Mariama Diao sells tea, sugar, and candies in her village. Ouley Baldé sells oil and rice. Other women in Saré Asset, a community in the Kolda region of Senegal, sell traditionally-made soap or fresh produce from their gardens. These women are all former participants of Tostan’s holistic Community Empowerment Program (CEP), which their community completed in 2011. Mariama and Ouley are two of the 17 members of the Community Management Committee (CMC) that was democratically selected in 2008, at the start of their CEP, in order to lead development activities within the village.

Diydéré Baldé, another CMC member, said that the CEP taught the participants how to manage money. Saré Asset’s CMC has formed a federation with nine others, all from communities who have formerly participated in the Tostan program. This federation received a Community Development Grant from Tostan, to be used by the CMCs to finance income-generating activities and social mobilization. The CMCs can each take out loans in order to develop projects in their own communities, leading to impacts in other areas that they learned about through the Tostan program, such as health or education. Their CEP has ended, but the federation meets every six months to collect interest and repayments on the loans that the different CMCs have taken out. They then redistribute this money to allow other community members to initiate their own income-generating activities.

Saré Asset’s CMC Coordinator, Dieynaba Kandé, explained that their community used part of their funds to buy a bull. Because agriculture is the primary source of income for many people in the Kolda region, they decided it would be a good investment to purchase a bull to help with their work in the fields. Next year they will be able to sell the bull at a profit if they choose.

During the three-year CEP, CMCs are trained on how to launch and manage their own income-generating activities. They then share the skills that they have acquired through this training with the rest of the community. More than half of the money received by Saré Asset’s CMC from the federation was distributed to community members to use for their own activities. Recipients of these loans pay them back with ten percent in interest, which goes back into the federation’s fund to be reinvested in other community projects.

Mariama, Ouley, and other women in Saré Asset have put what they learned about project and money management during the CEP into practice and are advancing the economic development of their families and of their community as a whole. Tostan is no longer working directly in Saré Asset, but the benefits brought by the CEP to the community continue to grow.

Story by Allyson Fritz, Tostan.