that they take seriously. “Now that I have attended this declaration, I believe that one day, Malian communities will do the same,” stated Minata Diarra from the village of Fégoun. “It is so very important that I share what I saw with people from my community,” she said.

Photos by Claire Constant: Top- the delegation from Mali marches to the public declaration. Middle- Tostan's National Coordinator in Mali tells CEP participants they have been invited to the grand event. Below- members of the Malian delegation at the declaration.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The village of Tankanto Mauondé, Senegal: A Village of Activists

Story by Caitlin Snyder, Tostan Volunteer in Kolda, Senegal

Rich in tradition, the village of Tankanto Mauondé prides itself on a history that spans over 400 years. These villagers speak with even more pride, however, when they discuss the future of their daughters. The next generation of girls will grow up in a community which has declared to abandon female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.

Takanto Mauondé was once a community of Fulani farmers who cultivated rice, maize, and peanuts, crops which once constituted the main source of revenue for the original 700 inhabitants. Today, the most important value in the village is that of teranga, or Senegalese hospitality. A strong interest in the well being of others is reflected in the character of the villagers and it is this interest that influenced their participation in the Tostan program. After Tostan began implementing the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in the community in 2008, the 76 participants – 66 women and eight adolescents – responded enthusiastically to the lessons on health and human rights. Women created a Community Management Committee (CMC), a group of 17 democratically elected individuals, and initiated awareness-raising campaigns to introduce nearby villages to the negative effects of harmful traditional practices. 

Boubakry Baldé, the husband of a CMC member, described the committee’s work: “We have seen many changes in mentality in the village and there is now greater potential for the development of young girls.” Today, the villagers speak about the importance of sending children to school, and they proudly insist that no girl will be forced to quit school due to an early marriage.

“It’s the women who took the initiative,” said the village chief’s representative. Today, women have a more central role in the village. “Before, women didn’t speak during meetings,” recalled Fatoumata Baldé, the coordinator of the CMC. “Now, even during baptism ceremonies, marriage celebrations, and religious events, women are involved in the decisions.” 

The changes brought about by the CMC are extraordinary. The CMC initiated a dialogue on the importance of birth registration as well as registering children for school. Women have won respect and now have the full support of everyone in Tankanto Mauondé, from the village chief to religious leaders.

Thanks to knowledge gained in the areas of mathematics and project management during the Tostan program, the CMC leads income generating activities such as selling vegetables and dried fish. Entrepreneurs meet two times a month to calculate their expenses and the benefits of their sales. They speak with enthusiasm regarding projects they will begin in the coming year.

The community’s decision to abandon harmful traditional practices ─ which they shared with the world in a grand declaration held on November 28th ─ shows a strong wish to preserve the health and the rights of their daughters. According to Mamoudou Baldé, “We will show the government, neighboring communities, and other countries that we have decided to abandon FGC and child/forced marriage.” On the 28th of November, the village of Tankanto Mauondé was one of 700 villages investing in the future of every girl in Senegal. 

Photos by Caitlin Snyder

Monday, December 20, 2010

91 Villages in Wack Ngouna, Senegal Abandon FGC Thanks to the Power of Social Mobilization

Story by Sydney Skov, Tostan Volunteer in Dakar, Senegal.

In the village of Wack Ngouna, I watched as dust spiraled up from the quick steps of countless dancing feet.

Celebrating a collective decision which will effectively change the future for girls in Wack Ngouna, a district near Kaolack, Senegal, hundreds gathered to watch as representatives from 91 communities shared with the nation their decision to abandon female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage

As I listened to local dignitaries speak, sharing their enthusiasm for Tostan and for the future of women and girls in the surrounding communities, I realized the magnitude of this public declaration. While a much smaller event than the giant public declaration in Kolda last month during which 700 communities declared abandonment of FGC, this declaration was particularly powerful because none of the 91 declaring villages had taken part in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), a 30-month, holistic education program teaching human rights, democracy, health, hygiene, and literacy, among other subjects. 

The villages of Wack Ngouna are proof of an incredible feat of community-led development: social mobilization. A group of five Community Management Committee (CMC) members – individuals who have been elected as leaders within their respective communities – was led by Tostan’s Ousmane Ndiaye and Marietou Diarrou, responsible for social mobilization in the Kaolack region. The team traveled from village to village, sharing knowledge they had gained from the Tostan program with other communities while encouraging village leaders to address issues of women’s rights and health. This  method of social mobilization allows shared knowledge to spread from one village to the next, creating a web of communities connected by the understanding that harmful traditional practices undermine the health and human rights of women and girls.

Skits performed by local youth during the celebration in Wack Ngouna illustrated their understanding of the negative effects of FGC and child marriage. One skit portrayed a 12 year old girl who was to be married to an older man in exchange for a dowry. But the girl stood up in protest saying, “the money that you put in your pocket today is the happiness that you take from me tomorrow.” She then convinced her father that she should continue her education so she could one day find a good job to help the family. 

Within the last two months alone, almost 800 villages have declared their abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage thanks to the dedication of thousands across Senegal who, by sharing knowledge and discussing ideas learned through the Tostan program, are creating positive social change. The incredible movement continues. 

Photos by Sydney Skov and Verneva Ziga. Top- members of the performance group Alalaké. Middle- The social mobilization team in Kaolack. Below- local youth perform a skit which discussed the harmful consequences of FGC.   

Friday, December 10, 2010

Additional Communities in The Gambia begin the Community Empowerment Program and Take Development into Their Own Hands.

Story by Jana Shih, Tostan Volunteer in Dakar, Senegal

I arrived in The Upper River Region (URR) three weeks ago.  As a member of Tostan International’s Monitoring and Evaluation Team, my role here has been to train local interviewers and oversee the assessment of 33 communities who are slated to begin Tostan’s holistic education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), in December. The 30-month CEP, which includes modules on human rights, democracy, health and hygiene, literacy and problem solving, will give communities the tools they need to make informed decisions about their own development. 

The Gambia is the smallest country on continental Africa with a population of around one million people and a land size roughly that of Jamaica. It is ranked 168 out of 182 countries in the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index, ranking it as one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.  According to UNICEF (2009), 78% of The Gambia’s population practices female genital cutting and 36% of all marriages in the country are considered child or forced marriages.  Since 2006, Tostan has been working in partnership with the Gambian government to address these issues.  
During our training meetings, or “Community Situational Site Studies,” experienced Tostan supervisors interview community members about certain aspects of their village, such as infrastructure, health, education, economy, women’s empowerment, and relationships with other villages.  The Monitoring and Evaluation department will use this comprehensive baseline information when evaluating the community-wide impact of the Tostan program. 

To date, 80 communities in the URR—the the country’s poorest region—have taken part in the CEP.  This month, we will have the opportunity to celebrate alongside over 50 villages as they participate in the country’s second public declaration to collectively abandon child/forced marriage and FGC.

Photo by Katie Seward, Tostan Volunteer in The Gambia

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

700 Villages in Kolda, Senegal Declare Their Abandonment of FGC and Child/Forced Marriage

Story by Sydney Skov, Tostan Volunteer in Dakar, Senegal

Over 3,000 people gather in the school yard. Community Empowerment Program (CEP) participants, government officials and delegations from Guinea Bissau, The Gambia, and Mali, as well as representatives from 700 communities in the Kolda region of Senegal take their seats. I hurry to find a place in the shade of an enormous tree and sit, propped up by ancient roots. The crowd is a rainbow of color, spilling out onto the dusty ground, painting the day.

This event, complete with speeches, dances, and inspired musical performances, marks a historic change in the lives of thousands. In one of the largest public declarations the country has seen since the movement began in the village of Malicouda Bambara in 1997, communities declare their abandonment of harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. Today, communities call for an end to practices that have undermined the rights of women and girls for centuries, and add their voices to the abandonment movement. A national action plan adopted by the Senegalese government looks to have the practice of FGC completely abandoned throughout the country by 2015; the thousands who have gathered today in a grand display of solidarity make it clear that this goal is within reach. 

50 young performers from local villages sing and dance for the crowd, expressing through song the harmful consequences of both FGC and child/forced marriage. Thanks to the CEP, Tostan’s 30-month human-rights based education program, communities come to understand the negative effects of certain social norms and are equipped to make their own decisions regarding change.

Tostan originally implemented the CEP in 23 villages in the Kolda region. Through impressive awareness raising activities conducted by each village’s Community Management Committee (CMC), a group of 17 elected leaders who handle everything from awareness raising activities to microcredit loans, 677 more villages learned about human rights and joined the movement to abandon FGC and child/forced marriage.
The declaration text is read to the gathered crowd in three languages: French, Mandinka, and Pulaar. Delegations from Mali, Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia have arrived to attend the event and show their support for Tostan and for the movement to abandon harmful practices.

As the celebration comes to a close, the feeling of excitement doesn’t fade. Dancers in traditional costumes create an atmosphere of gaiety as communities take pride in their heritage and in the human rights education that has led them to this momentous declaration day.

To read more about the public declaration, check out the article from AFP on the incredible Kolda declaration or read the report written by Tostan volunteer Caitlin Snyder.

Photos by Sydney Skov

Find more photos from the public declaration on Flickr!   

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Festivities Begin for the Public Declaration in Kolda, Senegal

Story by Sydney Skov, Tostan Voluteer in Dakar, Senegal 

November 27— Engulfed in a singing sea of people, we dance our way into the rural village of Tankanto Mauondé near the city of Kolda, Senegal. Voices celebrating education and human rights welcome our small delegation; Tostan staff and volunteers, including myself, have arrived to take part in an afternoon of cultural activities and celebrations preceding the department-wide public declaration scheduled for tomorrow. In the morning, thousands of people from local communities will add their voices to the international movement advocating for human rights by announcing to Senegal, to Africa, and to the world their commitment to abandon harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.

Khady Baldé, the vivacious president of the Tankanto Mauondé women’s association, greets us and invites us to dance (above). 

The energy of the women is infectious, the happiness pervasive. High spirits are almost louder than the clacking calabashes, the high-pitched whistles, and the pounding drums.

Young girls hold up posters proclaiming No to Female Genital Cutting, [The Village of] Tankanto Welcomes Tostan, No to Child/Forced Marriage,The Community Thanks You for Everything.

Thanks to an understanding of human rights gained from Tostan’s 30-month, holistic education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), both men and women of the community have made the decision to abandon the practices of FGC and child/forced marriage

Harmful traditional practices not only undermine women’s rights, but often lead to devastating and even fatal health complications. A new generation of women and girls in this community, and in thousands of communities across Senegal, will have the opportunity to live free of the harmful effects of FGC.

Photos by Sydney Skov 

Blog adapted by Salim Drame