Friday, August 31, 2012

Show your support for Gender Equality by becoming a Global Citizen!

From Alisa Hamilton, Tostan Communications Assistant in Dakar, Senegal

Throughout the month of September, Tostan will be supporting the Global Festival and the Global Citizen campaign in partnership with Half the Sky. We will collaborate with amazing organizations around the world to raise awareness about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the movement to end extreme poverty.

As a member of the Half the Sky coalition, Tostan will focus primarily on raising awareness about Millennium Development Goal 3, Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women. We will feature photo essays, videos, portraits, and articles all relating to gender equality on our blog and on the Global Citizen website. Also make sure you follow our social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Youtube) for links to amazing stories about female leaders and community-led development in West and East Africa.

The Global Festival is a concert being held in New York City on September 29, 2012 hosted by the Global Poverty Project. It will bring together artists and change-makers to end extreme poverty and is taking place the same week that world leaders gather in New York City for the UN General Assembly. 

At the concert, Tostan will be among a number of other organizations that will announce a new commitment to raise funds to help end extreme poverty. The exact announcements will remain secret until the day of the concert, but you can find out more about the concert and how to attend below!

Tickets to the Global Festival are free, but the only way to win them is by becoming a Global Citizen and earning points on the Global Citizen website. Earning points is easy! All you have to do is view, watch, and share media from the partnering organizations through the website.

Becoming a Global Citizen is also a great way to spread awareness about the issues that you are passionate about to your friends. This is easy to do through the website as well and also earns you points.

We at Tostan are incredibly excited about the opportunity to support this movement and encourage you to get involved as well. Become a Global Citizen in support of Gender Equality today!

Check out this video by partner Half the Sky!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

VOICES OF TOSTAN: Fatoumata Sumareh

Sixteen year-old Fatoumata Sumareh was born in the community of Touba Sandu in the Upper River Region (URR) of The Gambia, where she lives with her mother and father and her younger siblings. Fatoumata participates in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), which began in her village in the spring of 2011. In this interview with Elizabeth Loveday, Tostan Project Assistant in The Gambia, Fatoumata describes how her participation with Tostan has changed her everyday experience and goals for the future.

Story and photographs by Lilli Loveday, Project Assistant, The Gambia

Fatoumata Sumareh

Fatoumata is a keen participant in Tostan’s CEP class sessions. She was inspired to join the program because of her desire to further her knowledge about themes in the CEP, such as human rights, health, literacy, and project management. In early 2012, her community completed the second phase of the CEP, the Kobi, which focuses on hygiene and health. As a result of learning about health and hygiene, many communities organize village clean-up days and promote hand washing and clean food preparation. These class sessions were of particular interest to Fatoumata:

"Tostan has strengthened our community’s awareness of why it is important to have a clean environment. We have learned that if you do not have a clean living environment you cannot be free from diseases and you cannot be healthy. I think understanding that is really important."

In addition to attending Tostan classes, Fatoumata is currently enrolled in Grade five of the Koranic school in a nearby village. “I enjoy this education and I love to learn! I want to learn everything I can.’’ Fatoumata is dedicated to her studies both with Tostan and at the Koranic school and has strong ambitions to take her education to the highest level: “In the future I would like to be somebody who is very educated. I would like to be a doctor.’’

Fatoumata’s parents approached her about marriage in 2011. She said: "They proposed marriage to me once… but I want to get married at 18 or above, I do not want to get married before that because I am not ready."

Through the CEP class sessions on human rights and health, parents are encouraged to let their children chose their spouses after they turn 18 and are educated on child protection and the harmful consequences of early pregnancy. Fatoumata’s parents respected her decision. Reduced rates of child/forced marriage have been some of the most prominent and visible results of the Tostan program.

Now that the village of Touba Sandu has completed the Kobi, it will begin the final phase of the CEP, the Aawde. The Aawde focuses on functional literacy in national languages and project management. Fatoumata is looking forward to learning how to read and write in Mandinka. At the moment, she is only literate in Arabic. 

Speaking with great confidence about her ambitions for the future and becoming a doctor, 16 year old Fatoumata is excited about participating in the Aawde and using her knowledge and skills to reach her goals and improve the well-being of her family and community. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Community-led Development in Guinea

Story and photographs by Julie Dubois, Assistant to the National Coordinator, Tostan Guinea

Earlier this summer, Tostan Guinea along with representatives from Guinea’s Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, and Ministry of Literacy visited ten villages in central Guinea in order to see first-hand the impact of Tostan’s work in the field.

Tostan Volunteer, Julie Dubois, having just arrived in Guinea five days prior also participated in the trip.

Representatives from Tostan and the Government
with community members in Koobèn. 

After arriving in Guinea mid-June, I set off with the National Coordinator of Tostan Guinea, Mouctar Oulare, and three members of the Ministry of Social Affairs for a seven-day mission. We were going to visit ten communities where Tostan implements its holistic human rights-based education program, the CommunityEmpowerment Program (CEP).

In each village, community members welcomed us with songs and dancing. Program participants then responded to questions from ministry representatives about the CEP and the changes they were seeing in their everyday lives. Community members often accompanied the question and answer sessions with skits and speeches about different aspects of the program: democracy, hygiene, health, problem-solving, project management, and much more. Everything was conducted in local languages, but I was fortunate to have Mouctar translating for me.

Women performing a skit in the village of Hindè.

Driving through the country where the rainy season has just begun, I was amazed at the green mountains and waterfalls, but more so by the amazing development initiatives people are leading in their communities. In the village of Tanènè, I saw the newly built community center, which functions as a pre-school during the day and houses the CEP class sessions in the evening. The village of Madina Horoya has started implementing a registry system for social mobilization, birth registrations, and other community-led activities.

The rainy season in rural Guinea.

I was incredibly impressed by the women during the community presentations. Before the Tostan program, it was not culturally acceptable for women to speak publicly and participate in the decision-making process of the community, but the female leaders I saw expressed themselves clearly and confidently. They spoke about the positive changes in their communities, such as improved cleanliness of the village, greater solidarity between community members, and more peaceful relationships between spouses.

One elderly woman in the village of Koobèn who had never learned how to read or write explained the process of birth registration in front of her community and representatives of Tostan and the Ministry. It is estimated that 43 percent of Guinea’s children are not registered. This poses many problems when they try to enroll in school and later when they reach voting age. Tostan teaches about birth registration and the Right to a Nationality, and more parents are registering their children in rural Guinea thanks to the awareness raising done by Community ManagementCommittees (CMC) in villages where Tostan implements the CEP.

Speaking to the representatives of the Government, they told me that they were very impressed with the development initiatives being led by the communities themselves and hoped to partner with Tostan on other projects. 

Over the course of the week, I learned more about rural Guinea and Tostan than I ever could have from a book. As I begin my year of volunteering, I am excited to discover more about Guinea, the people who live here, and the positive changes they are leading in their communities.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Elders Bring Attention to Child/Forced Marriage in The Washington Post

Article by Courtney Petersen, Communications Officer in Washington DC.

CEP participants at the 3rd Annual Youth Caravan in The Gambia.
On July 31st, two founding members of The Elders, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu, brought much needed attention to the global issue of child/forced marriage. Writing in The Washington Post, they called for urgent action saying: “At current rates, 100 million girls will marry as children in the next decade.”


They illustrate the inseparable link between child/forced marriage and the continuance of poverty - when a girl is married too young she is much more likely to drop out of school, experience health complications during childbirth, and can be vulnerable to domestic violence. If she is able to stay in school, she is less likely to experience these negative consequences and more likely to be able to contribute to her community and society at her full potential.

Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu also talk about the hope that exists for many girls worldwide who once faced this stark reality, saying that child/forced marriage no longer has to be an obstacle in their development. Specifically, they mention the transformation that is being led by communities in Senegal - thousands of communities joining together to declare their decision to abandon the practice of child/forced marriage. Many of these communities are direct participants of Tostan’s human rights-based Community Empowerment Program (CEP). 

Though positive change is occurring, The Elders reiterate that we all must continue to build momentum for this movement.  By working with communities in Africa and around the world; gaining support from local and national governments; and collaborating with international organizations like The Elders and our partner Girls Not Brides, we hope that the decline of child/forced marriage will only accelerate.

Blog adapted by Salim Drame