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.

Blog adapted by Salim Drame