Tostan, Unicef changing lives in Upper River Region
An international NGO, Tostan, operating in rural communities of Upper River Region in partnership with the government of The Gambia with funding from Unicef is changing the lives of hundreds of rural dwellers in diverse areas, villagers informed the Media support for Advocacy delegation that visited the village of Kanubeh where the project is being implemented.
The villagers spoke with journalists from the Media Support for Advocacy team which visited the village on Friday 3 August to assess the level of improvement and impact the Tostan project has had on the community.
According to the villagers, due to the intervention of Tostan and Unicef they have abandoned harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting, increased enrollment of children in schools particularly girls, witnessed the emergence of female leadership and increased income and livelihood, ensure registration of children at birth, increased use of vaccination resources and reduced infant and maternal mortality rates and benefitted from increased awareness on human rights and democracy issues among a host of others.
The project which kickstarted in 2007 was a joint partnership between the government of The Gambia, Women's Bureau and Unicef to facilitate non-formal education and community development in URR.
The project has different components including the community empowerment programme which is a 30-month educational programme divided into the Kobi and the Aawde phases. Kobi is a social empowerment component of the programme and is divided into Kobi I which focuses on democracy, human rights and problem solving and Kobi II which focuses on health and hygiene issues. Aawde is the economic empowerment programme focusing on pre-literacy, literacy, writing and math and project management.
According to the national coordinator of Tostan based in Basse, Ansu Kambaye, the Tostan programme provides community members at the grassroots with essential learning skills and freedom and empowerment to utilise and spread the knowledge as they deem appropriate to become self-sufficient actors in their community development.
Welcoming the media advocacy team, the alkalo of Kunubeh, Bakary Darboe, expressed his gratitude to Tostan, Unicef and the government for the great strides achieved in the village. He urged other NGOs and organisations to emulate the good work of Tostan.
The chairman of the village development committee, Kesutung Jarra, was also full of praises for Tostan adding that before their intervention in his village many of them were illiterate but now they are aware of best practices in health and take part in community service and decision-making process.
“Since the intervention of Tostan a few years ago, tremendous gains and strides have been made in the areas of health and nutrition, education, problem-solving and mediation,” the VDC chairman told the meeting held at the village bantaba.
Before the introduction of the Tostan programme, women were not allowed to take part in decision-making process in the village. “Whatever we learnt from Tostan has been disseminated to others who are less privileged,” he said.
He called for the expansion of the project to other parts of the region.
During the briefing session some women demonstrated what they had learnt and how they are implementing the outcome of the project. They said they would be able to sustain the project.
Modou Sanneh, Filly Ceesay, Kodou Darboe, Sanna Dabally, Haddy Fofana, Kanny Conteh, Kunu Susso, Babayi Susso and Mariam Darboe all shared similar sentiments explaining how the project has changed their lives and the community at large and called on the authorities to increase funding for the project.
Sally Sadie Singhateh, Unicef communication specialist, who led the media advocacy team told the meeting that knowledge and information sharing was a vital tool for development calling on the media to increase their advocacy in order to increase the awareness campaign.
The Unicef communication specialist, urged them to apply the knowledge in practical ways that will better shape their lives adding that Unicef felt proud that the project has impacted positively on the community.