As the links which exist between communities are not defined or contained by national borders, Tostan’s work on transforming social norms and spreading knowledge of human rights must also cross these boundaries. On May 29th, representatives of 50 communities from Senegal welcomed 8 communities from The Gambia to Médina Yoro Foulah, in southern Senegal. In total, 330 people came together in order to reinforce their joint commitment to the protection of human rights and promote cross-border cooperation.

Through dances, sketches, and speeches, the meeting allowed community members from the two countries to exchange ideas and information. Mariama Camara, Community Management Committee (CMC) coordinator of Medina Yoro Foulah, took to the stage to draw attention to the rights that children all over the world are entitled to, including the right to education. Turning to the campaign to abandon female genital cutting (FGC), she explained why the cross-border approach is particularly important. Working across national boundaries helps provide solutions to the challenge of families travelling across borders to have their daughters cut – a practice that is not uncommon when one country bans the practice before its neighbors, or when one community abandons without the support of members of extended family networks living abroad.

Officials from local and national government, and representatives from Tostan Gambia and Tostan Senegal as well as the UNFPA were also present at the meeting. Many of the speakers, including the region’s préfet, Mor Talla Tine, recognised the progress that has been made so far and called for the continuation of the work to raise awareness around harmful social norms, including FGC. “We should stay on course and accelerate our efforts!” said Tostan Senegal’s Coordinator Khalidou Sy. Each speaker also reiterated Mariama’s emphasis on working together across borders.

A sense of solidarity between communities was clear throughout the day’s events – the idea that wherever their country of origin, they are all part of one people, facing many of the same challenges and sharing the common goal of dignity for every human being.

Story by Shona Macleod, Tostan

Photographs by Lisa Pouille © Tostan