On August 6, 2014, representatives from 20 Fula communities drawn from Wulis, Sandu, and Jimara districts of the Upper River Region of The Gambia gathered in the village of Sare Silleh for their first intervillage meeting since starting Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in June 2014. One adult and one adolescent CEP participant along with their Tostan facilitator represented each community. Community members, representatives of local government, health workers, women leaders, Tostan staff, and organizational partners attended the event.
The meeting opened with traditional singing from local Fula drummers. The youth and adults in the village of Sare Silleh presented posters with images of policemen, lawyers, and government buildings. Each represented different branches of government, their responsibilities and roles in ensuring good governance. The presenters explained how rules and regulations exist as a guide for both citizens and governments to follow and how rules bring peace. Through democracy, communities select a governing body that represents and protects the people.
The Ward Councilor for Sare Ngai, Menkeh Ibrahima Barow, noted that the concept of rules and regulations are not always taught in public schools and that while the word democracy is usually familiar, it is rarely understood. He praised Tostan for teaching about democracy and the rights and responsibilities of citizens as well as the rights and responsibilities of the government.
Through a dramatic skit, Sare Silleh participants introduced the topic of elimination of the discrimination against women. The National Women counselor for Wuli West district, Mazam Sona Marena, explained that the CEP empowered women of her district in the area of human rights and enhanced their capacity in basic health and hygiene practices. She challenged participants to disseminate the information shared during this intervillage meeting in their communities and invited Tostan and its partners to extend the CEP to more villages.
Testimonies and remarks by national and regional government officials and health representatives followed. The Public Health Officer, Moustapha Darboe, spoke about how Tostan helps the government by teaching people about health and hygiene, which results in healthier citizens and fewer hospital visits. He then spoke about the Ebola virus explaining its signs and symptoms, how it spreads, and how communities can help prevent it by continuing to follow Tostan’s teachings about how to keep communities and individuals clean.
The day ended with remarks from Ansou Kambaye, Tostan The Gambia National Coordinator, and Kaddy Janneh, Women’s Bureau Regional Program Officer. Kambaye spoke of unity and participation among community members as the basis for empowerment and encouraged both male and female participation over the course of the 3-year CEP. He also encouraged the members of Sare Silleh as well as the visiting CEP participants to adopt a friend, neighbor, or family member to share with him or her new knowledge learned during classes, an organized diffusion method used by Tostan to help spread the concepts discussed within the CEP. Janneh spoke of the marginalization of women and stated: “Dignity for all can be assured through the respect for human rights.” She praised Tostan’s human rights-based program, emphasizing its enormous impact on the rights and welfare of women and girls. She guaranteed Tostan the government’s continued support in the implementation of the CEP.