The Forest Region of Guinea is the richest in terms of natural resources as a result of its long rainy season, during which fresh fruits, vegetables, and coffee are cultivated for the rest of the country. Despite the lush terrain though, many communities in this region are faced with challenges that obstruct their success both financially and personally. Recently, I was able to learn more about the development of this region from Kondiano Saa Michel, a Tostan supervisor in the regions of Guéckédou and N’Zérékoré since 2006. During our interview, he shared how Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) has positively impacted his own life as well as the lives of people in the communities where he works.
His enthusiasm for Tostan’s work and the results he has witnessed over the years emanated through throughout our conversation as he shared triumphs and tribulations from his own life. Kondiano was an only child, and his mother left when he was just two years old. When he was 14 his father passed away, which led him to reconnect with his mother for the first time in 12 years. Not long after, she fell ill and passed away. For years, he felt resentment for the difficulties he faced alone, harboring anger throughout his youth and into his adulthood. When he began work with Tostan in 2006, he realized the importance of accepting that which you cannot change and taking charge of your own future.
While a Tostan facilitator in his own community of Blele, he was nominated as secretary of the Health Center Management Committee (Secrétaire du Comité de Gestion des Centres de Santé) where he managed the health center finances. He also led community awareness-raising activities and bed nets distributions for a malaria prevention project. After just three months as a facilitator, he was promoted to the post of supervisor.
Prior to working with Tostan, Kondiano said he did not understand the importance of women’s rights and admitted to behaving violently towards his wife. After studying and teaching the CEP class sessions on human rights, he was dismayed by his actions and realized the harm he was inflicting on her. It was then that he committed to improving his relationship with his wife and never acted that way again and ensuring that others understood that the rights of all people – men and women – must be protected.
The most remarkable impact of the CEP he observed in the communities he supervised was the change in the way women participated in their community. Prior to the CEP, women did not take part in decision-making; they did not dare share their opinions in front of men. During his seven years of working with Tostan in the regions of Guéckédou and N’Zérékoré he observed a significant shift in the women’s behavior and the support they received from the community.
For example, now women are mostly in charge of finances at the household level. They are also able to take advantage of and lead numerous agricultural activities available in the Forest Region. Men traditionally took charge of rice cultivation and used the funds generated for their own personal endeavors. But now, after developing their literacy, numeracy, and project management skills during the CEP, women in the community often the primary managers of resources; a group of women will take out a loan together and pay it back on a collective, rotational basis. Also, banks and small fund lenders no longer allow men to take out loans without the presence of their wife.
Kondiano also entrusts the money he earns to his wife, who puts it in their bank account to manage between household expenses, business activities, and savings. Just last year, Kondiano and his wife used their business management skills they learned with Tostan to produce 15 large bags of rice, which will generate 1,500,000 GNF ($214 USD) for their family. With the money he receives with his salary and their agricultural activities, they are currently building a house for them and their four children.
Story by Victoria Ryan, Assistant to the National Coordinator in Guinea, Tostan