Sona Jatta is a native of Njum Bakary in the Upper River Region (URR) of The Gambia. She is part of the Tostan program as a member of the Community Management Committee (CMC) and the Peace Committee. Despite having had no formal education, Tostan’s three-year Community Empowerment Program (CEP) gave her the opportunity to learn about human rights and their responsibilities. After participating in the additional Peace and Security modules, she became passionate about engaging in activities that will promote peace and security within her family and community.
According to her, “For one to be a Peace Committee member, one has to be knowledgeable, be a good leader and a good investigator so as to successfully mediate and resolve conflicts.” Having acquired these skills, Sona decided to mobilize her fellow committee members and successfully mediate a six-year conflict between two family members, as well as a dispute between a husband and wife. In addition, she and her team of mediators sensitized parents on various other topics, such as the importance of girls’ education and the consequences of withdrawing girls from school, child marriage, rape and the harmful practice of female genital cutting (FGC).
The celebration was attended by local leaders and administrative authorities from URR, as well as participants from 20 post-CEP communities, who had all completed the CEP, and received further training through the Peace and Security Project. Over the course of the day, representatives shared how their communities had improved since they began promoting human rights and peace and security. Mariama Krubally of Social Welfare stated that as a result of the Tostan program, her office now receives fewer reports of child and forced marriages due to the fact that people have a better understanding of child protection issues. She explained that community members only report cases they cannot resolve themselves at the community level.
One of the sketches performed highlighted the importance of involving women in leadership groups. Binta Jaiteh, a local government representative expressed her appreciation for the National Women’s Council partnership with Tostan in the URR over the years. She said, “The program empowered women of the region and they are so proud of themselves—and confident—as they participate in community development and decision making activities.”
Community members also presented on various key human rights, the concept of “the conflict tree” and mediation steps, as well as the importance of dialogue. Nyima Danso, Coordinator of Njum Bakary’s CMC, said, “The Peace and Security Initiative reinforced our knowledge of conflict management, mediation and how to sensitize others on the importance of peace and security for all…We have resolved many conflicts amongst people and our community has adopted seven other villages.” (This “adopted learner” method ensures that new information and good practices are spread across communities and spheres of influence, and do not simply end with the participant communities themselves.)
Mory Camara, Programs Manager and Coordinator of the Peace and Security Project, thanked the Gambian authorities for their support and collaboration over the years. He reiterated that “the program seeks to reinforce the knowledge people have and helps to engage them in peace-building, conflict management and resolution in order for them to be able to handle conflicts on their own.” He called on communities to support each other in peace-building initiatives, to resolve conflicts that may arise between and amongst them, and to disseminate information to others who were unable to attend the day’s gathering.
By Edrisa Keita and Lamin Fatty