Thursday, May 24, 2012


An organization is nothing without the passion and dedication of the team of individuals behind it. Tostan is comprised of talented, committed people ranging from village elders to directors, Community Empowerment Program facilitators and participants to volunteers and interns. Each individual contributes his or her unique personality and skills to further the work of Tostan, thus creating a dynamic environment in which positive change can take place.

We highlight the diversity of interests, talents, and backgrounds within the Tostan team here on the blog in a series entitled Voices of Tostan. Specifically, we will explore what brought each unique voice to Tostan and why Tostan’s efforts to bring about positive social change are significant and meaningful to each individual.

Story by Emily Ice, Tostan Operations Assistant in Washington, DC

Ask any Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and chances are they will tell you the hardest part of the Peace Corps service is coming home. Adjusting to life back home is often much harder than adjusting to life overseas. When I returned from my service in Benin, West Africa, I was thrown for a loop. What should I do next? How would I reconcile my privileged life in the US with my intensely poor and difficult life overseas? I yearned for a way to process my Peace Corps experience and stay connected to the West African community I had become so entrenched in.

My mother’s friend stepped in to help. She had served in the Peace Corps in Benin back in the eighties and immediately knew what I was going through. She sent me a copy of Half the Sky with a note saying she hoped it would inspire me. It worked.

Overwhelmed and lost, I began reading Half the Sky. I was immediately impressed at how honestly the book exposed the complexities of the international development field. “Making a difference” and “creating sustainable change” are not easy things to do. One of the first Peace Corps lessons I learned was that projects rarely succeed on the first try.

Emily with community members in Benin
Peace Corps Volunteers are trained to be facilitators. Our role is to mobilize communities to utilize resources they already have, not to provide new ones. To succeed in the Peace Corps, one must be patient and immerse oneself in the community. This means learning the local language, embracing local customs and respecting local leadership. Furthermore, in order for a Peace Corps Volunteer’s service to be sustainable, the community must take ownership.

Tostan’s work stood out because it was founded on many of these same beliefs. Tostan’s commitment to respectful community-led development, local language, and local facilitators immediately set it apart from many of the other international development organizations I had read about. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I respected Molly Melching. I understood the extent of dedication and patience required to be accepted by a community. Tostan’s success was testament to her understanding of the communities and her respect for their traditions. I was in awe of Molly and intrigued. I started researching Tostan’s work and grew more enthralled.

I sent in my application to the Tostan’s DC office and waited. At the time, I was working in Saint Maarten as an Environmental Education Specialist for an environmental advocacy nonprofit. I loved working on the island but my wanderlust was starting to fade and I was ready to return home. As much as I loved the hands-on work I was doing overseas, I knew that if I truly wanted to pursue a career in international development, I needed to learn about the behind-the-scenes work that supported overseas programs. When I returned home in December, I interviewed with the DC office and was thrilled to get my acceptance.

Emily with community members in Benin
When I first arrived at the DC office, my first reaction was, “I’m home.” The office was decorated in West African tapestries and colored fabrics. Smiling faces of Tostan community members shone up from every computer screen. I had forgotten how much I missed Benin. Seeing the packets of Nescafe instant coffee, the children’s books written in Mandinka, and all the African fabric on the walls immediately brought me back.

More than all that, I loved that even on our first day in the office the DC staff wanted our input about the programs being run in Africa. I finally could put some of my Peace Corps knowledge and experience to tangible use. Moreover, here were people who weren’t going to just stare blankly at me when I talked about my house flooding or traveling three hours to get a glass of milk. It was such a relief.

During my time interning with Tostan, the initial excitement of shared understanding and experiences has worn off, morphing into something more: respect. Before coming to Tostan’s DC office, I was completely naïve to how much support and planning were required to run overseas programming. Working in DC has shown me that the field of international development is diverse and consists of an array of jobs, encompassing a variety of skills and expertise. I can now envision a future, in which it is possible to balance a life in the US and abroad with a career in international development.

To read more entries from the Voices of Tostan series, click here.

Note: The opinions expressed in the Voices of Tostan blog series are those of the individual author.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Baby Chicks Provide Viable Income for Detainees at Dakar Youth Prison

Story by Kaela McConnon, Assistant to the Empowered Communities Network

100 baby chicks bring new beginnings for youth detainees in Dakar prison
For nine days, thirty-two young inmates answered to the beck and call of one hundred baby chicks at the juvenile prison in Dakar. This spring, Tostan conducted a training workshop on raising chickens in Senegal’s only youth prison. Tostan provided one hundred chicks for the training in order to give the young men the hands-on experience that will enable them to earn a viable income both during their incarceration and upon their release. Conversation was lively, inmates were active, and the sound of chirping chicks filled the air. The workshop consisted of four hours of training per day both in the classroom and with the chicks themselves.

Trainer Cheick Sène instructs the
class on poultry farming
best practices.
During the training sessions, the inmates were engaged and excited to learn new skills. They clamored to help with the feeding and vaccinating, and they asked questions about practical skills and theory. It was hard to even see what the trainer was demonstrating at some points with the young men crowded so close, trying not to miss a thing. Guards took part as well, sitting in on theory sessions and helping demonstrate practical skills, asking questions, and learning alongside the young men they work with everyday.

The inmates are now responsible for providing food and water for the chicks, vaccinating them daily, and ensuring their overall wellbeing. Every day they note the chicks’ progress, the care provided, and any illness or abnormal behavior. The workshop facilitator, Cheick Sène, has extensive experience with poultry farming and spends time in the classroom explaining the conditions that will allow the chickens to thrive, the illnesses they might endure, the materials needed for their housing, the financial investment demanded, and much more. As the chicks grow into adulthood and start producing eggs, the inmates will get to sell the meat and eggs for additional income or use them to supplement their own plates during incarceration and after their release.

From left to right:
Prison Project Coordinator Aissatou Kebé,
Training Facilitor Cheick Sène,
Assistant Prison Director Assane Ndiaye
This training is just one example of the many ways that Tostan’s Prison Project supports and empowers these young detainees. When special workshops such as this one are not taking place, Tostan facilitator Mademba Thiam leads Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) at the youth prison Monday through Friday, providing nonformal education in human rights, problem solving, literacy, and revenue generating skills. Matemba donates his time and comes early every day to teach a Math, French, or English class for more advanced students, giving them the opportunity to continue their studies and return to school after their release. Tostan provides access to education and practical skill trainings to support these young detainees’ reintegration as productive members of society and to reduce rates of recidivism.

Practical training workshops such as this one will continue in the coming months. The next training will teach fabric dyeing at the MAC prison in Thiès. This training will include thirty-five female prisoners and is planned to end with a community fair, where participants will be able to display and sell the items they will have made.

Stay tuned for updates on the next Prison Project training.

Friday, May 11, 2012

NEW VIDEO: Tostan's Peace and Security Project Launch

This video of Tostan's Peace and Security Project launch, made by Dakar Communications Assistant Alisa Hamilton, highlights the perspectives of Odile Tening, Project Manager at Gorée Institute; Mory Camara, Tostan Peace and Security Project Director; and Abdoulaye Kandé, Tostan Regional Coordinator of Kolda. Held on April 22nd in the village of Tankanto Maoundé in the department of Kolda, Senegal, the project launch featured speeches, songs, and plays promoting human rights and its important role in achieving peace and security.

To read more about Tostan's Peace and Security Project and the project launch, click here.

To watch more videos featuring Tostan's work in Africa, check out our YouTube channel here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mother's Day Spotlight: Coumba Diouf, A Dynamic Community Leader

Each Mother's Day, we at Tostan celebrate the power of women in our partner communities by highlighting the story of one remarkable woman who is making an impact in her family and community.  
Coumba Diouf: mother, community advocate,
 and empowered woman

Coumba Diouf is one of the thousands of women who are using what they've learned through Tostan's Community Empowerment Program (CEP) to create lasting change.

A mother of seven, Coumba was married at the age of sixteen. Though forced to leave school early, she was still able to complete her primary education and learn to read and write. Since participating in Tostan's CEP, she has become a dynamic community advocate. She was elected as a member of the Rural Council and is volunteering to support a government project that aims to give employment and skills to young people.

Coumba, who is now also a grandmother, believes that the impact of the CEP is still very evident in her village. Her community created committees focused on topics including health, the environment, and education. Coumba, along with her fellow Tostan participants, encourages people to bring their children to the health center to be weighed, organizes village clean-ups, and helps promote enrollment of children in school.

In the future, Coumba hopes to continue the income-generating activities that she began through the CEP, using the profits to build a poultry house and to expand her activities by employing others.

Mother's Day is May 13th. Join us for our Mother's Day Campaign, an annual event that is a favorite for many of our supporters who choose to honor remarkable women with a gift to Tostan. Donate today and we will send one of our beautiful e-cards to someone special.

Just $120 can provide a woman just like Coumba with a year's worth of empowering education and training. Plus, Tostan's unique social mobilization method, which encourages participants to "adopt" friends and family members as learners, means that every gift will not only empower one woman, but will also transform her family and many members of her community.

Give a unique Mother's Day gift and make a difference in the lives of women everywhere.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"African Heat": Communities Bridge Boundaries at Peace and Security Project Launch

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

“I learned a lot of things. I saw very dynamic communities. I saw communities who have not forgotten where they come from because they resolve problems using solutions from their own culture."
                          -Odile Tending, Program Manager at Gorée Institute  

Women from Tankanto Maoundé dance with
the image Tostan uses to represent
the right to peace and security.
On April 22, 2012, Tostan launched its Peace and Security Project in the village of Tankato Maoundé in the department of Kolda, Senegal. Funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), this project aims to address issues of peace and security in West Africa by connecting grassroots communities and their social networks with regional and international institutions. With this increased collaboration, regions, and nations as a whole, can work together to identify barriers to the peace and security of their area and create solutions that will overcome those barriers. Tankato Maoundé community members and Tostan delegations from The Gambia and Senegal participated in the event alongside project partners* and donors. The celebration included speeches, songs, and plays promoting human rights and its important role in achieving peace and security.

Abdoulaye Kandé, Tostan Regional Coordinator of Kolda, described Tankato Maoundé as a very “dynamic” community. He remarked, “We’ve noticed this since the implementation of the [Community Empowerment Program].” Abdoulaye was proud to host the event in his district: “The Peace and Security Project is very important in Senegal.” “Beside us [in southern Senegal], there is The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and Mauritania. I think that [the project] must begin in Kolda in order for there to be peace in this region,” he concluded with a smile.

Awa Ballé Cissé of Sedhiou, Senegal presents
the right to health: “Health has no borders."
During the Kolda delegation’s presentation on human rights, Community Management Committee (CMC) member Awa Ballé Cissé from Sedhiou emphasized that “health has no borders.” Sedhiou’s CMC leads awareness-raising campaigns on family planning and vaccination in their village and throughout the region. “We went all the way to The Gambia to raise awareness,” she proudly shared while holding up the image Tostan uses to represent the right to health. She continued, “We must work hand in hand to achieve our objectives.”

The Peace and Security Project focuses on building ways to overcome barriers that limit an individual’s ability to develop, for example barriers to learning. “Education has no age,” stated the CMC Coordinator Abdoulaye Kebé from the village of Karsia. Karsia’s CMC has continued literacy and numeracy initiatives in their community even after the completion of the CEP and actively encourages the participation of all ages. They also work hard to improve the conditions of schools. By collaborating with local marabouts or religious leaders to improve the conditions of daaras (koranic schools), Karsia’s CMC demonstrates that education has no age or religion.
Tostan Executive Director, Molly Melching (left),
presents the human rights booklet to the
community, project partners, and
local government officials.

During the presentation on human rights, the Kolda delegation emphasized the importance of health and education in peace and security. “Today we must first think about health and education,” proclaimed Sowa Baldé of Kolda. Her community has created committees responsible for resolving conflicts peacefully. “We cannot have peace and security without health and education,” she concluded. Her final comment illustrates the importance of a holistic, human rights approach in achieving peace and security. Individuals must understand their fundamental rights, such as the rights to health and education, before communities, regions, and finally countries can respect them. Tostan’s Peace and Security Project is unique because, unlike many policy and government focused programs, its approach begins at the community level with discussions on these very topics. 

Illustrating the importance of bridging gaps between donor agencies and field work—a main goal of the Peace and Security Project—representatives from Sida also partook in the day’s festivities. Jonas Bergström, Sida Program Manager, summed up the project’s collective efforts to bridge countries, ages, religions, and ethnic groups in his closing words to the community:
“We come from a very cold place and what we have learned from Africa is the African heat. This heat is turned into energy and is capable of changing the world. I am confident that the people here along with organizations like Tostan can change today into a better tomorrow.”

To view a full photo album from the Peace and Security Project launch, click here.

To watch video footage and interviews from the event, click here.

To read this article in French of Tostan France's website, click here.
*Project partners present included The Gorée Institue, Alliance of Migration, Leadership and Development (AMLD), African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), Femme Africa Solidarité (FAS), West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), Network of Peace and Security for Women in the ECOWAS Region (NOPSWECO)
Blog adapted by Salim Drame