Thursday, October 27, 2011

Still Four Stars

Even after Charity Navigator revamped its evaluation criteria to include metrics that measure an organization’s financial health and accountability and transparency, Tostan still maintained its 4-star rating, the highest rating given by the independent charity evaluator.

For interesting stats about the Charity Navigator rating changes and links to Tostan’s full report, click here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Singing and dancing their way to a healthier future

Story by Elizabeth Loveday, Regional Volunteer in The Gambia
Tostan CEP Participants in Tambasansang, The Gambia
Song and dance go a long way in Tambasansang.

Situated just ten kilometers from Basse in the Upper River Region of The Gambia, Tambasansang has over 200 women, men, and adolescents currently enrolled in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP).

Class sessions in Tambasansang begin with participants joining together to sing songs about what they are learning and to celebrate their involvement in the 30-month program. One lyric that resonated with me was, "open the door for me for Tostan so that I will have the knowledge." Coming together at the beginning of sessions, which sometimes cover difficult and sensitive issues, fosters a strong sense of unity and shared experience among participants.
Tostan CEP Participants in Tambasansang, The Gambia
put class topics to lyrics and dance
Outside of the classroom, song and dance have also been used to engage community members in various initiatives. One CEP participant, Kaddy Jaigen, told me about a cleaning exercise organized by the Tambasansang’s Community Management Committee (CMC) every Sunday. The exercise, which invites members of the wider community to remove waste from family compounds and village roads, is led by a troop of singers, dancers, and drummers. The troop leads the procession through the roads of Tambasansang, performing songs to maintain the momentum and to motivate others to join.

CMC members have also initiated a penalty tax system, which requires class participants to pay a fee if they do not engage in the cleaning. This money is fed back into the community fund and used to pay for events, activities, and to support income generation projects. The CEP participants with whom I spoke all told me how these initiatives have improved the overall health of people in their community. Also, as a result of the health modules, community members said that now people in Tambasansang understand the importance of taking their children to the doctor instead of relying solely on local medicines.

The Tambasansang Drama Troop performing a play
about the importance of treating malaria
Along with song and dance, drama is also used as a tool to promote positive change within the community. I was introduced to the Tambasansang Drama Troop made up of predominantly young, enthusiastic female class members who hold performances every two weeks at the bantaba (meeting ground), a large open space in the center of the village. The troop presents educational and entertaining plays on topics including malaria prevention, drug abuse, and child/forced marriage. The troop told me that people have been very responsive to such fun performances and accessible messages. Through these productions, passionate youth performers help engage and educate other community members, young and old.

Tostan CEP Participant Kaddy Jaigen
To learn more about how the CEP is impacting the community, I sat down for a more lengthy discussion with CEP participant Kaddy Jaigen. She told me that Tambasansang classes are currently completing the module focused on developing problem-solving skills. As a result, community members now recognize the importance of engaging in discussion and planning together as a unified community. Through the Tostan program, Kaddy Jaigen has seen the community become much more united. People are working together to establish and achieve shared goals.  

One such goal is to build a youth center where young people can receive additional support with their schoolwork. The CMC understands the financial implications of such a project and is already taking steps to raise the necessary funds. Every month they ask that participants contribute a small amount to a community fund. CMC Treasurer Mohammed Kora told me, “we do not have the funds, but we have the desire and we are trying to settle the finances with the monthly contributions.”

Through developing their own community initiatives and celebrating positive change through song and dance, the people of Tambasansang are engaging and investing in their own empowered future. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Birth Spacing Makes Inroads in Senegal

Story by Ramatoulaye Sène, Tostan facilitator in Kantora Diassé, and Sarah Harris, Nike Project Manager for Tostan Senegal

Starting in 2008, Nike Foundation funded the Empowering Communities to Empower Girls project in 55 villages in the regions of Kaolack and Thiès, Senegal. Participating communities took part in Tostan’s 30-month Community Empowerment Program (CEP), and 50 of those communities also participated in additional class sessions that discuss gender roles using gender terminology. This story was chosen by project facilitators and supervisors as the best story among all those written at the Nike Foundation Project’s Most Significant Change workshop in November 2010.

Mariama Diop  was a participant in the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in her village, Kantora Diassé, when she became pregnant for the fourth time in three years. This time, she became ill and spent most of her time in bed. Mariama was not able to attend most of the Tostan Kobi II classes on hygiene and health. While Mariama was bed-ridden, her husband and the other members of  the household took over her daily household responsibilities, including caring for her three children.

Mariama, a participant in Tostan's
Community Empowerment Program (CEP) 
When the time came for her to give birth, Mariama’s child was stillborn. Mariama was devastated, and her health remained poor. Tostan facilitator Ramatoulaye Sène heard about Mariama’s situation and went to visit her at her home. Empathizing with Mariama, Ramatoulaye brought up a previous class discussion topic: using contraception for birth spacing. Mariama was open to the idea, but she was afraid to bring it up directly with her husband, the village Arabic teacher. She asked Ramatoulaye to bring up the issue with him. After Ramatoulaye spoke with Mariama’s husband, Mariama gathered the courage to talk with him herself. When she spoke, he simply listened, offering no response.

After giving birth, Mariama travelled regularly to the nearby town of Nioro du Rip for post-natal treatment. At her next appointment, she asked for a three-month contraceptive injection. When she returned home to Kantora Diassé, Mariama told her husband about the injection she received. Again, he listened without responding.

Since then, Mariama has been going to Nioro every three months for a contraceptive injection. Her husband gives her the money to pay for the injection when she asks. Last time, he even reminded Mariama that it was time to go to Nioro for her next injection.

Mariama’s husband explained that he had been worried for his wife’s health all along, but he was also afraid that contraceptive injections would prevent her from being able to have children in the future. He felt anxious when he noticed that Mariama sometimes did not menstruate every month. Nodding in response, Ramatoulaye gently reassured him that many people feel worried about these symptoms. She explained that it is normal to miss periods when a woman receives contraceptive injections.

Since her last pregnancy, Mariama has regained her health and started an income-generating activity producing and selling soap. She said that she has never done this before, but that she wanted to have some income of her own.

Other community members in Kantora Diassé have discreetly gone to see Ramatoulaye to ask questions about contraception. One man begged her to convince his wife to start getting the injections. He and his wife already have more than eleven children, and it pains him to see his wife do heavy housework while she is pregnant. He knows that having children was his wife’s pride, but “it is just too tough,” he said, shaking his head, “when you have so many children, you lose your strength. It can kill you. I would be happy to have no more children.”

This same man said that he now brings up the subject of birth control with other men he knows. One time, he gently teased a close friend: “You look like a man who has not had sex in a while!” He used the joke as a lead-in to explain how he and his wife can have sex when they want to without worrying that his wife will get pregnant. His friend asked him to convince his wife to start going for contraceptive injections, too.

Fatima Thiam, Head of Social Mobilization for the Community Management Committee, observed that prior to the start of the Tostan program, she was one of only two women in Kantora Diassé who went to Nioro for contraceptive injections. A nurse in Nioro convinced her to start the injections after she gave birth to two sets of twins, three of whom died. Since then, her health and strength are much improved.

Fatima explained that before the Tostan class, “people used to say that you should let a child come – you should not prevent a child who wants to be born from coming.” “Tostan opened our minds,” she said.

Now, Fatima estimates that there are 80 women in the village of Kantora Diassé who go to the clinic for injections every three months. She explained that some learned about birth control methods in class, and each husband and wife who gains experience and knowledge shares it with others. Fatima and Ramatoulaye have each spoken with only a few people, but their efforts have sparked further discussion about contraception and birth spacing.
Community Empowerment Program (CEP)
 classes in Kantora Diassé, Senegal

Still, barriers remain for some community members. Mariama and Ramatoulaye are concerned about the health of one of their friends and think that she would benefit from using contraceptive injections for birth spacing. However, each time they bring up the subject, their friend begins to cry because she does not have the money to pay for the injections. Nonetheless, even the village chief of Kantora Diassé has noticed a significant difference within his community. Before the CEP program, birth spacing was not openly discussed, and most women were afraid to try it or even to bring up the topic with their husbands. Now, using contraception to space births is a common practice in the village, with support from women, men, and traditional and religious leaders.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Outstanding Supporter: Couple Donates Wedding Registry to Tostan

Story by Elizabeth Clay, Development Associate

The couple at their Michigan wedding
Krista and Serge Badiane, newlyweds living in Michigan and enthusiastic Tostan supporters, have been celebrating their marriage for over a year. The couple eloped in May 2010 hoping to avoid a big ceremony and gifts. "That didn't really work out for us," said Krista. "We both have large families and everyone wanted to celebrate with us." Instead, their marriage celebration has taken them from Michigan to Senegal and back.
Serge, a native of Dakar, and Krista, of Michigan, met in a graduate class about sustainable development in Senegal at the University of Michigan's School of Public Policy. Coincidentally, Krista had also studied abroad in Senegal in 2001, the same year that Serge came to the U.S. as an undergraduate student at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. It was through this class at the U of M, which included a ten-day visit to Dakar, that they first learned about Tostan's work and were impressed by the program and model.

Celebrating at Gorée Island off the coast of Dakar
 As part of their wedding celebration in Senegal, Serge’s family and friends planned a Yendoo, a day-long traditional celebration with food, drumming and dancing, for New Year’s Day 2011 and a reception at a local hotel, Hotel Océan, the following day.

For their Ann Arbor ceremony, which took place in late August, they asked their guests to donate to Tostan in lieu of giving gifts.

"We wanted to do something that would have an impact and something that was connected to Serge and his side of the family," Krista said. "Our guests were really positive and supportive. It was great to give a gift that will keep on giving and that others can pass along in some way."

Blog adapted by Salim Drame