Mam Kolley moved to the village of Hella Kunda in The Gambia when the community was implementing the Kobi, the second phase of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP).

The CEP is a three-year program providing community participants with essential knowledge and skills, setting a foundation for communities to take direct control of their needs and development. 

Originally from Farafenni in the Northern Bank Region of The Gambia, Mam was trained as a Forestry Officer and relocated to Hella Kunda in the Upper River Region (URR). Although she had completed her primary and secondary education, Mam was drawn to Tostan’s CEP and soon became a participant. She realized there was much to gain from the class sessions that championed community-wide participation in activities in Hella Kunda.

As a Forestry Officer, Mam recognized that the CEP class sessions could help to teach people good environmental practices while taking into account their own culture and traditions. The CEP class sessions are taught in participants’ local languages, and the comprehensive and holistic program covers a range of topics from human rights and health and hygiene to literacy and financial management – creating meaningful dialogue within communities. As Mam says, “the CEP seeks to empower people through the use of their very positive African cultures and in a participatory manner where there is no teacher but rather a facilitator.”

Mam is invested in The Gambia’s sustainable development and protecting the environment. She sees great value in the CEP for building a foundation on which communities can address development responsibly and learn about their rights and responsibilities to each other and the environment. Mam has conducted awareness-raising sessions on the impacts of littering and the importance of disposing of waste far away from main living areas. She has also taught community members how to make greenhouses and encouraged them to use stoves efficiently in order to decrease the number of trees cut down for firewood.

Through her participation in Tostan classes, Mam has been able to share best practices that protect the environment and the community. She also now has a forum to mobilize community members to conduct collective action.

Having seen the positive environmental impacts in Hella Kunda, Mam told us that she hopes one day Tostan’s grassroots approach to education will also spread to her hometown of Farafenni.

Story by Amy Roll, Development and Outreach Assistant, Tostan, Washington, DC