Aminata, 15, lives with her family in Jendeh, a community in the Upper River Region (URR) of The Gambia. Her community began Tostan’s three-year Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in the spring of 2011. With the rainy season over, Aminata is eager to recommence Tostan classes sharing: “Just before the centers closed for the rainy season, we were raising awareness about [female genital cutting (FGC)] and child/forced marriage. We are all getting ready to publicly declare abandonment of these practices.”

Aminata, who previously shared that she was hesitant about joining Tostan classes because she heard that they focused entirely on FGC, explains: “I have seen that Tostan does not just focus on FGC. I learned a lot of things that have no connection to FGC.” Tostan’s holistic program covers the topics of human rights, democracy, health, hygiene, problem solving, literacy, math, and project management.

In Tostan classes, Aminata was informed about the practice of FGC in a context that has allowed her to explore the impact that practices such as FGC and child/forced marriage have on women and girls’ health and human rights, and she has been encouraged to come to her own conclusion. Aminata states: “I do not think that the practices of FGC or child/forced marriage are good because you should not force things on people, and it is a forced thing.”

This year, Aminata will enter Grade 6 at Koranic School. She aspires to continue her education and find employment. Last year, Aminata intended to become a Koranic teacher but has since changed her mind: “I would like to be a nurse. It will mean I can care for others.” Aminata’s commitment to her education has remained firm: “To become a nurse, I have to concentrate especially on English and Science. We learn those things now even at Koranic School.” In order to provide students at Koranic schools with the same opportunities as pupils at English schools, the Government of The Gambia introduced a new curriculum to include English and other core subjects into Koranic education.

Furthermore, Aminata looks forward to gaining the valuable skills of reading and writing in Mandinka, her native language, in the upcoming Tostan class sessions: “I will learn how to read and write and that will help me to work here in Jendeh, for my people.”

Aminata, like most of the people from her community, has been busy over the last couple of months with the growing of groundnuts, one of the most important crops of The Gambia. During the rainy season and harvest, both Tostan classes and Koranic classes have paused but they will soon restart, and Aminata is excited about getting back to studying: “It is important to help with the harvest to support my family and my community, but I am happy that I will soon be learning again.”

Every year, communities in West Africa participating in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) take a break from class activities during the rainy season. During this time, families devote their energy to harvesting crops. In this article by Lilli Loveday, Tostan Regional Projects Assistant in The Gambia, Tostan participant, Aminata Jallow, shares her excitement for CEP classes to recommence.