Every Friday, we will share the story of a member of the Tostan team. The wide range of people who contribute to Tostan each bring with them a unique perspective on community development, and use their talents and knowledge in important ways to make our programs possible.
Bassine Marone has been a key member of Tostan’s accounting and finances department since 2003, though she originally joined the organization as an intern, helping with IT. “It is strange how things happen. Growing up, I never once thought about working with finances, but here I am!”
Originally from Thiès, Senegal, where Tostan began in 1991, Bassine had long been familiar with the organization. When she was in high school, she was selected three years in a row along with five other students from her school to visit rural communities with students coming to Senegal from Philiadelphia “I found it very interesting, even though the communities weren’t far from Thiès, it was such a new experience for me, and I learned about many of the problems people in those communities faced.”
Bassine went on to study computer science at the International Center for Training (CIFA) in Dakar. After her studies, she had the opportunity to intern with Tostan in August 2003, and was happy to have another chance to work with the organization back in Thiès. “Very early in my internship, I joined the Finance team to support them, as at that time there was only one person in the department. I worked with him and learned a lot, especially since I had not taken any courses in that area at that time. I found the work very interesting, and I decided to change my career path, signing up for courses in accounting to improve on what I had already learned.”
Bassine spent four years with the Thiès office, and obtained additional degrees in accounting and project management while working. In 2007, she was selected to move to Djibouti, where she would help to launch Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) for the first time in the country, serving as the Administration and Finance Officer (AFO). As an AFO, she first organized the recruitment of local staff and the launch of activities in the country, along with organizing monitoring and evaluation of the program, setting up administrative and financial procedures, and collaborating with donors. During her time in Djibouti, she was also in charge of managing the budget, accounting procedures, preparing reports, and, when the Coordinator was away, taking his place in his absence. “The financial aspects of the program are very important for making sure everything runs smoothly. If you don’t accurately estimate how things will cost, it can make the program difficult to run. Sometimes, though, you see another approach that could work in a certain situation, or unplanned for activities which could help the project succeed. When I found this to be the case, I worked with the Coordinator and our donors to find new ways to move forward.”
Even though her responsibilities were primarily tied to the budget and general administration, Bassine spent a long time in the field and learned the details of the Tostan program. “Finances are the pillar, without solid finances, activities won’t run smoothly. But, when you better know the realities of the field, you become better able to help the coordinator. In Djibouti, our team was very small – there were only four of us at the National Coordination. To really help the National Coordinator, I had to do more than finances; I needed to really understand the program. I went to the training seminars for facilitators and supervisors as a participant, and I travelled often to the communities.”
When Bassine first arrived in Djibouti in 2007, her team had many obstacles to overcome. “Djibouti is a world away from Senegal and we had to learn new ways to work. Communities in Djibouti were not used to working with NGOs, so it took some time for them to see the value of education. Personally, it was also very hard to be so far from home, especially in the beginning. Today though, I have become Djiboutian. I consider Djibouti to be my second home. I certainly don’t regret taking that chance, and I have learned a lot along the way.”
Over time, communities – which in Djibouti included rural villages and urban neighborhoods – began to integrate the new information from Tostan’s program into their lives. “I was very impressed to see how much changed in just a few short years. One community was concerned about the spread of HIV in their village. Even though sex was something never publicly discussed, they overcame this taboo and helped many people get tested for the disease. It really impressed me, I knew how difficult it was for them to approach the subject, but they were brave enough to speak about it.”
After working in Djibouti for nearly seven years, Bassine is briefly in Dakar to support the Tostan headquarters financial team before heading to Guinea-Bissau to work there as their AFO. With the launch of the Generational Change in Three Years Campaign in the Guinea-Bissau later this month, Tostan will partner with 40 new communities in the country, and greatly benefit from Bassine’s expertise as we begin this new initiative.