With a firm belief in dignity for all, Tostan implements programs across West Africa to support the most vulnerable communities in their quests for well-being and community development. Our flagship program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), is a three-year program that provides communities with various tools—human rights knowledge, problem-solving sessions, basic literacy and numeracy practice, project management skills—that communities use to achieve optimal and lasting development. Another key tool within the CEP is the Community Management Committee (CMC), an elected body comprised of 17 leaders, half of whom are women. The CMC plays an essential role in accompanying community members throughout the CEP, and more importantly, ensures sustainability after the program ends.
In Mali, dozens of communities have taken charge of their futures under the leadership of their CMCs. These communities capitalized on their visions of collective success. Upon starting the CEP, members of the community define what an ideal community would look like to them and what steps would be necessary to achieve their vision. [Click to Tweet.] For some, it’s bringing electricity to the village; others focus on getting all their children through school. The visioning process is a standard part of the CEP, although the outcome is unique to each community.
Here’s a look into how CMCs across Mali have made a lasting impact for their communities now and into the future.
To support education efforts in Malian communities, CMCs organized activities that encourage more parents to enroll their children at school. In Kalkoun, the CMC repaired six classrooms and built a latrine in the school courtyard. A latrine is a simple addition that can drastically increase school attendance. CMCs in Tama and Beleninko led similar efforts to restore damaged classrooms. Improving school conditions can make a tremendous difference in getting children to attend—and stay in—school.
Good health is a precursor to a successful education. Unfortunately, many remote villages in Mali do not benefit from basic health services. In Hamaribougou for instance, the rainy season poses a dangerous challenge to residents as the rain leads to floods, which make it impossible to evacuate patients to the nearest health center. The Hamaribougou CMC created a solution by asking the nearby Sirakorola health center to make first aid supplies available to Hamaribougou community members. Michel Samaké, head of the Sirakorola’s health center was delighted by the initiative: “The collaborative efforts between community health agents and the CMC of Hamaribougou is a first in our community and deserves to be applauded and encouraged as an example to follow. It shows the community’s engagement to improve the health of all its members. This initiative, which results from Tostan’s program, is unprecedented in Sirakorola…It is through the communities’ commitment that we’ll be able to respond to health challenges faced by all.”
In addition, the Hamaribougou CMC used their community development funds (established as part of the CEP) to purchase a supply of medicine. The community health agent then manages the dispersal of these drugs. In the first trimester of 2016 alone, the Hamaribougou health center assisted with 525 pre-natal consultations, 124 births, 399 post-natal consultations, and vaccinated 8621 children. As the community invests in its health center, it serves more members, and collective health improves.
Child protection is at the forefront of community improvement. Conscious of its importance, CMCs began implementing activities that contributed to raising awareness of children’s rights. Drissa Sangare, the state nurse in the community of Zana, explained how their CMC introduced a “symbolic sanction” for parents whose children didn’t wear shoes—something that can be considered a basic right. In this way, parents who were not properly caring for their children were negatively viewed, and those who provided basic necessities to their children were celebrated. Public appearance is a powerful factor in highly social communities, like those found across West Africa.
CMCs were doubly active with regards to abandoning harmful practices that violate children’s rights. To successfully lead the movement toward the abandonment of practices such as female genital cutting and child marriage, the CMCs created teams to reinforce the movement with leading figures across communities.
The protection and preservation of the environment poses a major challenge throughout Mali. Concerned about this issue, CMCs led 494 village clean-ups and built 325 improved stoves, 95 latrines, and 98 sewage pits. Along those same lines, a federation (a legally recognized collection) of CMCs initiated a reforestation campaign. The initiative launched in July 2016 in the community of Sirakorola, with the support of the local authorities. As a result, CMCs planted 1800 trees in participating communities. These trees in turn provide much needed shade, natural resources, and contribute to a healthier ecosystem.
Since the introduction of microfinance with CMC-managed community development funds, many community members have created income-generating activities. Douguô Coulibaly, a microcredit recipient from Dougourakora, explained how this new form of economic assistance paved the way for her financial independence: “The loan I received through the community fund helped me a lot. I sell onions at the marketplace. Before this, I was selling the onions by the bunch. When the CMC provided me with this loan, my business grew considerably. Now I sell bags of onions and my profits have increased a lot.”
Douguô is not an isolated case; all 480 recipients across 40 communities fully reimbursed their loans in the first four-month cycle. This allowed the CMCs to redistribute the funds to 480 new recipients—of which 370 were women and 110 were men—for a new four-month cycle. This rotating credit allows community members to invest in themselves and their personal dreams, then reinvest in their fellow community members, creating a sustainable, mutually beneficial system.
The CMCs’ work in communities across Mali demonstrates how community-led development can be both effective and sustainable. Communities that benefit from the CEP with guidance from their elected CMCs are not only enriched with a broader knowledge of their human rights, they are also reinforced with tools to become economically self-sufficient. Equipped with new knowledge and skills, community members pursue initiatives that bolster true, lasting development, and leave behind any harmful practices that may hinder their future success. [Click to Tweet]
With contributions from Moussa Diallo, National Coordinator of Tostan Mali