By Omar Bah
Tostan – Gambia is beefing up its poverty elimination interventions through a Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in rural Gambia as it deepens its outreach activities in several communities of the Upper River Region of the country.
The NGO has unveiled several poverty-reduction strategies in the region in conformity with its catchphrase of consigning poverty to the past by regarding it as a non-option.
It has also expanded its activities to the Central River Region of the country.
The registered NGO with focus on areas such as community-led non-formal education and community development projects headquartered in Senegal, Tostan’s operations in The Gambia began in 2007 when it, in conjunction with Unicef, rolled out its programs to over 150 communities in the URR.
Founded in Senegal in 1991, the NGO also operates a Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in six African countries.
CEP is three-year award-winning informal human rights education program that embraces group discussions and offers training to empower people to lead social change and development initiatives within their communities, both rural and urban.
Tostan organises group talks and offers training that empowers people to head social change and development programs within their local urban and rural communities.
The institutions ultimate aim is to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals. These are tackling issues related to poverty & hunger, primary education, gender equality & empowering women, maternal health, child mortality, HIV / Aids, malaria & disease, environmental sustainability and global partnership.
The registered non-governmental organisation has been in the front foot in the fight against Covid-19 in the Upper River Region. The NGO has contributed immensely to contain the spread of the virus in the area where it is headquartered.
The NGO gets its funding from anti-slavery, comunidad de Madrid, Nike Foundation, Radio Sweden Foundation, Sida, Sigrid Rausing Trust, Skoll Foundation, Svenska Postkod Lotteriet, The Caleb Group, The Greenbaum Foundation, The Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, UNFPA, UNICEF and thousands of private individual contributions.
Tostan sharing national seminar
As part of its policy the NGO organises a national seminar to discuss with partners the progress and challenges they face.
The January seminar brought together stakeholders from the media, government, civil society and National Assembly members.
The meeting held at the Baobab hotel centred mainly on the NGO’s role in empowering African communities to bring about sustainable development as well as positive social transformation based on respect for human rights and the community empowerment programme (CEP).
The deputy PS at the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Kajali Sonko, said the Tostan community empowerment programme has significantly contributed to the development and capacity enhancement of communities in URR.
The Tostan CEP, he added, has greatly enhanced communities especially women and girls in the areas of human rights, good governance, health, education, environment and economic advancement in the region.
“This is further established by the field monitoring and follow-ups on quarterly basis by the women’s bureau. We are proud as a ministry to be associated with Tostan and will provide all the necessary support and technical advice and offer strategic direction for scaling their programme,” he said.
The CEP programme is implemented by Tostan and partners in collaboration with Women’s Bureau. The programme has since reached out to at least 203 Mandinka, Fula and Sarahuleh communities in URR.
Edrisa Keita, National Coordinator of TOSTAN, said: “This is the second edition of our national seminar where we engage lawmakers and different sectors and partners within the country. As policy makers, government institutions and CSOs, you are very relevant in the Tostan CEP.”
He said the CEP is in line with the first pillar of the eight strategic priorities of The Gambia government’s National Development Plan (NDP) which is to restore good governance, respect for human rights, the rule of law, and empowering citizens through decentralisation and local governance.
He said the significant contribution the NGO is making towards improving the lives and livelihoods of the people of URR cannot be overemphasise.
“Since we started operating in URR, we implement a programme called the CEP where we engage community members in various thematic issues; ranging from governance, human rights, democracy, hygiene and health, project management, literacy and SMS texting among others,” he said.
Keita made it emphatically clear Tostan doesn’t give money to locals.
Keita added: “We now want to scale up our programmes in 60 communities in the CRR North and South of the region.”
He said 30 Mandinka and 30 Fula communities are targeted for the first phase.
Keita said the district sensitisation, baseline survey, community sensitisation, confirmation and interview of facilitators have been successfully completed.
Also addressing the meeting on behalf Assembly select committee on women and children, the National Assembly Member for Nianija, Amadou Camara, assured Tostan of his committee’s unflinching support.
“As far as we are concerned, the plight of women and children is among our top priorities. We therefore thank Tostan for their valuable effort towards the empowerment of women and children in the country. We will assure you that we will continue partnering with whenever you require our service,” he said.
The Tostan – Gambia national coordinator, Mr Keita, shared a detail presentation on the overview of Tostan community empowerment programme detailing the progresses they have made and the challenges.
He also shared some of the outcomes of the implementation in URR and the strategic engagement plan they have identified in CRR.
Presenting on the NGO’s Theory of Social Change, Lamin Fatty, Tostan – Gambia’s MERL focal person said despite the enormous challenges faced by the NGO over the years they have managed to break tremendous breakthrough especially in the areas of community empowerment.
“What we have manage is to ensure that there is a buy-in from the communities. And the fact that we are stationed in the community we operate also help us a great deal in terms of having that understanding with the people we serve,” he said.
As part the NGO’s most notable achievements, Keita said they have managed to get several young girls who force to leave school back to school, arguing that some of them have finish senior school whilst one has gotten admission at the Basse college.
He said they also engage communities on how to settle land dispute and child protection.
A representative from the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare gave short presentation on the role and mandate of the ministry.
Shortly after the presentations participants were given opportunity to ask questions as well make recommendations on the way forward.
Human rights activist, Madi Jobarteh, said the National Assembly should advocate for the introduction of local languages at the Assembly so that locals who cannot speak English will also understand what is said there.
He challenged the government through the National Assembly to empower Tostan.
The National Assembly member for Basse, Muhammed Magassi, said before talking of introducing local languages at the parliament Gambia should have a linguistic policy first.
The few NAMs who attended the seminar were overwhelmed with satisfaction over the tremendous job Tostan is doing in URR and demanded that the project be extended to their constituencies.
The NAMs however raised issue of sustainability of the Tostan programmes as the biggest challenge the government should tackle to ensure continuity.