Thursday, March 29, 2012

Empowered Women Take Charge of Their Freedom Together at Senegalese Prison

Story and video by Alisa Hamilton, Tostan Communications Assistant in Dakar, Senegal

Every year, Tostan commemorates International Women’s Day in one of
the five prisons participating in Tostan’s Prison Project where a modified version of the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) is implemented. On March 8, Tostan celebrated this day at the Maison d’Arrête et Correction (M.A.C.) Prison in Thiès, Senegal. Community members, detainees and prison staff all wore traditional Senegalese boubous and taille-basses creating a festive collage of vibrantly colored fabric. With prisoners indistinguishable from event participants, the atmosphere was inclusive, exemplifying the day’s themes of equality and solidarity.

Drummers hammer out mbalah,
traditional Senegalese music,
 as audience members take
turns dancing.
Throughout the day, both male and female detainees gathered to celebrate women by performing skits, songs, and poems promoting human rights. Government officials, prison staff and Tostan representatives joined in giving inspirational speeches on the importance of supporting prisoners with education and vocational skills in order to reduce crime and recidivism.

During his welcoming speech, Prison Director Badara Fall explained that the understanding relationship between detainees and prison staff being witnessed at the event was not unique to just International Women’s Day. This relationship is something they strive for every day. He thanked the Tostan facilitators and prison staff for leaving their homes and families every day to help the women at the prison. Director Fall continued to say that the prison was more peaceful and had fewer fights since the start of the Tostan program. “Prisoners collaborate with guards,” he concluded. “There is cooperation in the work place and support between prisoners and guards.”

Beathrice Ndione, a guard at the M.A.C. Prison, explained how celebrating International Women’s Day at the prison provides detainees with much-needed moral support:

"[March 8th] is a day to open the prison and show solidarity among women. It gives the prisoners confidence to see that people outside still care about them, still love them and are still waiting for them with open arms. Many of these women have been cut off from their families and feel completely isolated from the outside world. They feel like they’ve been rejected. So today is important to show them that they are still cared about."
Prison Guard Beathrice Ndione and her daughter

One of these women, Bethel Adeyemi (name changed to respect privacy), moved to Senegal from Nigeria to make money for her family. In 2009, her boyfriend was caught selling drugs, and she was sentenced to five years in prison for association. Bethel is the only person in the M.A.C. Prison that speaks English and was eager to tell her story. She explained that she likes Tostan because the program teaches her French and Wolof as well as marketable skills, such as juice making. Before coming to prison, Bethel did not have the means to support herself financially, and, consequently, she turned to prostitution in order to survive. Now, Bethel believes she has the skills to make money and support herself. Upon her release, she would like to have her own business making juice. She will stay in Senegal but will go to Nigeria to visit her three young children. Bethel’s boyfriend is currently imprisoned in Dakar, the country’s capital. When asked if they will continue their relationship after being released, Bethel laughed and stated adamantly, “No! I don’t want to end up back in prison. I can be alone. I can be free.”

March 8th at the M.A.C. Prison, however, proved that Bethel is not alone. Her amicable interactions with fellow detainees and prison staff demonstrated that she has formed a network of compassionate individuals. Women’s solidarity, the essence of International Women’s Day, empowers Bethel and female detainees like her to achieve their freedom.

Click the image below to watch a short video of the International Women’s Day event at M.A.C. Prison.

Due to Senegalese law and ethical considerations, Tostan has chosen not to publish photos and video of detainees at the M.A.C Prison. All people depicted in the above video are Tostan team members, prison staff, and community members.

To learn more about Tostan’s Prison Project and last year’s International Women’s Day Celebration in Dakar, click here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Video: Hosting a Blood Drive and Honoring Tostan Retirees in Thiès, Senegal

Previously, Alisa Hamilton, our communications assistant in Dakar, Senegal,  shared with you two photo essays: one on a Tostan blood drive and the other on a Tostan retirement ceremony. Both events took place on February 17th, 2012 at the Centre de Capacitation pour le Developpement Durable (CCDD) in Thiès, Senegal. Below is video Alisa made of that day:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tostan Celebrates a Collective Fifty Years of Hard Work by Valued Tostan Retirees

Story by Alisa Hamilton, Tostan Communications Assistant, Dakar, Senegal

Earlier this year, Tostan celebrated its first retirement ceremony in Thiès, Senegal at the Training Center for Sustainable Development (Centre de Capacitation pour le Developpement Durable, CCDD). Four retirees received certificates and gifts from jovial and grateful members of the Tostan family.

The retirees represented two major regions of Senegal and included Abdoulaye Kandé, Regional Coordinator of Kolda from 1991 to 2011, Babacar Faye, Assistant at Tostan Thiès from 2003 to 2011, Alexadre Mané, Logistics Department Assistant at Tostan Thiès from 2001 to 2011, and Kaw Idy Sow, Security Guard at Tostan Thiès from 1995 to 2011. Djiby Sow, a driver for Tostan Thiès who retired in 2005, also received a certificate and gifts.

Influential Tostan Social Mobilization Agents Imam Demba Diawara of Keur Simbara, Ouréye Sall of N'gerigne Bambara and Doussou Konaté of Same N'diaye gave speeches on the important work of Tostan staff members. At the end of the ceremony, the attendees gathered for a group photograph and partook in delicious pastries and local juices provided by the CCDD. The celebration, one of many to come, was a great success.

View the pictures from the celebration below:

In Thiès, Senegal, Tostan team members gathered for a special ceremony held in honor of several individuals who recently retired after years of service with Tostan.

Kaaw Idy Sow, former guard at the Tostan office in Thiès, receives his certificate with a smile. Mr. Sow, 65, has worked at Tostan since 1991. He explained that Tostan was not a job to him but a family, and the office felt like his home. He thanked God for having been able to work until the age of 65 without any mistakes on the job. When asked what he would do with his newly acquired free time, Mr. Sow explained that he would continue to come to the office to visit his friends.  

Babacar Faye (center, holding certificate), former Tostan Assistant, accepts his gifts and poses with Tostan Thiès team members. 

Djiby Sow, a retiree and former driver for Tostan Thiès, gives a speech after receiving an honorary certificate.

All participants of the retirement ceremony gather for a Tostan family photo outside the CCDD.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women’s Day 2012: Tostan Honors CEP Facilitator Ayda Njaay

A message from Molly Melching, Tostan Founder and Executive Director:
Today, International Women’s Day, is a day to celebrate the power of women, in our lives and in our world. It is a day for all of us—men and women, old and young—to recognize the girls and women who every day support and transform us, and our families, communities, organizations, and societies. 

Today at Tostan we are honoring women worldwide by remembering a truly special woman, Ayda Njaay. Ayda was a foundational member of the Tostan family, a long-time facilitator and educator. Sadly, after a battle with cancer, Ayda passed away this past December, but her life’s work and memory continue on after her.

In her honor, we at Tostan are dedicating International Women’s Day 2012 to Ayda, who is the embodiment of an empowered woman.

Tostan facilitator, Ayda Njaay
Wife to Abdul Karim Njaay and mother of seven, Ayda was born in 1967 in the village of Njaayan, Senegal. After her marriage, Ayda moved to her husband's village of Saam Njaay, where in 1988 she participated in one of our early nonformal education programs. During this program, Ayda learned to read, write, and actively participate in discussions on human rights, health, and hygiene in a model that would later become Tostan's Community Empowerment Program (CEP). 

When I first met Ayda, I was drawn to her tenacity and self-initiative. She had so much energy! And you noticed it right away, partly because she was physically such a small person, but also because her positive, determined outlook was infectious. 

During one of our early conversations, I asked about her life goals, and Ayda told me she dreamed of becoming a teacher so that she could share her recently acquired knowledge and further the development of her community and country. Once I heard this, I consulted with Ayda’s husband and the village chief of Saam Njaay and arranged for Ayda to work with me. 

In 1992, Ayda became a Tostan facilitator, responsible for implementing our education program in a village. She led discussions on the Tostan modules, monitored activities, and helped organize social mobilization activities led by participants. For the past 20 years since her first training, her work and tireless dedication helped spread the three year Tostan program from her own village to others, including DarouToure, Kanene Diop, Ndipo Sao, Sao Mboulem, and Malicounda Bambara in three regions: Thiès, Kaolack and Louga. 
Along the way, Ayda met with different government officials and dignitaries, including then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Never discouraged by setbacks or challenges, Ayda was always at the forefront of our team, leading the way for other women and community members. Her willingness to help improve the lives of others was so contagious that it easily won over the support of her family and community and allowed her to work with a freedom and respect that is not always afforded to Senegalese women. 

In 2007, Ayda experienced a strange pain in her chest that was originally diagnosed as a cyst and was told to go home. But a year later it was evident that it was much more. Sadly, Ayda found out that she had a tumor. After surgery and three years of fighting the cancer through radio and chemotherapy, her body finally succumbed.

It is hard to overstate Ayda’s legacy. She personally trained hundreds of women, girls, boys, and men; she also trained other Tostan team members who to this day are reaching hundreds more. She coached colleagues, welcomed visitors, and mentored gifted students.  

Ayda’s husband Abdul knows of a more personal legacy, and he talks of a beautiful family who will follow in her footsteps. Their 16-year-old daughter Assa is in her fourth year of secondary school. She reads and writes in Wolof and French and hopes to join the military so that she can also help develop her country like her mother. Meanwhile their son, Maggey, is 17 years old and is in his third year of secondary school. He also reads and writes in Wolof and French and says he knows a bit of English too. He dreams of attending college.

While grieving the loss of Ayda, I heard so many Tostan colleagues use certain words to describe her: perseverant, courageous, bold, hardworking, and generous. For so many of us, Ayda became a living example of our mission to empower African communities, a figure of inspiration and hope to everyone with whom she worked.  

Ayda, you were and are an inspiration to us all, and I can think of no better way to honor your life and work than to dedicate this International Women’s Day—a day about the power and dedication of women worldwide—to you, to the lives you changed, and to the bright and vibrant life you lived. May all of us at Tostan honor you by carrying on your tireless work for women, for our communities and societies, for peace and human dignity for all.

May the earth of Saam Njaay be light upon you.

Learn more about Tostan's work and see the full article at our website

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

From The Gambia to NYC: Tostan Youth Activist Abdoulie Sidibeh to Speak at Women of the World Summit This Week

Gamiban youth activist Abdoulie Sidibeh
From March 8-10, inspiring leaders and activists will be in New York City to share their visions for social justice, human rights, and gender equality at Newsweek and the Daily Beast’s 3rd Annual Women in the World Summit. Representing Tostan this year at the summit will be Tostan Founder and Executive Director Molly Melching, Director of Strategic Development Gannon Gillespie, Senegalese Community Activists Imam Demba Diawara and Cheikh Diop, and Gambian Youth Activist Abdoulie Sidibeh.

Twenty-year-old Abdoulie Sidibeh is from the community of Bassending in the Upper River Region of The Gambia and was first brought to the attention of Women in the World organizers for his work in the 3rd Annual Gambian Youth Caravan. In October of 2011, Abdoulie and over 120 youth participants in Tostan's Community Empowerment Program (CEP) staged a 5-day campaign for human rights and social change. Through group discussions, skits, and song, they traveled from community to community to raise awareness on the most pressing issues facing Gambian youth and their communities today, including drug use, child marriage, and teenage pregnancy.

Lilli Loveday, Tostan's Regional Volunteer in The Gambia, recently sat down with Abdoulie to discuss his strong commitment to learning and sharing, his involvement with Tostan and the Youth Caravan, his thoughts on his upcoming trip to the United States for the Women in the World Summit, and his hopes and goals for the future. 

Continue on to read their conversation as reported by Lilli

**Update: Click here to watch a video of the full Women in the World panel featuring Abdoulie and moderated by Half the Sky author Sheryl WuDunn. (Note: Video begins with a clip from an upcoming Half the Sky documentary)**


Conversation with Abdoulie Sidibeh by Lilli Loveday

Abdoublie Sidibeh is eager to attend the Women in the World conference as a representative of Tostan Gambia and believes that the event will provide him with an invaluable opportunity to learn. This learning, Abdoublie says, will not only benefit him but also his community. ‘‘I am motivated about going,” he explained, “because many important things will be discussed and whatever important things I learn I will take back to Bassending.’’  

Indeed, learning is at the heart of Abdoulie’s commitment to the Tostan program. After finishing his formal, grade school education, Abdoulie's mother, a Tostan CEP participant, encouraged him to attend Tostan's CEP classes as well. Since then, Abdoulie committed himself to developing his own awareness on issues such as democracy, human rights, and health and is dedicated to sharing this knowledge with his peers. Abdoulie explained, ‘‘even in formal education we did not learn about the things that Tostan teaches us…I’ve learned about the negative aspects of drugs; I’ve learned about democracy, about things that will bring us together as a community and things that do not contribute to a good life. I share what I’ve learned. For example, when my friends are smoking, I sit with them and explain why it is bad.’’ 

Gambian youths marching in October of 2011
Abdoulie is a member of the Bassending Drama Troop, which performs plays to inform the wider community about issues discussed in Tostan classes. These plays provide a lively and enjoyable way to convey serious messages. During the most recent Youth Caravan this past October, Abdoulie played an important role in organizing the 5-day campaign. Abdoulie performed in a play about early pregnancy in which he acted the role of a young man who seduces a girl and impregnates her. He said, "it is important that people understand the health implications of such things so that they will think about their behavior more carefully beforehand.’’

Abdoulie is passionate about sharing knowledge, which is why he has aspirations to become a teacher. “I would love to teach English or history…or to be a Tostan facilitator. I believe that if you are teaching, you are giving. In the same way that I’ve been taught, I want to share my small understanding with others.’’ Abdoulie is ambitious about his future and plans to study Information Technology upon his return to The Gambia, which he hopes will equip him with highly sought after skills that he can apply in his chosen career. 

Abdoulie is excited about everything that Women in the World Summit has to offer. It is an incredible opportunity for him to be part of the event, and also for Tostan Gambia to be represented at an international forum. Abdoulie is confident that he will gain a lot from the experience, ‘‘I am very happy about going because I will fulfill my promise. I promised that I will learn and that’s exactly what I plan to do.’’     

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tostan Hosts a Much-Needed Blood Drive in Thiès, Senegal

Story by Alisa Hamilton, Tostan Communications Assistant, Dakar, Senegal

In Senegal, only .25% of the population regularly donates blood compared to the average 2% of donors in other countries. As a result, the National Blood Drive Center in Senegal consistently experiences blood supply shortages, therefore limiting the number of essential blood transfusions that can be performed. Blood banks, like the one in Thiès, Senegal, rely primarily on word of mouth to mobilize potential donors in the community.

On Friday, February 17, Tostan team members rallied their social networks and hosted a blood drive at Tostan’s Training Center for Sustainable Development (Centre de Capacitation pour le Developpement Durable, CCDD) in Thiès, Senegal. On that day, 50 community members and Tostan employees made the decision to help save lives by donating their blood.  

Check out pictures from the blood drive below:


Aminata Saho, a Tostan team member at the CCDD, has her blood pressure taken. She and her friend and colleague, Ndiaye Aminata Puit, learned about the blood drive that day and both decided to donate for the first time.

Ardo Fall, Director of the CCDD, watches as his donation bag fills. He has given blood for four years and often travels to the hospital to give for emergency cases. When asked why he gives blood, Ardo responded, “Because it saves lives. It’s something that I respect because some day, it might be me who needs it.”

Smiling, Aminata stays calm during her first blood donation. She shared that she wanted to donate because giving blood can help people who are sick, such as her mother who recently received a blood transfusion. 

Khady Diato Sall, the donation organizer at the blood bank in Thiès, Senegal has given blood over 50 times. “[Donating blood] is a civic act,” Khady explained. “Many people don’t do it because they are afraid or they think it won’t help. But every day the hospital calls us for donations. It saves lives.”

Ousamane Cisso used to be afraid to give blood, but has since overcome his fear and encouraged many of his friends to donate as well. His mother works for the blood bank, and Ousamane and many of his relatives came to the CCDD to donate on the day of the blood drive.

Mohamed Sall (far left), Ousamane Cisso’s cousin, came to give blood for the first time. He used to be afraid of needles, but Ousamane encouraged him to overcome his fear. “I know the hospitals suffer from a lack of blood. I wanted to help people because it can save a life,” explained Mohamed. Here he poses with his friends.

The Cisso family after giving blood. From left to right: Ismael Cisso, Allasane Cisso, Mamie Cisso, Aliou Cisso, Boubacar Cisso.

Ndiaye Aminata Puit (right) poses with her friend, Sorde, after donating for the first time. 

Khady Guèye (left), Treasurer of the Federation of Community Management Committees (CMC) in the region of Thiès, and Khady Mbaye Ka (right), President of the Thiès CMC Federationalso gave blood for the first time. Khady Mbaye explained, “Giving blood is a noble act. A way to manufacture blood has not yet been invented so we will always need donations.” She continued that many women, including one of her sisters, need blood transfusions during childbirth due to haemorrhaging.

Blog adapted by Salim Drame