Tostan supporters play an integral role in building momentum for our community-led development programs. Our Outstanding Supporter Blog Series highlights their creative efforts to inspire support for Tostan in their communities.

With seven seconds left to win, the juniors scored, leaving their senior comrades crestfallen. So was the outcome of this year’s Cary-Grove High School Homecoming Powderpuff game.  

It was a cool, clear night in a Chicago suburb, and a whole community came together to support Cary-Grove High School’s junior girls vs. senior girls flag-football match. This all-female football game, known as a Powderpuff match, has become an annual event at Cary-Grove. Attended by students, teachers, parents and friends, it seemed as though “basically all of Cary came to watch us girls play,” says 11th grader, Lauren Betz. As one participant, Tara Cornwell put it, people attended the event “because it is entertaining and…because it supported a good cause.” And that cause was raising funds and awareness for Tostan’s work with women across West Africa. 

For the past two years, English teacher Andy Mack has assigned Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn‘s book Half The Sky to his AP Language and Composition class, as part of their summer reading.  Attracted not only to the structure of its argument (a combination of data statistics and first hand stories) but also the subject matter, Mr. Mack explains his choice, adding: “I felt like the students needed to read something that was somewhat uncomfortable for them.”

Many of his students, some of whom participated in this year’s Powderpuff game, had been unaware of the extent to which women struggle, in so many countries, and were taken aback while reading about the failure of states and families to invest in girls’ education. They were also immensely struck by the perpetuation of often deeply ingrained harmful practices such as female genital cutting (FGC) in communities across Sub Saharan Africa. While many organizations are mentioned throughout the book, it was issues that Tostan chose (and chooses) to focus on and its unique “approach from within” model that resonated with Mr. Mack and students alike.

After reading Half the Sky, many students went on to read Molly Melching’s biography However Long the Night, becoming even more familiar with the problems women and girls face in developing countries, and well-versed in the complexities faced by those who have tried stand up for what they believe in. Students often took it upon themselves to discuss these topics outside of the classroom, talking to and teaching others about what they had learned. Many interviewed for this piece noted that they spoke with family, friends, coaches, and “male peers” who, as Tara Cornwell was happy to add, were “just as supportive when they hear[d] about the horrible conditions that some women around the world endure.” 

One student, Marissa Banks, approached Mr. Mack for help in finding a way that she and the school could hold a fundraising event where proceeds would be donated to Tostan. They decided that the Powderpuff game could be a perfect opportunity for such a fundraiser and the theme would be “Girls for Girls.” After speaking with the junior and senior girls about where proceeds from the game could potentially go, it was unanimously decided that Tostan was the ideal recipient, as the “place where our contribution might have the most direct impact.”

Charging an entry fee of $5 and encouraging attendees to donate in a designated donation bin—while also sharing the Tostan mission at halftime—participants and supporters raised a very generous amount for Tostan.

Tostan wants to thank Cary-Grove for their support, and for helping build awareness for women worldwide within their community. As junior Cary-Grove student and Powderpuff participant, Erin O’Malley said, “The only way to make a change is to spread the word.”

Learn more about other outstanding Tostan supporters!

Story by Alyna Rogow, Development Assistant, Tostan