Monday, June 25, 2012

Outstanding Supporter: Spreading Awareness through Artwork

Story by Kate Brendel, Tostan Development Assistant in Washington, DC

Musician and long-time Tostan supporter, Karien de Waal, used her artistic talents to creatively raise awareness and support for Tostan’s mission. By means of a year-long art project that collected the faces and signatures of numerous celebrities, Karien hopes to not only raise money to support Tostan’s programs, but also to get her community as excited about Tostan’s work as she is.

The Women of the World displaying Karien's drawing.
Based out of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, Karien has had many opportunities to interact with world-renowned musicians who regularly come to her school to perform.  Hoping to do something to garner support for Tostan within her community, she began drawing these celebrities as they visited the Berklee campus and had them autograph her canvas. “The idea was to get as many famous people to sign on one canvas as possible,” said Karien. Signatures on Karien’s canvas include such musicians as Chucho Valdes, John Mayer, Emilio and Gloria Estefan, India Arie, The Eagles, and many more.

Taking her outreach one step further, Karien contacted many of the musicians she had drawn to tell them about her project and about Tostan’s work. “I decided that for each celebrity that I drew, I would write them a letter to tell them about [female genital cutting] FGC and the positive work Tostan does through education. I kept it in the tone of your organization, focusing on the solution, rather than the problem.”

Chucho Valdes adding his signature to the canvas.
Now that her masterpiece is complete, Karien’s goal is for this canvas to be auctioned off, with the proceeds directly benefiting Tostan.

In addition to creating the drawing, Karien also hosted an art exhibit at a local coffee shop, Pavement. Confident that this exhibit would gain lots of attention, she created a poster and distributed media materials, including an introductory video about Tostan. “Pavement is the most popular coffee shop on the block and I wouldn't be surprised if around 4,000 customers go through there a week.” At the end of the three-day exhibit, all 50 copies of the DVD had been taken, and word of Karien’s mission was quickly spreading throughout the community.

Although her canvas is finished, Karien’s mission to spread awareness of Tostan is certainly not over. She has numerous plans for future projects that will incorporate her many talents as a musician, artist, and community supporter. “I can get people to buy into the cause to make a positive change,” explained Karien, “because I truly believe in your work.”

Karien's artwork will be auctioned off to benefit Tostan. To find out more information, contact Elizabeth at

Friday, June 22, 2012

Former detainee returns to Senegalese prison to train women in income-generating skills

Story by Kaela McConnon, Prison Project Volunteer; Photos by Aïssatou Kebé, Prison Project Supervisor, Tostan

In May of this year, thirty-two women participated in a ten-day training on traditional fabric dyeing.  This wasn’t your traditional fabric dyeing workshop as it was conducted in a prison in Thiès, Senegal, by a former detainee who had gone through Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP). 

Awa Fall has used her fabric dyeing skills to reintegrate successfully into her family and community since her release from prison. She conducted the training for the participants at Thiès prison, thirty of which were female prisoners and two were female guards.  Tostan provided all necessary materials for the training and at the end of the ten days, participants were already able to produce pieces of fabric to sell.  After their release, they will be able to use these skills to provide themselves with an income.

Awa Fall with fabric produced during the training.
Awa Fall, spent four years in the same prison herself, during which time she took part in Tostan’s CEP, a non-formal three-year education program that covers essential topics including human rights, problem-solving, health, literacy, basic mathematics, income-generating skills, and project management.  She also took part in three trainings on fabric dyeing in 2003, 2004, and 2005, mastering the skills that would become her means of economic empowerment and successful reintegration. 

Awa was able to start fabric dyeing activities and training to become a fabric dyeing teacher with the help of a 50,000 CFA (approximately $100) contribution from Tostan. Tostan’s Prison Project team also facilitated a family mediation when she was released from prison, encouraging her family to accept and support her.  She has since been able to support herself financially and is now married and contributes financially to her family.  Her skills and experience as an ex-detainee made her the perfect candidate to teach these women new skills, and she helped make the workshop a success for all involved.     

The workshop participants spent much of the ten days engaged in the practical tasks of preparing, dyeing, and drying of the fabric.  Being taught by a former detainee who has since used these skills to help reintegrate back into society very successfully, really resonated with the participants.  Feedback from them on completion of the workshop was that ten days was not long enough and further trainings on income-generating activities should be twenty days instead! 

A detainee’s ability to provide for herself is essential to successful reintegration into society.  Families and communities often are unwilling to accept former prisoners back into their lives, not only because of the social stigma that imprisonment brings, but also because they may require further financial commitment which is an additional pressure on the family and community. 

Fabric produced by detainees during the ten-day training.
Learning income-generating skills can help solve this, and it gives the former detainee the opportunity to contribute to their family and community, further encouraging social acceptance and a feeling of worth. 

The Prison Project team is planning a small fair in the coming weeks that will allow for the display and sale of the products produced during this training. The goal of the fair is to provide economic means for participants while in prison and for when they are released.  It will also help demonstrate the economic potential of their new skills to the detainees, as well as raise awareness of this project with communities. 

Income-generating trainings will continue throughout 2012: another on fabric dyeing, one on soap making, and three planned on the production and storing of important grains that provide an essential food source for Senegalese communities. We hope that these trainings will continue to empower women financially, such as trainer and former detainee Awa Fall, and help them reintegrate back into their communities following imprisonment.

Click here to read more about income-generating workshops by the Prison Project team.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Celebrate June 16, Day of the African Child, with Tostan!

 Photo by Björn Westerdahl  
June 16 marks the 36th anniversary of a youth-led movement that shook Africa. On that day in 1976 thousands of students from Soweto, South Africa marched the streets in protest of their substandard education system and demanded to be taught in their own language. Hundreds were killed and many more were injured in the demonstrations that followed. In 1991, the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union, declared June 16 Day of the African Child to commemorate these events and celebrate African youth.

Through our nonformal education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), youth across East and West Africa are able to gain new understandings of their human rights in their own languages.  Also as part of the Child Protection Module of the CEP, full communities are trained on the specific rights of children and together create a community plan to ensure young people are empowered and safe. As we continue our commitment to empowering youth through our work, we ask you to join us in raising awareness and celebrating the achievements of young Africans. Follow Tostan on Twitter and Facebook for more information on upcoming events celebrating African youth.

Click here to learn how Tostan celebrated 2011 Day of the African Child at a Dakar youth prison.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Changing My Mind About Change

Guest Post by Lucy Blumberg, Global Citizen Year Fellow

Lucy is an incoming college freshman from San Francisco, CA, who lived in Senegal for eight months as part of a bridge year between high school and college. She came to Senegal to learn about rural community health and Senegalese culture and worked at a community health clinic before joining the Tostan team. After being introduced to Molly Melching by the Global Citizen Year Director of Senegal, Lucy traveled to the village of Soudiane Balla where she witnessed Tostan classes for both women and adolescents, participated in a village clean-up day, and helped set up a children’s play corner.

Welcome to Soudiane Balla. This village is a seven kilometer ride by horse cart to the nearest paved road. If you’re approaching Soudiane at night, the first thing you’ll see are the lights; tiny stars shining from windowsills and doors, families gathered around them as they listen to the radio or finish up schoolwork. The amazing thing is, you wouldn’t have seen this three years ago, these electrical lamps, because until 2009 Soudiane had no electricity.

Women of Soudiane Balla share their knowledge of
the CEP with women from neighboring communities.
In this photo, a woman explains
the right to health care.
Let’s compare for a moment. In the year 1998 I was five years old, just starting kindergarten. Thousands of miles away, at the same time, the women of Soudiane Balla were part of a declaration to end the practice of female genital cutting (FGC) on their daughters. When I was learning how to read, so were the women of Soudiane. In 2001, pit latrines were installed, toilets in the home instead of choosing a tree in the forest. In 2005, water faucets; in 2007, a small local clinic that sells birth control pills and condoms, bandages wounds, and delivers babies, saving the women a seven kilometer horse cart ride if they want to have the birth of their child attended by a trained medical professional. What brought these changes about? The non-profit Tostan was invited by the community to bring its Community Empowerment Program (CEP) to the village, a 30-month course focusing on human rights, health, hygiene, literacy, and project management.

The stories I heard from the women about how they were treated before the program were astonishing. One woman told me a story of when she had needed to go into the next town for a checkup. She was six months pregnant, but her husband told her he wouldn’t take her, as it would be bad for the horse. So the woman walked seven kilometers to her doctor, and then seven back, endangering the life of herself and the baby. Now her son is the same age as me, and she tells me that now something like that would never happen.

“The men respect us more,” she told me. “They understand now that a wife is more valuable than a horse.”

Women of Soudiane Balla
during the clean-up day
I was lucky enough to both observe and participate in a few of the programs that Tostan helped to start in the village, including a village clean-up day, a community awareness ceremony, and various income-generation projects. Many are introduced as activities by Tostan, but all are run by the villagers themselves. The village clean-up I participated in, for instance, consisted of every woman in the village, including the ones not yet part of the class, taking their household brooms and sweeping all rubbish into piles for other women to pick up and move to a larger garbage area outside the village proper. The women joked and chatted the whole time, laughing at the way they looked in the protective face masks worn to guard them from the dust. Before long the children arrived, wanting to help beautify the village, too. This turned the whole thing into a very festive affair, made even more jovial by the treat of mint candies handed out by the organizing committee once every inch of the village was swept clean. This is just one of the ways I saw the women stepping up and taking charge of their own village and their own wellbeing.

Sitting in a comfortable American living room it’s easy to talk about one-step solutions, like installing water pumps or building schools, and yes, those are very important steps towards development. But sustainable, lasting change comes from education. Education of women, of men, of the whole community is needed to ensure that the village moves forward together, serving as an example for surrounding villages, for a region, and eventually a whole country. My three weeks in Soudiane taught me that when you put the tools in the hands of smart, committed, local individuals, they do so much more for the people on the ground than a government official ever could. It's true what they say: ‘Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach him to fish and feed him for life.' Fortunately for Soudiane, and thanks to Tostan, every man, woman, and child gets to learn how to fish.
Lucy (top right) with village kids holding up their new Tostan children's books.

 Note: The opinions expressed in this guest post are those of the individual author.
Blog adapted by Salim Drame