Friday, September 28, 2012

MDG3 in Action: The Community Empowerment Program

In support of the GlobalCitizen Festival, we will post a story each week during the month of September featuring Tostan's commitment to MillenniumDevelopment Goal 3 (MDG3), 'Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women' in the series MDG3 in Action.
After posting stories about successes achieved by communities and individuals in the areas of human rights, health, and economic development, we would like to devote this final ‘MDG3 in Action’ to the roots of gender equality and women’s empowerment: education.

Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment through Grassroots Education 
Story by Matthew Boslego and Alisa Hamilton, Communications Assistants, Tostan
At the heart of Tostan’s work lies the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), a nonformal three-year education program fundamentally based on the values of respect, inclusion, and participation. Over three years of classes and social mobilization events, communities spread knowledge, skills, and attitudes throughout their social networks fostering a cooperative environment where everyone has the opportunity to contribute to their own development.
Throughout the program, gender equality is continuously promoted as essential to a community’s collective well-being, and each module looks at gender from a different perspective to enhance participants' understanding of the issue.
A CEP participant presents the right to health at the launch of the Peace and Security Project in Kolda, Senegal.
The CEP begins with human rights, including the right to express ones opinions, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to work. In many rural African communities, women were traditionally discouraged from expressing themselves in public and participating in community decision-making processes. With new knowledge of human rights, men and women alike begin to question traditional practices and become more open to women’s participation in decision-making.
After learning about everyone’s universal human rights, CEP participants learn about health and hygiene, focusing on the importance of prevention and reproductive health. Tostan uses non-judgmental language to approach taboo topics, such as female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. CEP participants begin to question these traditional practices because they pose threats to certain human rights. The open dialogue created often leads gradually to the collective abandonment of harmful practices in a Public Declaration.
Adolescent girls in the Fouta region of northern Senegal meet to discuss the negative consequences of FGC.
FGC and child/forced marriage pose severe health consequences and keep girls from staying in school and reaching their full potential. With the abandonment of such practices, women and girls are empowered to seek education and employment, allowing them to contribute to the social and economic development of their communities.
Adji Diaw runs her own restaurant in Keur Sanou, Senegal.
With an understanding of human rights, health, and hygiene, communities are able to identify problems and appreciate the need to include everyone in their development projects. The final module of the CEP gives participants the concrete skills necessary to lead their own initiatives, beginning with literacy in their own language and basic math skills. They then learn project management skills, such as how to create a budget, calculate expenses, and make long-term action plans.  
The emergence of women as leaders, the abandonment of harmful practices that hinder girls’ development, and the economic empowerment of women would not be possible without the foundation of education provided by the CEP.
At Tostan, we believe that change comes from within. Gender equality and the empowerment of women cannot be achieved without addressing issues at their source. With the education of individuals at the grassroots, whole communities collectively make decisions in favor of positive social change.
To learn more about Tostan’s work with Millennium Development Goals, visit our website.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

MDG3 in Action: Health and Human Rights

In support of the Global Festival, we will post a story each week during the month of September featuring Tostan's commitment to Millennium Development Goal 3 (MDG3), 'Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women' in the series MDG3 in Action.

Join us in the movement to end extreme poverty by becoming a Global Citizen. Watch, view, and share stories on the Global Citizen website to earn tickets to the Global Festival!

Leading Health and Human Rights Initiatives in Sahre Bookar

Story by Anna Vanderkooy, Tostan Projects Assistant, Senegal
Ramatou and her daughter Miriama

Mamadou Ramatou Diallo (Ramatou) lives in Sahre Bookar, Senegal. She is the Coordinator of the Health Commission of Sahre Bookar’s Community Management Committee (CMC). Sahre Bookar formed a CMC when it began Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program in 2010. Composed of up to six commissions (health, environment, child protection, education, income-generating activities, and social mobilisation), the CMC is a 17-member democratically-selected group that organizes awareness-raising events and leads development projects designed by the community. A minimum of nine of the members are women.

In 2011, inspired by the knowledge of health risks and human rights violations gained in Tostan's Community Empowerment Program (CEP), her community of Sahre Bookar held a village-wide meeting to discuss the abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage. Consensus was reached, as community members confirmed that these two practices harmed the well-being of girls and women in the community. 

Now, as the head of her community's Health Commission, Ramatou is confident that all girls in the community, including her 13-year old daughter Miriama, will benefit greatly from this new respect of their rights. Girls were formerly married as young as 13 to men of their parents' choosing, but today they are assured the right to remain in school and to choose their own husbands after the age of 18. 

Through the Health Commission, Ramatou has organized a number of awareness-raising campaigns in the community related to vaccinations, malaria, and risk reduction during pregnancy. She has seen changes since the arrival of the program, citing that all villagers now sleep under mosquito nets, parents now respect the vaccination calendars set out by the local health post, and expectant mothers attend pre- and post-natal consultations, giving birth at local health centers instead of at home. 

Ramatou also started a health fund, with everyone in the village contributing 100 CFA ($0.25) three times a year. This fund supports health initiatives in the community, giving loans to villagers to assist them in the payment of hospital fees and transportation to appropriate facilities. Next year she hopes to use money from this fund, along with support from the local health post, to start a health closet that will ensure access to basic medication in Sahre Bookar.

With her knowledge and skills gained from the Tostan program, Ramatou has been empowered to play a leadership role in her region of Senegal, striving for better health and well-being for Sahre Bookar and surrounding communities. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

MDG3 in Action: The Prison Project

Story by Keala McConnon, Tostan Prison Project Volunteer, Senegal

Mame Diarra with her husband at their home in The Gambia.

Tostan implements a modified version of its holistic non-formal education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), in five Senegalese prisons. The ‘Prison Project’ aims to help detainees recover their sense of human dignity through participation in the CEP and learning about their human rights and equipping them with practical skills to start income-generating activities. Tostan also facilitates family mediations to help integrate former detainees back into their communities.

The majority of participants in the five prisons where Tostan works are women. One of the most visible results of the Prison Project is the economic empowerment of women due to their newly acquired skills in income-generating activities. These activities include fabric dyeing, soap making, juice making, aviculture, and more. The prisons where Tostan works have also linked practical skills trainings to the reduction in rates of re-offending.

Trainings on income-generating activities are very important as they can help detainees become financially self-sufficient during and after their imprisonment. A detainee’s ability to provide for herself is essential to successful re-integration into society. Gained skills also provide detainees the possibility of generating income while incarcerated, which increases their ability to purchase additional food, hygiene items, such as soap and toothpaste, and medication.

Mame Diarra Ndiaye is one woman who has benefited from Tostan’s CEP and income-generating trainings.

Mame Diarra is from The Gambia but travelled to Senegal for employment as a domestic worker. She was imprisoned shortly after her arrival in Senegal and sentenced to five years in prison. Due to her commitment to the CEP and good behavior, she was released within three years. 

After her release in 2011, Mame Diarra returned to The Gambia where she put her new skills in fabric dying and juice making to use. She has been using the skills she gained with Tostan to make a living since her release.  Mame Diarra is also training other women in her neighborhood in the skills she has learned, especially juice making skills, which are particularly useful because of The Gambia’s abundance of fruit.

Tostan’s Prison Project empowers some of the most vulnerable people in Senegalese society and around the world: female detainees.

To learn more about how the Prison Project empowers women in Senegal, read our blog about International Women’s Day and watch the video, “Empowered Women Take Charge of Their Freedom Together at Senegalese Prison.” 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

MDG3 in Action: Community Management Committees

In support of the Global Festival, we will post a story each week during the month of September featuring Tostan's commitment to Millennium Development Goal 3 (MDG3), 'Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women' in the series MDG3 in Action.

Join us in the movement to end extreme poverty by becoming a Global Citizen. Watch, view, and share stories on the Global Citizen website to earn tickets to the Global Festival!

Community Management Committees: Encouraging Gender Equality and the Emergence of Women Leaders 

Story by Anna Vanderkooy, Projects Assistant, Tostan Senegal

Khady Sow (right) and fellow Health Commission member,
Binta Diallo (left).

Khady Sow lives in the community of Kolma Peulh in western Senegal. Kolma Peulh participated in Tostan’s holistic Community Empowerment Program (CEP) from 2008 to 2011. Khady became a member of the CommunityManagement Committee (CMC) shortly after the start of the CEP.

In every community where Tostan implements the CEP, a CMC is formed to coordinate activities in and out of the Tostan classroom. Composed of five commissions (health, environment, child protection, education, and income-generating activities), the CMC is a 17-member democratically-selected group that organizes awareness-raising events and leads development projects designed by the community. A minimum of nine of the members are women.

CMCs provide a structure, which often does not previously exist, from which woman can emerge as leaders and spearhead development initiatives in their communities. CMC members engage peers who are not part of the CMC, and women’s participation in community decision-making processes and development projects greatly increase as a result of the CMC.

Khady’s role as the CMC Health Commission Coordinator has provided her with an effective platform to lead health initiatives in Kolma Peulh.  A community health agent before the arrival of the Tostan program, Khady eagerly welcomed the creation of the CMC as a way for her to address persistent health risks in the community and garner support for new health initiatives. The Health Commission has used knowledge gained in the CEP’s health sessions to conduct awareness-raising activities related to child/forced marriage, malaria, diarrhea, family planning, medical visits, vaccinations, and latrine use.

In the case of malaria, Khady contacted the nurse from the health post several kilometers away, and now has all the necessary materials and know-how to conduct in-village malaria tests in Kolma Peulh. Thanks to the literacy component of the CEP, Khady now keeps written documentation of test results, filling out forms in her native language of Pulaar. To treat some of the most common illnesses in the community, she also organized the creation of a health closet, which ensures access to basic medication within Kolma Peulh. 

The Health Commission has reached out to neighboring villages where Khady and her fellow Health Commission members now lead vaccination campaigns and coordinate with other local leaders to organize a variety of health, human rights, and education-related activities. For Khady, the next step for improving health in Kolma Peulh is to construct a simple health center in the village, making healthcare even more accessible to community members.

Through participation in the CEP, both men and women in communities like Kolma Peulh learn the importance of respecting human rights and welcoming female leadership to help reach community goals. Tostan’s non-formal education program empowers existing female leaders and facilitates the emergence of new ones by providing women with the knowledge and structures to lead initiatives in their communities.

Blog adapted by Salim Drame