On March 12, 2014, Tostan’s Prison Project in partnership with the Prison Administration at Thiès Prison in Senegal organized a prison open day to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). Detainees and their family members, prison staff, Tostan employees, and community members all gathered to recognize the accomplishments of the Prison Project.

Since 2003, Tostan has run a modified version of the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in women and mixed prisons in Senegal. The project is now active in five prisons. At Thiès Prison, there are currently 25 women participating in Tostan classes, they benefit from a number of trainings offered by the prison project, in areas including animal husbandry, clothes dyeing, and weaving. The project’s goal is to help detainees reintegrate into their communities.

A number of speakers talked about the progress made in helping detainees reintegrate into their communities and reconnect with their families as a result of the project. Following the speeches, CEP members presented a skit about a woman who is arrested, and shares her experience in jail and the skills she learned through the Prison Project.

The Prison Director, Commandant Adama Diallo, said this day was particularly important for the detainees because, “it allows them to tell their stories, forget their stress, and see all the external support they have.” He emphasized that detainees come with no prior professional training, but with the help of the Prison Project, it provides them with the skills to earn a living once they are released. 

Seynabou Diouf (name changed) is currently a project participant and has been taking part in Tostan’s classes for two and a half months. She participated in a weaving workshop offered by Tostan and said that the classes have helped detainees learn about things they didn’t know before coming to the prison, like health issues and recognizing the value of women. She also talked about the importance for detainees to stay in contact with their families. She told the story of one female detainee who didn’t know how to contact her mother. Tostan was able to locate her mother and invited her to the event, where she surprised her daughter by meeting her there. For Seynabou and many others, the event was a “chance to spend the day with family, and get the chance to laugh and dance”. She is now making plans to continue her education and said that in the future she would like it if she had an opportunity to help women detainees through Tostan’s program.

The day concluded with everyone being served food, in the background, a group entertained the crowds with live traditional folk music and people mingled together during what was deemed a festive occasion for all!

View more photos from the day’s festivities in our Flickr photostream!