Friday, April 26, 2013

FINAL POST: Tostan launches new website and brand!

 We've launched our new website and brand together with a new blog! This will therefore be our final post at this blogspot address.

Check out our new website and blog for our latest news and updates.

Thank you!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Using social mobilization techniques to grow the movement for the abandonment of female genital cutting

This post originally appeared on Orchid Project's blog on April 17, 2013 and is reproduced with Orchid Project's permission. To view the original post on the Orchid blog, click here

Story by Allyson Fritz, Tostan

When looking at the number of villages who have decided to abandon FGC, over 5,500 in Senegal alone, it’s easy to forget just how difficult it is to shift this social norm. In many villages in Senegal, as in other countries, female genital cutting (FGC) is a tradition deeply embedded in the culture. Communities that practise FGC may think it is important because it has been done for as long as they can remember, or they may be subject to the misconception that it is a requirement of Islam.

Tostan social mobilization teams address concerns like these in a respectful manner while sharing information on the harmful effects of FGC and, specifically, how other communities in their social networks are choosing to abandon. In partnership with the Orchid Project, the social mobilization team based in the Kolda region of Senegal conducts a 12-day long visit to multiple communities every month. Their goal is to share information and facilitate discussions in communities about human rights and the harmful traditional practice of FGC, as well as the growing movement to abandon the practice.
Through this dialogue, communities are able to discuss the harmful consequences of FGC and why other communities like their own are abandoning the practice. Collectively, they are then able to decide for themselves if they want their community to join others in abandoning.  At times this process can be rapid, but most often it occurs slowly as communities build their understanding of human rights and how the practice of FGC hinders the development of their community.   

When the team works with a community, they start by spending the first day with key members of the village, including the village chief, imam, president of the women’s group, school director, elected representatives, and president of the youth group.  They introduce themselves and inquire as to whether or not they may conduct a village meeting the following day at a time convenient for the village. If the village agrees, the team will spend the night in the village and facilitate the meeting the following day.

It is critical to get the support and approval of these persons of authority before beginning any meetings with the rest of the community. They are respected voices within their communities and without their consent, it would be very difficult for the team to gather the community and share their knowledge, experiences and information.

At the appointed time on the second day of the team’s stay in a village, the meeting is convened and everyone is invited to participate. The team structures the meetings so that they start out with general information and slowly move into more sensitive topics.  The rationale behind this is that if the team jumps right into discussing FGC, which has been a taboo subject for so long, the community may be hesitant to share because they do not know the team or their purpose.

By transitioning slowly from talking about human rights, specifically those rights of women and children, and moving into violence committed against women and eventually FGC, the community is able to get a sense of who these agents are and what they are trying to accomplish. They are then more likely to feel comfortable enough to engage in a dialogue.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Free medical consultations for communities in Thiès, Senegal

Story by Courtney Petersen, Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur

“My head is aching, and the rest of my body has been in pain for a couple of years,” Mame Ndingue told the visiting medical team in Senegal. Because of her pain she is unable to tend to her normal responsibilities, and, like many others in her rural community, she cannot afford medical treatment. 

From March 19 - 29, Tostan is collaborating with the Mary A. Tidlund Charitable Foundation to increase access to healthcare through free medical consultations in rural communities in the region of Thiès, Senegal. The medical team includes two doctors, five nurses, and three volunteers from Canada along with a team of Tostan staff and volunteers acting as translators. 

The Senegal medical team and translators 
holding Tostan health and human rights posters.
The medical team is working together with the Head Doctor of the region and local nurses at the health posts in Saam Njaay and Tassette to host free health consultations to community members like Mame Ndingue. These communities built their understanding of health as a human right through participation in our Community Empowerment Program (CEP) or through community-organized social mobilization activities. Through the CEP and activities community members learn the importance of consulting a doctor when they are ill.

Each day the nurses register patients, record their medical concerns and history, and make a basic health assessment. The doctors then sit with each patient to consult them on their main health concern and give a medical exam. This continues all day until every patient has the opportunity to be consulted.

One of the doctors at the consultations, Dr. Gulshan Lodhy, shared that the most common illnesses being treated are ear, eye, and respiratory tract infections, as well as chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, and muscle and bone pain.

For many patients who attended the free consultations, seeking regular medical attention is not an option because of the high cost of medication and treatment, especially for chronic illnesses. The free consultations provide much needed access to affordable healthcare in the region.

Mame Ndingue shared how important this health consultation was to her: “[The consultation] was very good because I am not paying for anything. Usually, I don’t have enough money to go to the doctor so I am very happy to have had this opportunity.”

So far 380 patients have received medical care through the free consultations.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Community Development Grants Plant the Seeds for Community-led Development in Guinea

Article and photographs by Julie Dubois, Tostan Guinea.
The roads of Guinea Forestière.
The lush region of Guinea Forestière is always spectacular during the coffee bean harvest because if you take the time to smell the fresh air, the odor of the roasted coffee will tickle your nose and transport you directly in front of a cup of espresso.

On February 5, Tostan Guinea had the opportunity to discuss with the coffee bean producers at a Community Development Grants Project meeting in the community of Gnalakpalé. The meeting brought together all of the Community Management Committees (CMCs) of the zone of N’Zérékoré in order to evaluate the project, which gives small grants to CMCs so that they can lead their own development initiatives in their villages.

The community of Gnalakpalé was chosen as the location of the meeting for its dynamism. Since the last meeting held eight months prior, Gnalakpalé has demonstrated very productive use of the community grants through its activities.

Early in the morning, we were greeted by the village elders offering the traditional ten kola nuts and reciting the phrase “you have left your home, you are home here.”

Community Management Committees (CMCs) from the zone of N'Zérékoré gather for the meeting.
After greetings and an introduction, representatives from each CMC took the stage to share with neighboring communities how their village used the community grants. This allowed them to learn about the inspiring initiatives of other communities, sharing successes and learning from one another’s mistakes.

The coordinators and treasurers of each CMC currently participating in Tostan's Community Empowerment Program (CEP) as well as CMCs from communities that have completed the CEP were invited to the meeting.  Former participants were given the opportunity to come together with current participants, several years after completing Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), to demonstrate that communities remain active and engaged in their development initiatives after the Tostan program thanks to CMC efforts.

Each community benefited from a grant of two million Guinean Francs (approximately $290). Most of the CMCs chose to use the money from the community grant to support agricultural production in the region, such as the production of coffee. At the beginning of the growing season, CMCs give money to farmers who reimburse them in goods, such as rice and coffee, which are then resold by the CMCs at higher prices. This system allows the CMCs to support the farmers who often face financial difficulties when leaving the fields to sell their goods.

Sacks of coffee for sale by the Gnalakpalé CMC.
Other CMCs put community grant funds towards a rotating credit system for the community, which enables groups and individuals to lead development initiatives and small business ventures.

In the community of Duola, the CMC has put in place a shared fund, which provides interest-free loans for the purchase of medicine in case of illness. In Tamoé, funds were used to buy school supplies for the recreation center. In Kpoulou, Koakpata, Ouléla, and Komata, roads and bridges were improved, and currently the villages are collaborating on the construction of a health center and an addition to the local school.

The day ended with a delicious meal and a visit to the granary where the CMC of Gnalakpalé stores bags of coffee. The CMC has more than 40 bags of coffee that can sell for upwards of 500,000 Guinean Francs (approximately $70) each. By selling this coffee, they will raise the funds for their most recent development initiative: the construction of a nursery school. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Because We are Women: Showing Solidarity on International Women’s Day with UN Women

Article and photographs by Shona Macleod, Communications Assistant, Tostan International.

View more photos from the event in our Flickr photostream!

In the dusty terrain of Guédiawaye, on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal, hundreds of women and men gathered to mark International Women’s Day on March 8. The atmosphere of the event, organized by UN Women, was one of celebration with musicians, singers, and dancers. I had the honor of participating in the event with other Tostan team members.
A banner signed by local women calls for an end to domestic violence.
The theme of the day was ‘A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women’. Some of the women attending the event carried posters calling for an end to gender-based violence and many others were draped in UN Women banners. While waiting for the speeches to begin, I asked some of them why they had wanted to take part.

Marème Sow had come with a delegation from an organization called COFLEC (le Collectif des femmes contre l’émigration clandestine or ‘Women’s Collective Against Illegal Migration’). Marème represents immigrants in Spain. For many of these women, she told me, gender-based violence is an everyday reality. Later, the president of COFLEC spoke to the audience about how the effects of this violence are not just physical but psychological as well. She shared how women unfortunately receive little support to help them move on with their lives after experiencing gender-based violence.
Khady Ba, President of the Guédiawaye Association of Disabled Women.
Khady Ba, the president of the Guédiawaye Association of Disabled Women, came to show her conviction that women living with disabilities have both the same rights and the same challenges as able-bodied women. She said they must work to overcome the challenges they have in common with all women as well as the challenges caused by their disabilities.

Although many of the women attending the event had come in groups as members of organizations, some had come individually. One local woman named Maymana came to show her solidarity for ending gender-based violence because she sees its negative effect every day in her neighborhood.

A large number of excited school girls were also in attendance. One group enthusiastically announced that they think every day should be women’s day, before continuing to chant the day’s theme in French: il est temps de mettre fin à la violence à l’égard des femmes.

A group of schoolgirls excited to be included in the celebrations.
The speeches from government officials as well as prominent members of civil society reinforced the day’s theme. The speakers focused on the fact that gender-based violence continues to be an issue in Senegal despite recent advances in the law. It can happen at home, at work, or in the street. It is not, of course, a problem unique to Senegal, but one that is seen in every country of the world and affects women of every color, of every age, and in every social class.

Despite the differences between the women and girls I spoke to at the event, they all shared one common sentiment: they had come to the event because they recognized that the problems faced by women are universal. They had come, they told me, simply because they are women.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Portrait of a Leader: Yama Bathia

A few years ago, Yama Bathia experienced gender-based violence in her own home.  Since that day, she has worked hard to create a safe space for problem solving in her community of Bougnadou Manjaque and to challenge harmful social norms, such as female genital cutting (FGC). On a recent visit to Bougnadou Manjaque in the Sédhiou region of Senegal, Tostan Social Mobilization Agents (SMAs) spoke to Yama personally about her experience with violence and how that has shaped her perspective of FGC. Yama agreed to share her story in hopes of raising awareness about gender-based violence and educating others on the harmful consequences of FGC.

Yama: One day during winter, after the rains came, I was cultivating rice in a field five kilometers from our village. I left my infant daughter with my husband while I worked in the fields. There was so much work that day - the work was hard - and I had to walk all the way back. So I arrived home late, around 7:00 pm. My daughter was crying because she was hungry and had not eaten since before I left. I went outside to wash before feeding my daughter when my husband found me, and he was very angry. He hit me several times but my family heard and was able to intervene and stop him.

A few hours later I was still very upset, but asked my family to help organize a meeting between my husband and me. I first spoke to my husband, and he explained that he was angry at me for leaving our daughter without anyone to breastfeed her. I told my husband I was sorry, but that in the future we should discuss our problems respectfully. If we can’t resolve them, we should ask for help from someone in the village but violence can never be a solution. 

SMA: What happened after this incident occurred? Has there been any violence in your community since then? 

Yama: After this my husband apologized, and it has never happened again. We talked about violence, especially against women and girls, in a large community meeting. We all agreed that violence is never acceptable and that we would try to make a space where people can go to discuss and resolve their problems. Sometimes they talk to their family, an imam, or the local village council, and sometimes we talk together as a community. I don’t think any other women have experienced violence since then. Our village is small so everyone knew what happened to me, and I think it changed the way people address conflict. It made people realize that violence is never a good solution and that violence against women is something we cannot accept.
A Tostan meeting in Yama's village of Bougnadou Manjaque.
SMA: How does this relate to FGC? Do you see that practice as a type of violence? 

Yama: Yes. After the incident with my husband we talked more about violence in our community, and I thought a lot about violence against women. I realized that FGC is a type of violence, especially against girls. They do not consent to undergo this practice, and they have no choice in being cut. I know this practice is very old, it is not a part of Islam, and we see now that it causes serious health consequences. We had some health problems in our village with girls who were cut before, but we ignored them for a long time. Since our community has started talking about violence, especially violence against women, it has been easier to discuss FGC. Also, as we participate in Tostan classes, we’ve really started to understand how FGC is a violation of human rights and how it blocks our development. Our village has decided to abandon the practice completely, and I hope that other villages will follow. 

SMA: What would you say to others who practice FGC? 

Yama: I would tell them that this practice causes a lot of problems for women and girls, some very serious and sometimes even deadly. I would tell them that FGC is a form of violence against women and girls and that it violates our human rights. I would tell them that we must stop this practice together so we can improve our health, develop our community, and live more in peace.

Photographs by Angela Rowe, Tostan.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

NEW PHOTOS: Public Declaration in Fafacourou, Senegal

On Sunday February 24, 2013, 128 communities publicly declared their abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage in the village of Fafacourou in the Kolda region of southern Senegal. 

Learn more about the declaration and check out the photographs taken by Tostan Volunteers, Meagan Byrne and Allyson Fritz!

Local children put on a skit, organized by Tostan Supervisor Oumar Pam, discussing the problems associated with FGC and child/forced marriage. Photograph by Meagan Byrne, Tostan.

Audience members from the declaring villages watch as local children perform a skit about the dangers of FGC and child/forced marriage. Photograph by Allyson Fritz, Tostan.
While the declaration text was being read in three languages, French, Soninke, and Pulaar, representatives from each of the 128 declaring villages stood in a group, holding up signs with their village names. Photograph by Meagan Byrne, Tostan.

Aissatou Diallo, a student from the village of Fafacourou, reads the declaration text. Photograph by Meagan Byrne, Tostan.

Mouhamadou Gano, journalist for Agence France Presse, acts as master of ceremonies for the declaration, introducing speakers and cultural acts. Photograph by Allyson Fritz, Tostan.

View more photos from the Fafacourou declaration in our Flickr photostream!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Filming in the Field: Lamin Fatty Shares His Experience at the ‘Stories of Change’ Participatory Filmmaking Workshop

This post is from Lamin Fatty, Tostan Supervisor in The Gambia. Lamin recently participated in a two-week participatory filmmaking workshop made possible with the collaboration and support of Venice Arts, the Sundance Institute, the Skoll Foundation, and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). Tostan organized the workshop as part of larger project to increase participant-led storytelling after receiving the 'Stories of Change' grant. To learn more about the workshop, visit our website. 

Photographs by Alisa Hamilton, Tostan.
Lamin Fatty and fellow workshop participant, Khardiata Bodian, practice using the cameras at Tostan’s training institute in Thiès, Senegal.
I recently took part in the participatory filmmaking workshop organized by Tostan in Thiès and Kolda, Senegal. The training consisted of both theoretical and practical elements and lasted for two weeks. 
The theoretical aspects gave me and the other eight participants an introduction to documentary filmmaking, an overview of the evolution of filmmaking and cinema, and insight into the fundamental concepts of visual storytelling with emphasis on light, sound, composition, and story. We learned how to use a Flip video camera and basic editing techniques, completed homework assignments, and took part in group critiques. I really enjoyed working with the trainers from Venice Arts because of the participatory nature of their presentations coupled with their cooperativeness, understanding, and friendliness throughout the training.
Venice Arts trainer, Brigid McCaffrey, demonstrates how to use the tripod.
For the practical part of the workshop, we traveled to the region of Kolda in southern Senegal and divided into three groups to produce three films for Tostan’s Peace and Security Project. For this portion of the workshop we learned how to use higher quality video cameras and sound equipment.

My group made a film in the village of Karcia, 30 kilometers away from Kolda, about conflict resolution and inter-ethnic marriage. The film tells the story of a man, Oumar, and a woman, Aissata, who come from different ethnic groups; they fall in love and wish to marry despite resistance from their families. A marriage between two different ethnic groups was regarded as impossible even ten years ago and is still a source of conflict between families and communities. The film we made provides an example of how this kind of traditional conflict can be overcome with open minds and communication.
The filming process involved several stages. We started by meeting with the village chief and local imam to inform them of our activities and make sure they were in agreement. Over the course of five days, we gathered images of the village and conducted several interviews. We interviewed the coordinator of the Community Management Committee (CMC), a mother and a daughter, the couple, and Aissata’s grandfather. My favorite interview was with Aissata’s grandfather because he was very comical and reminded me of a typical village elder.
Lamy Fatty films family members at the home of the CMC Coordinator in Karcia, Senegal.
The most challenging aspect of filming in Karcia was the initial resistance and even refusal of some community members to be filmed. Once we explained that the goal of the film was to tell the story of Karcia as a positive example of conflict resolution, most people were willing. We also had difficulty quieting the curious village children!  

My favorite moment of the workshop was on the final day of shooting when we were filming the re-enactment of Oumar and Aissata meeting for the first time at the river. It was a beautiful scene and symbolic to have the two ethnic groups coming together at such a natural source of sustainable livelihood. 
Workshop participant, Khardiata Bodian, records sound at the river in Karcia on the final day of shooting.
The workshop was very important because it has given me, along with others from Tostan, a great opportunity to learn for the first time about the fundamental concepts of visual storytelling and to acquire new knowledge, skills, and techniques using the Flip video cameras. 
With my new knowledge and filmmaking skills, I will be able to contribute towards developing stories that can be shared in the countries where Tostan works and internationally. I will also be able to share what I have learned with the Tostan Gambia staff as a contribution to Tostan’s commitment to spread knowledge. I believe that building the capacities of Tostan’s local staff in skills such as filmmaking is essential in achieving Tostan’s mission of promoting sustainable development and empowering African communities.
Stay tuned for the final films on Tostan's YouTube channel


Friday, February 15, 2013

Sharing Tostan's Grassroots Approach with Policy Makers in Washington, DC

On February 6th and 7th, Bacary Tamba, the Tostan National Coordinator of the Diaspora and Regional Coordinator of Ziguinchor, presented at two panel discussions in the United States as a featured speaker. 

Bacary illustrated the process of community-led social norm change using the recent example of his role in organizing Senegal’s first regional declaration in Ziguinchor, with 427 communities publicly declaring their abandonment of FCG.

Read more about the panel discussions and briefings that Bacary attended on our website and watch the video of the declaration below.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tostan FAQ: What is behind the name ‘Tostan’?

Story by Courtney Petersen, Communications Officer in Washington, DC

Tostan is more than just the name of our organization. 
The word ‘tostan’ embodies what we strive to do: to share  knowledge, skills and resources that empower communities to set their own goals and create change on their own terms towards a vision of ‘human dignity for all.
So, what does ‘tostan’ mean?  
Today, our 22nd anniversary, we share what is behind the name! In Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal, Tostan means ‘breakthrough’ (as in the hatching of an egg), as well as ‘spreading and sharing.
This is evidenced in ‘the breakthrough’ experienced by communities when they decide to abandon child marriage after learning about human rights and health, and the spreading and sharing that occurs when they reach out to neighboring communities at inter-village meetings to spread their knew knowledge.’ 
The word ‘tostan’ was suggested to Molly Melching, Tostan’s Founder and Executive Director, by a friend and renowned African scholar, Cheikh Anta Diop. He believed that to foster democracy, development must be educational for all involved, always rooted in and growing out of existing cultural practices and local knowledge. 
Influenced by his philosophy, Tostan, the word and the organization, works within the local context of our participants. Our program begins in African communities with individuals coming together to form a collective vision for their future in which democracy, health, economy, and education thrive. It is through their dedication to learning and sharing knowledge, and putting that into knowledge into practice in order to  achieve their shared vision.
Our human rights-based education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) is offered in 22 (like us today!) languages across eight African countries. Classes are taught in a participatory and respectful manner and include dialogue and consensus building, highly valued skills in African societies. Learners create songs, dances, plays, and poetry inspired from traditional culture to reinforce new knowledge. 
We believe that when participants start with what they already know, they can expand and ‘break through’ to new understandings and practices just as our name says.

Read how Tostan's name inspired one of our former interns, Farba M'Bow, and learn more about Tostan's founding history on our website.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Guinea: Education at the Heart of Development

Story by Julie Dubois, Tostan Volunteer in Guinea.

In western Guinea, the community of Simbaya, and specifically its Community Management Committee (CMC), is inspiring other communities as a leader of ambitious development.
In 2009, the village was integrated as a neighborhood of the urban commune of Dubréka and also began Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP). Since its participation in the CEP, a number of development projects have been carried out in the community including bridge repairs and the electrification of the village.
At the center of Simbaya’s changes, though, was the construction of the Community Mentoring Center – a place for learning at the heart of their community. 
When the CEP first began in 2009, the messages shared about the importance of education resonated with the adult CEP participants. Suddenly, there was an influx of children attending the CEP classes, compelling the CMC to come up with a solution for the children of Simbaya who were eager to learn.
The closest school is located on the other side of a highway considered one of the most dangerous roads in Guinea because of the many trucks traveling at high speeds towards the cement manufacturers of Conakry. In addition to the difficult route, the school is often unable to accommodate younger children because it already lacks space for the older students. As a result, school only lasts half a day in order to fit in two classes per grade level.
The CMC came up with a creative solution, choosing to build their own Community Mentoring Center to provide each child of Simbaya with the opportunity to attend classes.
What began as two rooms in the home of a village elder soon grew to be a learning center accessible to all the children in Simbaya. This development was made possible by the ambitious plans of the CMC and Tostan facilitator who were able to secure funding for the new six-room center as well as a mosque and a drill with a water pump.  Currently, the CMC has drafted a plan for their next project: a community health center.
Thanks to awareness-raising activities led by the CMC, 180 children currently go to the Community Mentoring Center, the majority of them being girls.  Children ages four through 12 are divided into three classes according to their level and split time learning between Arabic and French courses. 
Although the Community Mentoring Center operates quite smoothly, it is still working to overcome specific challenges, including limited funds for school resources and teacher training. Regardless, the CMC and community are committed to improving the Community Mentoring Center, a place that in just three years has transformed the lives of 180 children who are learning valuable lessons inside and out of the classroom.
This story was translated from French. Visit our French blog, to read the original version!

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Social Mobilization Team of Sédhiou, Senegal plans to make an impact on FGC abandonment in their region

Article by Angie Rowe, Tostan Volunteer in Kolda, Senegal

What is the key to mobilizing entire social networks around the promotion of human rights? The answer is to utilize the greatest and most effective advocates for positive change: passionate community members themselves, social mobilization agents. 
Social mobilization is organized information-sharing through awareness-raising campaigns and activities.  In villages who are participating in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), teams of social mobilization agents are created to extend the reach of knowledge shared in CEP classes. This ensures that entire networks of people are informed and feel a part of any decision to promote positive social change in their area. Social mobilization teams also organize inter-village meetings to discuss important issues and achieve consensus on decisions affecting the extended social network.
As part of our continuing partnership with Orchid Project, two social mobilization teams were created in Kolda and Sédhiou in southern Senegal to lead awareness-raising activities that will engage neighboring communities around human rights and accelerate the movement for female genital cutting (FGC) abandonment in regions where rates are the highest. Read more about this social mobilization project in a great article on Orchid Project's blog. 
Each team consists of a supervisor and five social mobilization agents specifically selected for their skills in communication and their dedication to positive social change. We introduced Kolda’s social mobilization team last week, and now we are glad to introduce to you the social mobilization team of Sédhiou, Senegal! 

Abdoulaye Kebe, Supervisor, Sédhiou

Abdoulaye works for Tostan because he strongly believes in the promotion of human rights and the preservation of human dignity. Excited to be a part of this new project, he hopes to use his previous experience with social mobilization activities to support positive behavioral change in villages throughout Sédhiou. Outside of work Abdoulaye enjoys reading the Koran and tending his garden.  

Mariama Doumboya, Social Mobilization Agency (SMA), Sédhiou
In the past, Mariama worked for Tostan as a Community Empowerment Program (CEP) facilitator in Sédhiou, where she focused specifically on social mobilization activities. She continues to work with Tostan to increase her knowledge of human rights and health and share that knowledge with communities. In her free time, Mariama loves to cook—especially dishes with couscous. 
Mamadou Sao, SMA, Sédhio
Mamadou was born and raised in Sédhiou and is very passionate about improving the well-being of people in his region. He is particularly interested in helping to bring an end to violence against women and children. He hopes that as a member of the social mobilization team he can provide information to villagers, encouraging them to abandon harmful practices such as female genital cutting (FGC), child/forced marriage, and early pregnancy. Outside of work he enjoys playing soccer, scrabble, and reading.
Seydi Bouba, SMA, Sédhiou
Seydi is an advocate for education rights and enjoys working for Tostan as its program makes nonformal education accessible to community members. He is interested in working with Orchid Project because its goal aligns closely with something he is passionate about: the abandonment of FGC. He hopes to use his skills to inform people of the harmful consequences of FGC and child/forced marriage throughout the duration of this project. Outside of work he enjoys farming and other agricultural activities.  
Mouskeba Konte, SMA, Sédhiou
Born in Sédhiou, Mouskeba has always felt passionate about health issues in her community. She was happy to find work that supported her beliefs and hopes that the work of Tostan will further develop her country positively. She is excited to be part of the social mobilization team where she can use her knowledge and experience to prompt meaningful discussion in local communities.  She hopes this work will eventually lead to total abandonment of FGC in Senegal. Although Mouskeba is kept busy as a member of the social mobilization team, she always makes time outside of work to spend with her children.
Bamba Lylla Marena, SMA, Sédhiou
Bamba believes that education and literacy are key components of sustainable development, and he enjoys working with Tostan in its efforts to accomplish these goals. He believes that child/forced marriage and FGC pose serious and significant health problems and hinder the development of Senegal in general. He believes that total FGC abandonment is both necessary and possible. When not working, Bamba enjoys playing the piano and socializing with friends.

The above portraits are based on short interviews that were held on an informal, respectful, and voluntary basis in the participants’ own language with the assistance of an interpreter.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Voices of Tostan: Farba M'Bow

Farba M’bow spent his childhood in Senegal and moved to the United States. His mother, once a participant in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) herself, encouraged Farba to look into jobs within international development. Farba rediscovered Tostan in Washington, DC where he interned as Communications Assistant from September to December 2012. Here, he gives a personal account of his journey and how his experience with Tostan has impacted his life. 

Story by Farba M’Bow, former Tostan Communications Assistant in Washington, DC

Farba and his mother, a former Tostan participant 

When I finished college, I came back home full of ambitions but not truly knowing exactly what the near future had in store for me. I began a manufacturing job still trying to figure out what to do next. Several months later, I joined AmeriCorps where I provided academic support to at-risk youth at a local high school. The experience was great, and I found myself easily interacting with the students, but I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue a career in education. Then one day my mother suggested that I look into international nonprofit organizations after my time with AmeriCorps. I have yet to understand the reason she mentioned this, but it was exactly what I was planning on doing.

A few months later, out of the blue, my mom asked if I could find her the types of reading manuals that she used to study with in Pulaar back in Senegal and suggested that I search for them on the Internet. Well, I knew that the books she read came from an organization called Tostan and I started my search.

I was immediately drawn to Tostan’s website; seeing the incredible work that Tostan was doing in at least eight African countries was so amazing and very appealing. Then later, I discovered that ‘tostan’ was a Wolof word that meant “breakthrough”. Well, I knew what breakthrough meant in English, but I did not recall using ‘tostan’ in any of my Wolof conservations back in Senegal. I asked my mom, who actually speaks better Wolof than Pulaar, but she didn’t know either. I guessed that it had probably been replaced by a French word during the process of colonization. I went ahead and continued searching.

I forgot all about the reading manuals I was asked to look for and started a search of my own. I felt the urgent need to delve deeper into Tostan. I watched every video that I could find and read every article about Tostan. Then one day, I came across a video of Molly Melching explaining the word ‘Tostan’! I listened thoroughly to the point where she explained the meaning of the word as “the hatching of an egg”. Then it hit me! I picked up the phone and explained it to my mother and she went on to say, “Oh yeah, now I remember what that means.”

The analogy of Tostan as “the hatching of an egg” made perfect sense to me. Putting this into context, I knew from personal experience that many women and children hide their opinions because of social and cultural norms and expectations. I was automatically reminded of the example of a girl who gets married at the age of 14 and is forced to live in a confined village of only a couple of hundred people with all the societal and cultural components that come along with this situation. The only way that person can overcome her difficulties and rise above social expectations or ‘hatch out of the egg’ is through education.

My mother hatched out of her own egg in 2000 when she decided to participate in Tostan classes. She had never attended school before. In the Tostan classroom, they started with very basic skills. She went from putting syllables together to reading themes that we could all relate to at home. My four brothers and I were all eager to help. By doing so, we were also able to read in Pulaar, which is something that the school system in Senegal did not teach students. I particularly remember very entertaining and pedagogical animal stories, such as “The Dog and Monkey Wrestling” and another that talked about health and hygiene and ended with the phrase, “When mom and dad are unclean, there is no way they can raise a clean baby.” As children, we found this very funny but also understood it was true.

One thing we did not fully comprehend, however, was just how important the impact that Tostan’s nonformal education program was going to have on our mother. She put everything she learned into practice. She even went on to expand her business by buying dyed cloth from Mali and selling it back to other businesses. A few years after her experience with Tostan, she came up with the incredible idea for us to apply for visas to the United States. As children, we just needed to attend the interviews and within six months, we packed up all our belongings and got on to the plane to the US!

Years later, inspired by my mother’s story, I kept researching Tostan until I found the volunteer and internship opportunities. With a background in political science and women’s studies, everything that Tostan worked on interested me. I was convinced that this was the type of organization in which I could apply what I studied to the real world. On my last day of service with AmeriCorps, I interviewed for the Communications Assistant position with Tostan and received my acceptance within the same week! 

On my first day of orientation, I showed up at the office, rang the bell, adjusted my tie, and patiently waited.  Tostan was everything I expected it to be! The décor on the walls made me think that I was in an actual African community. The pictures of happy looking faces of Tostan participants from African villages automatically reminded me of Tostan’s vision, “Human dignity for all.” I remember thinking that this was the perfect place for me to intern. Everyone at the office was very welcoming. The diversity at Tostan was amazing. From the staff to the interns, everyone spoke another language other than English or had lived in a developing country. I could easily engage in conversation with someone in French, Wolof or Pulaar, and my personal story and that of my mother was well understood.

Working in the Communications Department at Tostan was very rewarding. Every week, we would go over all the activities that Tostan was planning: events, media coverage, and voyages to reach out to the furthest African communities. Tostan’s presence in Senegalese villages that I didn’t even knew existed was proof that community-led development and organized diffusion work. I was stunned to see all the behind-the-scenes activities and the effort, dedication, and cohesiveness the staff contributed so that projects would be completed on time. I was also pleased to discover Tostan’s strategic approaches in terms of changing social norms without harming tradition. Abandoning female genital cutting (FGC); promoting children’s and human rights; establishing social justice; keeping girls, boys, men, and women in school; and reducing domestic violence against women and children in numerous African villages were just some of the momentous results I witnessed while at Tostan. 

I finished my internship very humbled to see all that it takes for an organization like Tostan to educate someone like my mother and thousands more women, men, and children. Leaving Tostan’s office with an invaluable knowledge in nonprofit management will significantly impact my professional career. Hatching from a shell of my own, I will bring with me all that I have learned at Tostan on to my future endeavors.

Blog adapted by Salim Drame