The Tostan Community Empowerment Program
Country Profile: Senegal
11,658,000 (2005 estimate)
|Poverty (Population living on less than US$1 per day):|
French (Wolof, Peul, Sérère, Mandingue, Soninké, Diola and Manjaque are recognised regional languages)
|Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP|
|Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)|
|Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)|
|Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 1995-2004)|
|Programme Title||The Community Empowerment Program|
|Language of Instruction||22 African languages|
|Funding||UNICEF, UNFPA, Sida, USAID, NORAD, the Spanish Government and a number of foundations such as Nike Foundation, Greenbaum Foundation, and Skoll Foundation|
Tostan, an NGO established in 1991, works towards empowering some of the most marginalised communities in sub-Saharan Africa with the aim of bringing about positive social transformation and sustainable development through an emphasis on human rights. The origins of Tostan date back to 1982 when its founder and executive director, Molly Melching, initiated non-formal education programmes in Senegal which built on participants’ existing cultural practices and local knowledge. The 30-month participatory education programme, imparted by culturally competent and knowledgeable local staff and offered to adults and adolescents in African languages, includes modules on human rights and democracy, problem solving, hygiene, health, literacy and project management. Since 1991 Tostan programmes have been implemented in 22 languages in 10 countries and have impacted positively on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
Context and Background
The use of ex-colonial languages as media of instruction has been found to act as a major barrier to equal access to formal education across the developing world. Furthermore, people belonging to the marginalised sections of sub-Saharan African society often lack the necessary information and skills to bring about positive change in their communities. The majority of rural inhabitants, especially women and girls, are often unaware of their most basic human rights such as being able to speak out and be heard in public forums.
Harmful social norms, systemic practices that are embedded in community life and enacted without critical thought, are also prevalent across sub-Saharan Africa, for example Female Genital Cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. Tostan, through its learner-centred curriculum co-created with participants, aims to empower people in respect of the above-mentioned issues and to bring about positive social change.
The Community Empowerment Program (CEP)
When Tostan’s founder, Molly Melching, arrived in Senegal in 1974, she noticed that the lack of education in African languages acted as a barrier to basic education and thereby inhibited development. As a result, in collaboration with a team of Senegalese cultural specialists, she designed educational materials using African traditions and learning methods. Based on participation and feedback from participants in a small village near the city of Thiès, a six-module basic education programme was conceived in 1982. Beginning in 1988, with support from UNICEF Senegal, Molly and her team trained local facilitators to implement a 30-month non-formal education programme, called the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), in the regions of Thiès and Kolda. The CEP originally targeted women and girls but has since evolved to include both men and women, boys and girls. The original literacy- and problem-based non-formal education curriculum was revised in 1995 to include modules on democracy and human rights with particular focus on women’s health, as women showed keen interest in learning about their specific health issues.
Participants of the CEP belong to different ethnic groups and socio-economic levels within their villages and have either never attended formal school or have dropped out at an early age.
The CEP has truly captured the essence of participatory programmes such that it begins by initiating dialogue with villagers who are asked to envision their individual and collective futures. Villagers’ hopes and aspirations serve as the reference point for the educational programme and the curriculum is designed/adapted accordingly. Evidence of building on participants’ existing strengths and cultural funds of knowledge is visible through the use of traditional African techniques such as song, dance, poetry, theatre and storytelling. The CEP comprises two phases: an oral phase called the Kobi (a Mandinka word meaning “to prepare the ground for planting”), followed by a literacy-focused phase called the Aawde (which in Fulani means “to plant the seed”). As a result of its success in Senegal, the revised CEP curriculum is currently being implemented in eight sub-Saharan African countries (Djibouti, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Somalia).
Some of the key features that have enabled the CEP to succeed include:
- Villagers’ visions – participants identify goals for the future that are then reviewed, discussed, debated, revised and incorporated into the programme.
- Learner-centred and participatory pedagogy – teaches participants knowledge and practical skills necessary to become self-sufficient and productive.
- Responsiveness – use of feedback from participants to update and revise the programme.
- Sustainability – creation of Community Management Committees (CMCs) which continue development efforts in the Tostan spirit after the CEP comes to an end.
- Community-led outreach through organised diffusion – participants adopt learning partners and share programme topics followed by the community adopting neighbouring communities.
- Inclusiveness – involving key stakeholders such as traditional/religious leaders, government officials, other NGOs (Freedom From Hunger, the Barefoot College, Rural Energy Foundation, Yarum Jen), outside evaluators, UN agencies (UNICEF, UNFPA) and other donors.
Aims and Objectives:
The CEP aims to:
- Enable participants to understand democracy, human rights and responsibilities and apply them in daily life
- Enable participants to identify problems relevant to their communities and engage in analytical problem-solving
- Enhance understanding of personal and community health and hygiene
- Empower women and adolescent girls to actively participate in and lead community activities
- Facilitate the collective abandonment of harmful social norms such as FGC and child/forced marriage
- Provide literacy and maths skills, including mobile-phone literacy
- Engage participants in project management for income generation
- Foster social mobilisation movements for positive change
Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies
Tostan opens two classes for the implementation of the CEP in each community that has requested participation in the programme. Seven to ten interconnected communities that are part of an established social network are selected for simultaneous programme implementation by Tostan regional coordinators to maximise the impact of organised diffusion within a given region. One of the two classes is comprised of 25–30 adults and the other of 25–30 adolescents, allowing participants to feel comfortable while discussing issues of relevance within their peer groups in addition to enabling intergenerational dialogue and consensus building.
Selected communities choose the participants who are then required to attend the classes three times a week for 2–3 hours. The community enters into a verbal contract with Tostan, committing to provide a space for class sessions to be held as well as room and board for the facilitator.
Tostan regional coordinators select CEP facilitators taking into consideration past experience, educational level, availability during the programme and willingness to work in isolated rural areas. All facilitators (approximately 80 percent women and often previous participants) undergo training courses at the Tostan training centre (CCDD) in Thiès, Senegal before being placed in a community of their own language and ethnic group. Tostan’s facilitators have social security benefits and their stipends are higher than those of most other literacy teachers in the country since they teach longer hours and are considered full-time community development agents.
Social Empowerment Element – The Kobi (10 months)
This phase of the CEP includes 98 sessions of approximately two to three hours each and promotes dialogue and exchange as participants at this stage do not learn to read and write. The Kobi includes sessions on:
a) Democracy and Human Rights and Responsibilities (for example the fundamental elements of democracy, basic human rights and responsibilities summarised from seven major human rights instruments)
b) Problem-solving (for example, how to achieve goals for the community through collective analysis of the situation, choosing appropriate solutions to problems, planning and evaluation skills)
c) Hygiene (precautions and prevention of germ transmission)
d) Health (understanding the body and systems of the body, common illnesses, nutritional information and reproductive health)
Literacy and Economic Empowerment Element – The Aawde (18 months)
The Aawde comprises the latter half of the CEP and introduces literacy-related elements of the programme. It is composed of modules related to:
a) Pre-literacy and Literacy skills (use of the mobile phone and SMS texting to reinforce literacy skills);
b) Maths (basic mathematical operations, use of the calculator);
c) Project Management (how to do a feasibility study and budget, implementing and monitoring small projects and business ventures); and
d) Workbook Review (three interactive Knowledge to Action workbooks to reinforce learning related to democracy and human rights, health and hygiene, small-scale project implementation and management).
The Community Management Committees (CMC) and the Empowered Communities Network (ECN)
The CMCs, comprising 17 members selected from and by the community, develop and implement specific action plans through several sub-committees. Their role is to translate class decisions into community action, ensure collaboration between the class and community members, and continue activities/development projects after the CEP comes to an end. Many CMCs register as official Community-Based Organisations and thereby reinforce community capacity. More than 1,500 CMCs are supported by Tostan’s Empowered Community Network (ECN), which was set up in 2006.
The ECN’s primary goal is to support CMCs in their efforts to connect locally identified development goals with domestic and internationally funded resources through negotiating partnerships between CMCs and government authorities, NGOs and international organisations. In 2010, 58 CMCs were funded directly by different donors to implement small community designed projects in Senegal.
Other Tostan Projects
The Microcredit Program
The Microcredit Program aims to enable villagers, especially women, to start small projects to improve their quality of life and general well-being by putting into practice the literacy, maths and management skills learnt during the CEP. Grants from Tostan to CMCs range from 300 to 1,000 dollars per community. The grants are managed as rotating micro-credit funds by the CMCs and used to finance development activities such as agriculture, fabric dyeing, animal husbandry, soap making and small business ventures. They are also used to finance social enterprises, for example starting community vegetable gardens/markets or purchasing mills to grind grain. The profits from microcredit activities are invested in projects to reinforce community health, education and well-being, for example adding primary school classrooms, installing water pumps or launching dairy cooperatives.
The Prison Project
The Prison Project aims to help prisoners reintegrate into society upon their release through providing them with the Tostan basic education programme while they are in prison in addition to mediation sessions by Tostan facilitators and supervisors between inmates and their families. Participants are also given access to microcredit loans for establishment of small businesses upon release. The programme is operational in men’s and women's correctional facilities in Dakar, Thiès and Rufisque, Senegal.
The Jokko Initiative
The Jokko Initiative was added to the CEP’s Aawde phase in 2009. Though mobile phones are commonplace in some of the most remote rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa they are used primarily to make and receive calls, which proves to be much more expensive than text messaging. The Jokko Initiative harnesses the value of mobile phones to reinforce literacy, organisation and management skills, and as social mobilisation tools to help build consensus around local development initiatives. Participants learn how to use the mobile phone and how to navigate its menu, focusing on practical applications such as sending and receiving messages in local languages, using the calculator, and storing and retrieving contacts. Some mobile-phone based innovations currently under development include Jokko telecentres, Jokko diaspora and RapidSuivi.
The Talibé Project
In Senegal, young boys aged 7–15 are often sent to daaras (religious schools) in larger cities by their families as these do not charge tuition. These Koranic students are called talibés. Begging with a view to teaching humility is part of the religious education imparted in daaras, but has increasingly become a socially accepted form of child exploitation. Furthermore, daaras are often unsanitary places and talibés frequently suffer from malnutrition, dehydration and skin diseases. The Talibé Project, set up by Tostan in 2002, aims to:
a) improve the daily living conditions for children in daaras; and
b) address the root of the problem by providing economic assistance, raising awareness and mobilising community support. Evaluation of the project, however, showed that it was by itself insufficient to achieve long-term goals. Improving the living conditions in daaras increased their attractiveness instead of persuading parents to keep their sons at home and send them to local schools. As a result, Tostan is currently incorporating sessions on child protection within the CEP with the aim of empowering communities to be responsible for the protection of their children and discouraging parents to send them away to the big city.
Impact and Challenges
Monitoring and Evaluation
In keeping with Tostan’s participatory philosophy, the CEP is evaluated, revised and improved continuously based on participant feedback. In addition, Tostan supervisors (mostly men for security reasons) visit seven to ten community centres at least twice a month, provide support, collect programme data, work with CMCs and report to regional coordinators. They engage in dissemination of good practice, help organise inter-village meetings and regional events. Tostan has also been extensively evaluated by external agencies whose recommendations are considered and acted upon. Examples include the Knowledge to Action workbooks which were introduced based on the Population Council’s recommendations for activities designed to reinforce learning; CMC training modules were improved as it was found that the CMC’s skills in respect of sustainability needed to be strengthened. Furthermore, Tostan has identified specific indicators, measured during the 30-month programme, with a view to standardising data collection and analyses. In 2007 Tostan formalised the Department of Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning (MERL) to coordinate evaluation of projects across sub-Saharan Africa.
Impact and Achievements
Tostan’s unique approach of dissemination of effective practice through its use of existing social networks called organised diffusion has resulted in a ‘ripple effect’ such that in 2010, 828 Tostan centres were operational (in eight countries) and the educational programme reached 50,300 direct participants. Some of Tostan’s major impacts and achievements are as follows:
- A 2006 publication of the Population Reference Bureau compared five community-based programmes deemed effective for improving health care. Tostan’s, one of the five programmes, was given the highest overall score for community participation because of its efforts to work on health goals identified by the community.
- In 2004 an evaluation by the Population Council showed significant improvements in several villages in Senegal in terms of ending violence against women, improving public hygiene, ending child marriage and respecting human rights in addition to facilitating public declarations for the abandonment of FGC.
- A 2008 study by UNICEF showed that among Tostan communities that had publicly declared their abandonment of FGC eight to ten years earlier, 77 percent had indeed stopped the practice.
- In 2010, the government of Senegal and their partners decided to adopt Tostan’s human rights model as the centrepiece of their National Action Plan to end FGC based on the results of a study conducted by the Senegalese Government’s Ministry of Family Affairs, National Solidarity and Women’s Enterprise and Microcredit . It is believed that FGC can be totally abandoned by 2015 in light of such a concentrated effort.
- Tostan's three programme components – an empowering education programme, organised diffusion and public declaration for collective abandonment of FGC – have been endorsed by 10 UN agencies and a variety of other donors through an inter-agency statement published in 2008.
- A 2010 Evaluation of the Jokko Initiative by UNICEF and the Center of Evaluation for Global Action (CEGA) at the University of California, Berkeley, found a statistically significant increase in the percentage of people scoring a medium to high literacy rate in the villages receiving mobile phone-based literacy training as opposed to control villages that did not participate in the Jokko Initiative.
- Other achievements include: opening new lines of communication between men and women, youth and adults, husbands and wives, parents and children and different socio-economic groups; increased mediation and conflict resolution; increased involvement of women in economic activities and community leadership; establishment of small community-operated health centres; increased community-managed micro-credit operations; increased birth registrations, marriage certificates, national identity cards and school registrations; increased school retention rates, especially among girls; improved literacy and maths skills, including phone literacy; improved child and maternal health, fewer incidences of infant malnutrition and a higher number of attended births; improved behaviours for the reduction of malaria and HIV/AIDS; organisation of peaceful marches against forced/child marriage and violence against women.
Challenges and Lessons Learned
Tostan participants have sometimes faced challenges when working to achieve their visions of the future given that social action is often constrained within broader systems of political and social power relations. For example, when 30 women in 1997 decided to abandon FGC it was realised that unless people in neighbouring intra-marrying communities also abandoned FGC, sustainability could not be hoped for. Enhanced efforts by a local visionary and Tostan’s ensuing organised diffusion strategy have thereafter resulted in the abandonment of FGC by thousands of communities – as of 2011, more than 5,000 communities in six countries have participated in public declarations to this effect. Tostan also faced considerable resistance in the conservative northern region of Senegal, which was to some extent relieved when strong partnerships were formed with local religious leaders in terms of implementation. Some other challenges, which proved to be important milestones in the history of Tostan include:
1.Tostan tried to implement a shorter version of the CEP without the literacy component. The shorter version, however, was not well received by participants, who found it frustrating to engage in just the Kobi phase without the literacy elements of the Aawde. As a result Tostan and its most long-term partner, UNICEF, made a firm commitment to delivering the full 30-month programme in every community. 1. Some men appeared to be resentful of Tostan’s initial focus on women, especially the CEP module on women’s rights and health. After several classes were shut down because of distrust on the part of men, the module on women’s and children’s rights were rewritten to include men’s rights as well. This new inclusive approach introducing an emphasis on human rights led to men being fully engaged in the programme.
Tostan has highly successful inbuilt strategies to facilitate knowledge and skill sharing, for example organised diffusion. Additionally, awareness-raising activities in the form of inter-village meetings are organised, which in turn provide a platform for representatives of different communities linked by common underlying social structures and relations to share experiences and discuss potential collective solutions to problems. Tostan also airs radio programmes which talk about topics related to health, human rights and democracy, which in turn generates further discussion among participants and leads to social mobilisation initiatives. Tostan has also helped and supported villages in making public declarations when they decide to abandon harmful social norms such as FGC, and in organising marches around topics of child protection, human rights and environmental issues. Most of all, Tostan's CMCs serve as a focal point of community-led activities. Establishing well-functioning CMCs is an essential part of Tostan’s responsible exit strategy to sustain programme outcomes after the CEP has been completed and Tostan’s immediate presence in the community has ceased.
Trying to force change through coercive action and condemnation alienates people and can be counterproductive as it causes people to become defensive about and to cling to their traditional beliefs. Tostan has shown that a programme that works from the bottom up can succeed when its design takes into consideration the needs of the people as identified by the people. Tostan’s participatory philosophy has resulted in remarkable social changes, especially with respect to large-scale abandonment of FGC. Continuous evaluations and revision through feedback as practiced by Tostan are crucial to its enhancement and future success. Programmes using the Tostan philosophy could help make a significant difference in the lives of thousands of people in other countries.
- Gillespie, D. and Melching, M. (2010). The transformative power of democracy and human rights in nonformal education: The case of Tostan. Adult Education Quarterly, 60 (5), 477–498.
- Mackie, G. and LeJeune, J. (2009). Innocenti Working Paper. Social dynamics of abandonment of harmful Practices: A new look at theory
- Melching, M. (2008). Intergenerational learning in Senegal. In: S. Desmond and M. Elfert (Eds.) Family Literacy: Experiences from Africa and around the world. Germany: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, pp. 23-32.
- Population Council (2008). Evaluation of the Long-term Impact of the Tostan Program on the Abandonment of FGM/C and Early Marriage: Results from a qualitative study in Senegal.
- UNICEF (2008). Working Paper. Long-term evaluation of the Tostan Program in Senegal: Kola, Thiès and Fatick regions. Online
- UNICEF (2008). Coordinated Strategy to Abandon Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in One Generation: A Human Rights-Based Approach to Programming. Online
Director of External Affairs
Tostan, US office
PO Box 53323
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: (202) 299-1156