Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tostan DC Internship Program Offers Unique, Substantial Experience in International Development

With over 99% of Tostan staff working in Africa, the Washington, DC team accomplishes much with a small presence.  Because of this, interns in the DC office take on an immediate and important role; they are an integral part of our office, working to assist in our Development, Communications, and Operations Teams.

Speaking to her experience, current Communications Assistant Hannah Kramer said: “Daily check-in meetings and joint projects create opportunities for interns to work in collaboration with other staff and teams. I have never felt more valued in an internship.”

If you would like to learn more about the Washington, DC Internship Program, click here.  Ready to apply? Access the application here.  

Please note: The application deadline for Spring 2012 is December 1. 

Thinking of volunteering for Tostan in the field? Tostan Volunteers work in five countries. Visit the Africa Volunteer Program page for more information.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tostan Partner Sister Fa, Winner of the 2011 Freedom to Create Prize

Award winner Sister Fa, Senegalese musician Baaba Mal and Tostan
Executive Director Molly Melching at the 2011 Freedom to Create Festival.

We are excited to announce that Senegalese hip-hop artist and Tostan partner Sister Fa was awarded the 2011 Freedom to Create Prize in Cape Town, South Africa this past weekend.  This award aims to honor “the courage and creativity of artists, and the positive influence of their work to promote social justice and inspire the human spirit.” Sister Fa exemplifies this courage and creativity as she uses her talent for music as a tool to promote dialogue about harmful traditional practices in her native Senegal, specifically female genital cutting (FGC).

Congratulations Sister Fa!

Click here for more on Sister Fa’s work and the Freedom to Create Prize.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gambian youth encourage leaders and communities to "practice what you know": Part I

Story by Alisa Hamilton, Program Assistant in Dakar, Senegal, and photographs by Elizabeth Loveday, Regional Volunteer in The Gambia

Today marks a very significant event as it is an opportunity for young people to express sincerely the issues that affect us and solicit everyone to give us support, encouragement, and an enabling environment. As a result of the holistic Community Empowerment Program, we are ready, determined and encouraged to do our [utmost] best to realize the outcomes of the good intentions that the government of The Gambia has for the youth of this region.
                                                                   -Fatou Baldé
                                                                                    Tostan Youth Participant

On October 24, over 170 youth participants in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) marched from the Tostan office to the residence of the Governor of The Gambia’s Upper River Region (URR) in order to bring attention to one thing: their human rights. This visit was the culminating event of the third annual Tostan Gambia Youth Caravan, a five-day event funded by UNICEF. According to Assistant National Coordinator Ansou Kambaye, the objective of the caravan is to raise awareness of “youth rights and the problems youth encounter in their lives” among parents, elders, authorities, and community members.

Caravan participants during the march to
the Governor's Residence in Bassa, The Gambia
Five days earlier, one could feel the excitement as the youth began their march to Basse.  In each of the five villages they visited along the way, an afternoon ceremony was held, which included opening remarks, speeches from youth participants about human rights, a skit, and closing remarks.  Host community members in each village greeted the six caravan buses filled with participants and facilitators representing 73 Tostan villages with singing, dancing and drumming. An audience gathered under tents for the afternoon ceremony, which commenced with words of welcome from the local imam, Community Management Committee (CMC) leaders, and the president of the local women’s group. These remarks addressed the positive changes in the village since the implementation of the Tostan program. Marième Diambo, a CMC Coordinator in the Serehule village of Parai, attested that the CEP had improved relations among community members, “old, young, male and female,” as well as between villages. “This village is open to everyone,” she concluded, “Tostan is the same family wherever you come from.”

CEP participants from Bassendi perform
a play about teenage pregnancy
During the ceremony, youth participants spoke about various issues facing young people in The Gambia. In the Serehule village of Sotima, Tida Waaly warned against the dangers of teenage pregnancy—one harmful and common result of child marriage. She urged parents to let their daughters chose their husbands and allow them to marry only after they turn 18. In Parai, Adje Jawne stressed the importance of registering children at birth because of the benefits of having a birth certificate, including the ability to enroll in school and to obtain an official ID and passport. Fordé Sane also warned against the harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use. She encouraged her peers to avoid drugs and focus on their studies.

Following speeches by youth participants, host community members performed a skit which addressed education and teenage pregnancy. The Mandinka village of Bassendi performed a powerful play about a girl who is seduced by a young man who offers her money. After having unprotected sex, she becomes pregnant. The girl dies in childbirth because her body is not physically mature enough to deliver the baby. While the animated acting during a scene in which the mother discovers her daughter’s pregnancy provoked laughter, the somber funeral song concluding the play clearly drove home the message that teenage pregnancy poses severe health risks for girls.

An animated play discusses teenage pregnancy
Final words from National Coordinator Bacary Tamba, International Program Officer Mohamed El Kabir Basse, and local authorities brought each afternoon to a close. Mariama Touré, the community health nurse in Parai, stated that the Tostan program compliments government efforts to promote sanitation. She also noted the decrease in the number of cases of teenage pregnancy. Myabi Dramé, the village city chairman, agreed that Tostan has made his job easier. “Before Tostan, it was hard to mobilize people,” he said, “now the [community] meets regularly to organize cleanup days and implement community initiatives.”

Caravan participants and host community members often expressed their enthusiasm for the open communication fostered by the youth caravan. A prominent community leader thanked God that she could stand up and speak her mind to the audience. “Today everyone is discussing issues – youth, elders, men and women,” she shared. “In the past, only men made important decision…now women are involved.”
A youth participant gives a speech
during the afternoon ceremony
When asked how participating in the caravan had changed her life personally, youth participant Tida Waaly commented that the caravan had given her the courage to talk about taboo topics, such as teenage pregnancy, in front of large audiences. She reaffirmed that she would never have had the confidence to do this before.

At night, host communities held celebrations with dancing, poetry recitations, and cultural entertainment. While the caravan schedule was packed, participants did not lose any stamina after traveling from village to village for five days. On the sixth day, they gathered in Basse, URR’s largest city, with as much energy as they had at the start of the caravan for the march from the Tostan office to the Governor’s residence.

Click here to read about the youth caravan’s culminating event, the march to the Governor’s residence, in Part II of “Gambian youth encourage communities and leaders to “practice what you know.”’

Monday, November 14, 2011

Owning Their Human Rights: Molly Melching and Gerry Mackie Discuss Social Change on Wisconsin Public Radio

On November 3, Tostan Executive Director Molly Melching and UC San Diego Professor Gerry Mackie were interviewed by Jean Faraca of Wisconsin Public Radio about the realities of changing social norms and what it takes for a community to collectively abandon female genital cutting (FGC).  The two speakers were guests on Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders, a live radio show broadcast weekly that highlights international movements, world citizens and cross-cultural conversations from around the world.  During the hour long program called “Confronting Female Genital Cutting,” Molly and Gerry talked about the role of men, the importance of language and the basis of education in achieving social change.

Speaking to the process of abandoning FGC, Molly said:

“It’s not really the law, but rather people getting good information, it not being imposed but rather letting [individuals] make the decision and understanding why it was critical for their health and for the well-being of all the girls in their community.  We feel confident that those who did abandon [FGC], have really abandoned, and will not start again” (See minute 7:15).

Click here to listen to more insights from Molly and Gerry in the full WPR interview.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tostan FAQ: Education for All

In response to a brief profile of Tostan, a reader on the website Goodreads recently emphasized the importance of educating women. A common question asked of us is Why does Tostan’s nonformal education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) engage women and men, girls and boys? Why don’t we focus exclusively on women?

At Tostan, we pride ourselves in being a learning organization, which means that we will make adjustments to our program if a certain initiative or approach is not as effective as we know it can be.

With that said, the first version of the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP) was designed for female participants exclusively. While the program was effective in educating and empowering the women and girls who participated in the program, it also caused some distrust and tension in families when wives and daughters came home with new ideas about rights and responsibilities - ideas to which the their husbands, fathers, and other male family members had not been exposed.

When Tostan facilitators communicated this issue to leadership, Tostan shifted approaches and redesigned the program to include both women and men, adolescent girls and boys. In doing this, male and female participants learned about their human rights (as opposed to only women’s rights or children’s rights) and then in turn became advocates in their communities for the rights of both women and men. This shift has led to a human rights movement that is spreading across West Africa and parts of East Africa. To date, over 6,000 communities in eight countries have publicly abandoned the traditional practices of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage because of such community-wide discussions of human rights.

Click here to read more about Tostan’s CEP. To read about how empowered individuals are improving their communities and leading social change, please click here. We feel that the work of our partner communities to date is a testament to what is possible when we move towards a shared vision of education as a right, fully supported for all, by all.


Luzon Pahl Kahler
Director of Administration, Tostan

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tostan and partner organization, the Orchid Project, referenced in British House of Commons debate on Female Genital Cutting

During last night’s adjournment debate in the House of Commons, ministers raised concerns over the practice of female genital cutting (FGC), or female genital mutilation (FGM) as was used in the House of Commons debate, in diaspora communities in the United Kingdom.

Lynn Featherstone, the Minister of Equalities and Ministerial Champion on International Violence Against Women opened the conversation on international abandonment movements by citing the work of Tostan and Tostan partner the Orchid Project. She commended Tostan for its culturally sensitive approach in the community-led abandonment movement in Africa.

The following is a clip from Featherstone’s remarks during the debate:

“I want to talk about abandonment. I recently met representatives from the Orchid Project, who introduced me to Tostan, a non-governmental organisation whose mission is to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights. It takes a respectful approach that allows villagers to make their own conclusions about FGM and to lead their own movements for change. By helping to foster collective abandonment, Tostan’s programme allows community members to share the knowledge. Through this process, entire villages and communities—men and women—have decided together to end FGM. This is incredible work.”

To read the full transcript from last night’s debate, click here.

Former Tostan volunteer Sydney Skov shares her Tostan story on Stirring the Fire

Stirring the Fire, an organization focused on raising awareness about gender equality, connects individuals seeking internship, volunteer, study abroad, and political advocacy opportunities with international organizations involved in promoting human rights and gender empowerment.

Stirring the Fire’s Volunteer Insights series highlights individual volunteers from various organizations and their stories. One of their most recent Volunteer Insights videos features Sydney Skov, Tostan’s Communications Assistant in Dakar, Senegal from January 2010-11. During her time with Tostan, Sydney was involved in various communications projects, including developing social media platforms and website resources for Tostan’s Anglophone and Francophone audiences. In the video, Sydney speaks to her experience as a Tostan volunteer, and describes how witnessing grassroots initiatives and women’s empowerment personalized the connection she saw between gender issues and development.

To view this Volunteer Insights video featuring Sydney Skov, please click the image below.

Volunteer Insights - Tostan from Phil Borges on Vimeo.

In addition, Stirring the Fire also interviewed Gannon Gillespie about his experiences as a Tostan volunteer in Senegal in 2004 and his current role as Tostan’s Director of Strategic Development. To watch Gannon Gillespie featured in an exclusive video interview, click here.

If you are interested in learning more about Tostan's volunteer and internship opportunities and application process, please click here.
Blog adapted by Salim Drame