I have heard about the impact of Tostan’s work for many years now, and when I first started in January as the Dakar-based Communications Officer, I began to learn more about the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP) , and results across five areas of impact; governance, education, health, environment, and economic growth. Field staff also send me field stories with a photo, but I was eager to see this impact firsthand, and going to the field allowed me to begin to comprehend what we actually do.
From May 22- 26, 2014, I went on my first mission to the Kolda region to experience first-hand Tostan’s work in the field. Our journey from Dakar to Kolda through The Gambia lasted 16 hours. I assisted with two events, one in Ndorna to celebrate the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, and where we distributed brochures about fistula and promoted an end to the preventable disease and the other, in Salikegné, where 100 communities participating in the Reinforcement of Parental Practices (RPP) program, declared their engagement to promote early childhood education in their communities.
Upon arrival to the first event, the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, I was struck by how the village looked. The event was held in the school yard, which was impeccably clean and the walls were painted with images of all of the different human rights. While children giggled as they loudly popped the empty plastic bags which once held water, I was impressed to see them always know to pick it off the ground when they were finished. I was told that Tostan villages are often clean because the program teaches respect for one’s habitat and environment, and communities take pride in how their homes look. Fortunately, our mission continued in Salikegné, where it was moving to see the solidarity between the mothers who participated in the RPP program, and the genuine sense of family I felt between all the women and children.
I was also proud to hear positive reviews about Tostan from community members in Ndorna, Salikegné. I met a facilitator named Soucouta Kandé, who has been with Tostan since 2000. She currently works in a village called Sinthian Dinz, about 14 kilometers from Ndorna. She came to the fistula day event with the chief of her village, Yoba Mballo, who expressed his admiration for her and her teaching skills in his his community. Yoba said that he brought his village to participate in this day because of what Soucouta and Tostan taught his village about early child development and education. Similarly, Abdoulaye Mballo from the village of Sinthian Pathé testified that Tostan encourages good health in their village, protecting their women and children, thus for this reason he has the utmost respect and gratitude for our work.
Seeing the communities, discussing with facilitators, and meeting CEP participants will give more depth to the communications work I do based in Dakar. I am excited and honored to work for Tostan, and I am more eager than ever to communicate this to the world.
Story by Liz Grossman, Communications Officer, Tostan