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
|CEP participants from Bassendi perform |
a play about teenage pregnancy
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|
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
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.”’