No one is born a good citizen or a good democrat or a good leader; 
it takes time, and education.”
Kofi Annan, Former Secretary General of the United Nations, 
at the African Higher Education Summit, in Dakar, Senegal

The African Higher Education Summit, held in Dakar March 10-12, welcomed more than 500 delegates from all across the African continent who are committed to revitalizing education in Africa and who gathered to discuss nation building and citizenship, higher education, gender equality and more. Guests included government officials, private sector workers, non-governmental organizations and university administrators.

As a representative of Tostan, and specifically the Tostan Training Center, it was encouraging to hear so many leaders talking about development strategies that embrace human rights education—a principle that is at the heart of Tostan’s work throughout West Africa.

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, spoke passionately about the pillars of healthy societies: peace and security, sustainable development, and respect for human rights.  “There can be no long-term security without development, no long term development without security, and no society can long remain prosperous without respect for human rights,” he said.

Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) has been a force of change in bringing human rights education to rural communities in West Africa. Limited access to education, especially for women and girls, presents a serious obstacle to community growth and development.  Tostan’s non-formal approach to education is changing that dynamic. Through our CEP, participants learn that education is a basic human right, and they begin taking action to ensure that right is made available to every member of the community. Communities that complete the CEP see increased primary school enrollment (particularly among girls), improved basic literacy skills among adults, and a reduction in harmful practices, such as child marriage, that keep girls out of school. 

It is from this base of human rights education that future African leaders will develop. “[African] institutions should instill in Africa’s young citizens a mindset and understanding of the world that inspires visionary and positive citizenship and leadership,” Annan said in his keynote address. In helping to create empowered communities that drive their own development, Tostan strives to strengthen all of the institutions related to development, including higher education.

Tostan’s Training Center (TTC), now in its pilot year, is another way Tostan is strategically developing Africa’s capacity for widespread change. The TTC offers trainings to professionals and students wishing to work in local contexts with communities to bring about positive social transformation. We believe that students who learn about Tostan’s strategy and methodology will be better equipped to make positive social transformation a reality in their home countries.

When African communities are educated on their basic human rights, empowered to create visions for their own futures, and given the tools to achieve them, they pave the way for generational change. This is one of Tostan’s core objectives, and one that is clearly shared among Africa’s leaders. As Annan said in his address, “Education is one of the most effective forms of peacebuilding, a source of hope for each individual, and the premise of development and progress in every society.”

Interested in attending a TTC training on Tostan’s unique model of human rights education? Click here for information about upcoming trainings. 

— Story contributed by Liz Grossman, External Relations Manager, Tostan Training Center