Friday, November 30, 2012

Portrait of a Leader: Ubah Abdilahi Hirsi

Ubah Abdilahi Hirsi was a Tostan participant in Somaliland. Her community of Daami completed Tostan’s holistic human rights-based education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), in 2010. In this interview with the former National Coordinator of Tostan Somalia, Oumar Name, Ubah describes the positive changes she has seen in her family and community since her participation. Mouhamed Abdi, former Assistant to the National Coordinator at Tostan Somalia, translated this interview.

My name is Ubah Abdilahi Hirsi. I am 48-years-old and I live in Daami, a village in Somaliland. I participated in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) from 2007 to 2010.  I am the oldest of eight children and when I was young, my father, a traditional carpenter of the village, could not afford to send me to school. Despite having no formal education, I worked very hard to open my own restaurant selling cups of tea and sandwiches. Every morning, I have to walk five kilometers to be at my restaurant before opening at 5:00 am - doing all the work in order to provide for my husband and seven children.
I first learned of Tostan’s CEP when other women and girls were talking about the program in my village.  At first, I did not think I would have time for the classes as my restaurant was the only source of income for my family. But even under difficult circumstances, I had such a strong desire to attend that I set aside two hours in the afternoon for Tostan classes.  Before Tostan, I did not know my human rights, but now, thanks to the classes, I have rediscovered how to smile and find happiness in my job and home.  
Like many places in Somaliland, there was a belief in Daami that women did not need to go to school. Tostan’s CEP showed me and other women that education is just as much our right as it is a man’s right.  I soon realized that when women and girls received education, social change began to unfold in my community. The first change happened within my own household when I began discussing what I learned in the Tostan classes with my uncle - he listened and respected my advice.  Family management became a joint effort for us, which in turn created a more positive family environment.
Within the community as a whole, women and girls united together to bring positive social reforms.  Tostan helped us change ourselves and helped us push others towards positive change. Now, I have a better understanding of birth spacing and good nutrition for children, which has helped to decrease the number of malnourished children in my village.  The community also experienced profound changes in regards to female genital cutting (FGC). I now understand the damaging health consequences of FGC on young girls, which is why I chose not to have it practiced on my daughter who was born one year after I began Tostan classes.
I also have a better understanding of my personal health and the importance of a clean home. I organized women and girls in the village into a group called Nanafada, which in Somali means to be clean and to clean your environment. Every weekend, I am joined by the women of Daami to sweep the village and share our knowledge of health and hygiene with other women who cannot attend Tostan classes. In cleaning the village, we have created a safer environment with cleaner food and homes and with less waste around the village.
Before Tostan’s classes, I worried that I would only be a restaurant worker. Now, I happily promote the cleanliness and well-being of the community members in Daami. I believe the most effective way to create lasting change is by engaging other women and girls in my community; the CEP gave me the tools to do that. 
There is a Somali proverb: “if you educate a man, you only educate one person. But if you educate women, you educate an entire society.”  I know now that women are an important element of development, and I would like to ask Tostan to make more classes available so that all communities can benefit from this program.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Community Empowerment Program: Encouraging Environmental Best Practice

Story by Amy Roll, Development and Outreach Assistant, Tostan, Washington, DC 

Mam Kolley moved to the village of Hella Kunda in The Gambia when the community was implementing the Kobi, the second phase of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP).
The CEP is a three-year program providing community participants with essential knowledge and skills, setting a foundation for communities to take direct control of their needs and development. 
Originally from Farafenni in the Northern Bank Region of The Gambia, Mam was trained as a Forestry Officer and relocated to Hella Kunda in the Upper River Region (URR). Although she had completed her primary and secondary education, Mam was drawn to Tostan’s CEP and soon became a participant. She realized there was much to gain from the class sessions that championed community-wide participation in activities in Hella Kunda.  
As a Forestry Officer, Mam recognized that the CEP class sessions could help to teach people good environmental practices while taking into account their own culture and traditions. The CEP class sessions are taught in participants’ local languages, and the comprehensive and holistic program covers a range of topics from human rights and health and hygiene to literacy and financial management - creating meaningful dialogue within communities. As Mam says, “the CEP seeks to empower people through the use of their very positive African cultures and in a participatory manner where there is no teacher but rather a facilitator.”  
Mam is invested in The Gambia’s sustainable development and protecting the environment. She sees great value in the CEP for building a foundation on which communities can address development responsibly and learn about their rights and responsibilities to each other and the environment. Mam has conducted awareness-raising sessions on the impacts of littering and the importance of disposing of waste far away from main living areas. She has also taught community members how to make greenhouses and encouraged them to use stoves efficiently in order to decrease the number of trees cut down for firewood. 
Through her participation in Tostan classes, Mam has been able to share best practices that protect the environment and the community. She also now has a forum to mobilize community members to conduct collective action.
Having seen the positive environmental impacts in Hella Kunda, Mam told us that she hopes one day Tostan’s grassroots approach to education will also spread to her hometown of Farafenni.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Portrait of a Leader: Coumba Samba Camara

Story and photograph by Anna Vanderkooy, Tostan Projects Assistant, Senegal

The community of Vélingara is located in the district of Ranérou in one of the most conservative regions of Senegal. In January 2012, Vélingara began Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) thanks to one woman, Coumba Samba Camara, who mobilized her community to participate in the program.

As part of Tostan’s community-led outreach approach called ‘organized diffusion,’ it broadcasts radio programs on themes covered during the CEP such as democracy, hygiene and health, problem solving, and project management. These radio broadcasts, which are hosted by Tostan facilitators and participants, allow messages that are key to inspiring community-led development to spread to villages that are not directly participating in the program.

Coumba first learned about Tostan through these radio broadcasts. She was so interested in what she heard that she made sure to be around a radio every time a show was scheduled. As was the case with Coumba’s village of Vélingara, communities that learn about Tostan through the radio often choose to invite the program to their own villages. 

Serving as a member of the Vélingara’s Rural Council, president of the local women’s group, and treasurer of the women’s dairy collective, well-respected Coumba was able to convince her peers of the benefits of participating in the Tostan program. When she learned that Tostan was working in her area, she arranged to meet local Tostan staff to get more information and encourage them to hold an information session in Vélingara. 

Through this process of bringing the CEP to her village, she also became involved in Tostan’s awareness-raising and social mobilization initiatives. She began to accompany their local team on trips to many nearby villages in order to share accurate information about harmful social norms such as female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.

Since January 2012, when her village began CEP classes, Coumba shares that communication and decision-making in Vélingara has already improved. Regular village-wide meetings are now held, and community members are demonstrating their commitment to community-led development through village clean-ups, increased number of health visits, better collaboration with local authorities, increased community solidarity, and a new freedom of expression for women and adolescents.

Coumba is now a member of Vélingara’s recently formed Community Management Committee (CMC), and she works with her community to identify cases of human rights violations and take action to ensure that the human rights of every community member are respected. Coumba is a dynamic and active leader in her community, eagerly learning and sharing the new skills and knowledge from CEP classes. With this energy, she will continue to empower her own community of Vélingara and beyond.

Blog adapted by Salim Drame