Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tostan Change Makers Share Insight with Orchid Project and DFID Minister

Earlier in the month Rt Hon Stephen O'Brien MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development in the UK, accompanied Tostan partner Orchid Project on a visit to the Tostan office in Dakar, Senegal. Following an opportunity to speak with key community members who enacted positive change in the first Tostan communities, Orchid Project Founder Julia Lalla-Maharajh wrote about the moving experience they shared in this blog post.

This post originally appeared on Orchid Project's blog on December 1, 2011 and is reproduced with Orchid Project's permission. To view the original post on the Orchid Project blog, click here.

“I see you as social evolutionaries.” ~ DFID Minister to Senegalese community members working to end female genital cutting

This morning, we welcomed the Rt Hon Stephen O’Brien MP to Tostan’s offices in Dakar in Senegal. He is pictured here with community members who told him in eloquent and articulate terms how it is possible to end female genital cutting.

Duusu Konate

Duusu pictured second left in the photograph talked about the Tostan approach and how participants in their respectful community empowerment programmes learn about their human rights. She outlined all of the things that communities learn: to read and write, about health issues, income generating activities and how to manage them. Her village had identified the need for a health hut and built and stocked it themselves. She also told the minister that she is now a solar engineer who installed solar power in her village whilst training others in her community.
But most of all, she emphasised that villagers now understood that they had a right to be free from all forms of violence. They also know that they have a responsibility to uphold this right – that no one should harm or be harmed. This was the first step in understanding why FGC should be ended.

Marietou Diarra

Marietou then talked about “the tradition” – which is how she refers to FGC. She said that she had had many problems as a direct result of FGC. “Really, I have had many horrible things happen.”

Marietou outlined her story and told of her two daughters who died from the practice. She spoke with such dignity and halfway through her testimony, she started to cry with the memory of the moment. I was sitting next to her and found my emotions hard to keep in check. This is the first meeting Ministerial meeting that I have participated in, where I have been in tears. For those who would like to learn more, I would encourage you to watch Marietou telling her story in full here to Molly Melching.

 In spite of how greatly Marietou was affected, when Demba Diawara (see below) came to her village to start discussing FGC with other villagers, she walked away. The tradition was so strong that she was unable to question it. Three times, she and others refused to listen to Demba.

Demba Diawara

Demba spoke about social networks and how when the villagers from Malicounda Bambara first came to him to say that they were having difficulty having chosen to stand up and abandon on their own, he realised that he had to reach out to his “wider family.” It transpires that this is really a very wide family! Family members link through different villages right across Senegal, but in the first instance, he “put on his shoes” and walked to 12 other villages. On 14 February 1998, the first community declaration was held.

Molly Melching, Founder of Tostan (pictured below with the Minister) told of how it was really that first village of Malicounda Bambara, but also Demba’s wisdom and that of other community members that allowed Tostan to understand how to really spread the abandonment of FGC – which now has led to over 6,200 communities choosing not to cut their daughters. It is entirely possible that Senegal could have ended this practice completely by 2015.

Oureye Sall

Oureye (pronounced Wari) opened her discussion by saying: “I was the one who practised cutting. It was the only job I knew.” She went on to outline that it was only once she had participated in the Tostan programme that she realised the real consequences. She learnt about germs: that they are invisible and that they are transmitted; she learnt that tetanus is a killer and that it was not the spirits that were causing girls to die.

Oureye had never had any formal education. She was married at the age of 14 to a man who was 55. Her only income had come from FGC. When she realised the harm she was doing, she decided that “peace and wellbeing of girls was more important.”

She also went to her imam and asked if religion said that FGC was required. The imam answered that: “Around you are many Wolof communities. They are religious people. Yet they do not practise FGC. What do you think?” From this, Oureye realised that religion did not play a part in FGC.

Overall, we hope that the Minister was impressed by his visit. We believe that our group represented the most important voices, those of the community. From my part, as a representative of a UK NGO and as a British citizen, I was quietly delighted that our political representative was able to listen to such an important message, in such a positive way.

We look forward to all working together towards an end to female genital cutting and making connections like these, I hope, are one of the respectful ways we can do this.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Forbes Magazine Names Molly Melching One of the Most Powerful Women in Women's Rights

As a follow up to Forbes Magazine Power Women List, Half the Sky authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn named Molly Melching, Tostan Founder and Executive Director, one of the top ten women who empower other women worldwide. Listed among women such as Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, Melching is honored for her work to ensure respect for human rights.
To see full list, click here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Championing Human Rights: Celebrate Dec. 10, Human Rights Day

“We are ready to…collectively seek the respect of human rights,” Gambian youth Fatou Baldé stated confidently to a crowd of over 170 in Basse, The Gambia. In a five-day awareness raising event that culminated in a march through Basse to draw attention to human rights, Fatou and other youth from throughout The Gambia’s Upper River Region shared with peers, family members, community leaders and government representatives the utmost importance of human rights for all.

This Human Rights Day let us celebrate the determination of those, like Fatou, who are bringing human rights to the forefront of discussion in their community.

Click here to read more about the recent human rights awareness events led by Gambian youth.

Monday, December 5, 2011

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

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

After five days of visiting communities and spreading awareness about youth rights, the youth caravan buses arrived in Basse for the final march to the Governor’s Residence of The Gambia’s Upper River Region (URR). The theme of the final day of activities, Kalong ka baara or “practice what you know” in the local language of Mandinka, captured the enthusiasm of the young people. They recognized that with their new found understanding of democracy and good governance, problem solving processes, and health and hygiene, came the responsibility to implement that knowledge.  Their hope for the final day of the caravan was to instill that same sense of responsibility within their local government.

Participants arrive in Basse, The Gambia
 for the final day of the youth caravan
As honking horns announced their arrival, participants spilled out of each vehicle and joined together at the Tostan office. The atmosphere was alive with excitement. Groups of girls in colorful fabric and matching white caravan shirts danced while waiting for the festivities to begin. Nearby Tostan supervisors began organizing people into lines and handing out large banners that read “Allow me to choose my husband when I turn 18” and “Child protection is a responsibility for all.” Once assembled, the group began their march through the town of Basse. Supervisors on noisy motorbikes and a marching band of teenage boys playing The Gambian national anthem led the mass of people along Basse’s main road. Crowds formed on the sides of the street to witness the celebration.

Youth participant Fatou Baldé reads the manifesto
out loud in Basse, The Gambia
Upon reaching the governor’s residence, those holding the banners formed a large semicircle creating a powerful scene of young faces and written text. They then presented a manifesto. Read aloud in English by Tostan participant Fatou Baldé, the manifesto demanded action and support on the part of community members, local leaders, and government officials concerning unmet rights affecting the lives of Gambian youth. These rights included the right to the survival and development of every child, the right to basic education and access to higher education, the right to employment opportunities, and the right to safe recreational spaces.

Basse’s assistant governor, Mohamed Salu Diallo, responded to Fatou Baldé’s reading of the manifesto with admiration and respect.  Publically to the impressive scene of young Gambians, he confirmed his commitment to human rights and youth rights stating:
Human rights are undeniable rights and should be enjoyed by all, especially the youth who are our future leaders. Your manifesto has outlined key issues on the rights that correspond to the responsibilities of youth and their expectations from the government. We will do our utmost best to support you as responsible youth since you are [the] cream of our future society.

Tostan may have initiated The Gambia’s first annual youth caravan three years ago, but today, children and teenagers are the driving force behind this social mobilization event.

Gambian youth on the march to the Governor's Residence
in Basse, The Gambia
Fatou Baldé best summed up the youth caravan when she explained, “as young people preparing to become responsible future leaders, we are ready to disseminate the knowledge and skills we have gained to our peers and collectively seek the respect of human rights that directly or indirectly affect children and adolescents.”

With the success of this year’s youth caravan behind them, young people in The Gambia’s URR have taken ownership of the human rights introduced to them through Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) and today, act independently with a strong sense of responsibility and purpose.

Did you miss Part I of “Gambian youth encourage leaders and communities to ‘practice what you know?’” Click here to read about the community discussions the youth inspired during the first five days of the youth caravan. 
Blog adapted by Salim Drame