By Momodou Jawo
Edrisa Keita, the deputy national coordinator of Tostan International The Gambia has become the first Gambian to be appointed as the national coordinator of the grassroots NGO operating in the Upper River Region.
Keita, who replaced the Senegalese born coordinator Ansu Kambaye, started working with Tostan as a partner since its inception in the Gambia in 2006 when he was with the Women’s Bureau as a regional programme officer for URR.
In 2011 he was appointed as Assistant National Coordinator until his recent appointment as the first Gambian to be at the helm of Tostan.
Speaking to The Standard in an exclusive interview Mr. Keita thanked Tostan for the trust and confidence bestowed in him.
Commenting on his development aspirations for the NGO, Keita said his plans are diverse but they are in line with Tostan global priorities as spelt out in the strategic investment goals.
“My most important plans are to facilitate the scale up of Tostan Community Empowerment Programme (CEP) into more communities in URR in the coming three years and also to ensure sustainability of the programme in the communities and to demonstrate impact,” he noted.
Their programme, he said, is demand driven by so many communities in URR and beyond, “thus I plan to implement the programme in more of URR communities and look at strategic ways and means to engage our partners such as UNICEF and other potential institutions to scale up in the other regions of the Gambia.”
Tostan’s non-formal holistic education program, he went on, is based on human rights and their associated responsibilities. The first phase, the Kobi, builds a foundation in human rights, followed by the Aawde phase which focuses on literacy and economic empowerment. Communities continue to demonstrate interest in the CEP and have consistently impressed Tostan and partners especially UNICEF with their enthusiasm for engaging with new information in a context that respects both their cultural traditions and decision-making processes.
The new Tostan boss added that scaling up of the community empowerment programme has been their top priority at national and international office levels in Dakar. “As you may know, Tostan’s programme is a holistic one and touches almost every aspect of human life and there are clear potentials for the extension of the programme.”
Keita explained that Tostan in close collaboration with the Women’s Bureau and UNICEF Gambia has worked throughout the country since the 2006. Through the implementation of CEP, he said, 173 communities have directly benefitted from the programme and another 70 indirectly through organized diffusion model of adopting a friend, neighbor, husband, and wife and later in the other nearby villages where participants shared the new knowledge they learnt in the classes as their social networks and groups.
The program, he continued, has made significant contributions to the joint efforts to accelerate the abandonment of female genital cutting, child marriage and other forms of violence against women and children. “It also equips communities with the capacity for democratic leadership and collective action, thus 173 communities have all decided their pledge in declarations to abandon the harmful traditional practices.”
The new Tostan boss added that their programme outcomes covered five key areas of governance, human rights, education, health, environment and economic development “and the beauty is these are all done with the use of our own local languages.”
He revealed that they have launched a three-year programme in 30 communities in URR called ‘Breakthrough Generation’ project as part of scale up strategies.