Participants in our Community Empowerment Program (CEP) not only learn about their human rights and health, but also develop literacy, numeracy, and project management skills during CEP class sessions. Over the past seven months, 20 Tostan partner communities in the department of Ranerou, in the northern region of Senegal, put these skills to practice as they managed Community Development Grants funded by Tostan in partnership with Radio Sweden.

In July 2013, during their final year of the CEP, the Community Management Committees (CMC) from each village were given a total sum of 350,000 CFA (about $720 USD) to use for a period of six months. Because Tostan’s program empowers communities to be agents of their own change, the CMCs were given charge to distribute the funds in ways that best fit their community.

From July to December 2013, the communities were monitored by Tostan Supervisor Abdoulaye Ndiaye, who assisted the CMCs in opening community bank accounts, creating community stamps, advising on business best practices, and encouraging women to participate in income-generating activities. And on January 28-29, 2014, representatives from these communities gathered to share how their projects are progressing and to redistribute the profit they generated from their projects within their communities.

At the event, community representatives shared how some villages decided to divide the original funds between 20 people, while others gave the money to five people. Many villages held general assemblies to delegate the money to credible community members, while other villages shared the money with class participants.

A total of 324 community members, including 222 women, benefited from the profits generated by their community development grants and projects. Several women used the money to sell essential items such as sugar, tea, oil, and milk. The income generated allowed them to financially assist their families, as well as community members in need. In addition, they were able to learn important business practices, the banking system, and how to manage money. Rougui Ba, CMC coordinator of Ranerou, remarked that the money led to a rise in class participation by women, as well as an increase in confidence and self-esteem from the newfound financial success.

Many participants also discussed changes that they wished to make. Moussa Ba, from the village of Kodiolel, noted that in the future they would like to give the money to smaller groups of people, particularly those who raise livestock. He believes this will be more effective for his village. Djidou Sow from Ouro Demba Djidou shared that they would like to incorporate youth, this way they are given the opportunity to earn money for their family and contribute to improving their village.

At the end of the event, the profits were redistributed within the community, allowing others the chance to develop their financial and project management skills. This event helped participants analyze their financial success and visualize ways to improve their income-generating activities and projects for the future.

Story by Meredith Schlussel, Regional Volunteer, Tostan