In the beginning, the “Tostan offices were located in three crowded rooms in the front part of [Molly’s] house where she and [her daughter] lived with their pet monkey, Zita, a dog named Dalva, a rabbit, and a swan they called Charlie, who spent most of his time in a small pond Molly had dug in the front yard. Every day…the house was abuzz with activity—dozens of people coming in and out for meetings, volunteers searching for a space to work, and others from the neighborhood who stopped by just in time for the communal lunch of fish and rice that Tostan provided each afternoon at one, served Senegalese style from a shared bowl on the floor. At the center of everything was Molly, forty-one years old, a single mom, the head of an NGO, and trying to manage it all on her own.”*
Almost 25 years later and lunch is still served from a shared bowl at the Tostan headquarters in Dakar, Senegal.
Almost 25 years later: Molly is no longer trying to manage on her own. The last few decades have seen incredible leadership, passion, empathy and evolution arise from every one of the communities Tostan was and continues to be welcomed into, in eight countries across the African continent.
These last 25 years witnessed a generation of champions who have taken many forms, from eager volunteers to National Coordinators, to Community Management Committee chairs, to fathers standing up for the rights of their daughters, to women young and old embracing their strength and agency—to politicians, donors and academics.
These 25 years have seen thousands of communities participate in a movement to end harmful practices–such as female genital cutting and child/forced marriage–and tens of thousands of men and women who now understand democracy and how to make decision-making equitable.
What an incredible 25 years it has been, and what possibility it paints for the next.
On February 7, 2016, Tostan will celebrate its 25th Anniversary. Over the course of the next several months—in the lead up to this momentous occasion—we would like to share with you the stories of those behind the kind of inspiring change we are seeing take root, and flourish, across a region.
We would like to share with you 25 years worth of accomplishment (and lessons learned!) respect, and hard work—all in pursuit of one thing: a life of dignity for all.
In 1976, Molly had a life-changing conversation with Cheikh Anta Diop, a scholar honored alongside W.E.B Dubois as one of the greatest influencers on African thought in the 20th Century. Diop was discussing how the people of Senegal have their own world vision, and how that vision is often different from those who grew up in France, or the U.S, or anywhere else in the world.
Molly wholeheartedly agreed with the scholar, adding: “True social change—true development—seems possible only when you work with the people…when you start with where they are and, with their input, consider what needs to change.”
Cheikh Anta then added, “For what you describe, there is a perfect Wolof word…It’s a beautiful word, very important in our language. Literally, the word means the hatching of an egg—the breakthrough moment when the chick emerges from the shell. That chick becomes a hen and lays eggs that it nourishes, and so there are more chicks that become hens and the process continues for generations. For me, the word signifies the idea that as people gain new knowledge in a nurturing environment they can then reach out and share it with others, who in turn do the same…This is a word you should never forget.”
Molly was intrigued. “What’s the word?” she asked.
Cheikh Anta paused and smiled. “Tostan.”
Join us as we celebrate the Breakthrough Generation: 25 Years on the Path of Human Dignity.