By the end of the three-year holistic education program, he was inspired to become more involved in the political life of his community. Aged 57, he set aside his profession as a mason for a time; he campaigned for and won the municipal elections in Niabina/Garalol, Mauritania in January 2014 and became mayor.

Baïla and his community of origin have come a long way since their participation in the CEP. Mamadou Baba Aw, Tostan’s National Coordinator in Mauritania, said: “Before [Tostan’s] program, community members in general and women in particular were not very involved in decision-making processes and politics. Thanks to the CEP, they learned about democracy and the importance of voting. Now women are aware that they have the same rights as men, and community members have massively registered to vote.”

Baïla added that after participating in Tostan’s program, he realized that lack of democracy in a community was the source of many problems: misunderstandings about governance and lack of women’s involvement in the decision-making process. Other community members and Tostan program participants also recognized this need and supported Baïla’s campaign to raise awareness and promote positive change in his community. He proudly declared: “I am the best illustration of [the community members’] understanding of democracy and the voting system.”

Located in northern Mauritania, Niabina/Garalol is in a fairly arid Sahelian zone. There are not many trees, and agriculture is difficult to develop because of the climate. In addition, there are not enough schools for children’s education. As the new mayor of Niabina/Garalol, Baïla first plans on reinforcing the community’s understanding that without democracy and equal rights, there is no peace and development. Then, he wants to improve the education of young people and develop agriculture, especially through the promotion of gardening.

To reach his goals, Baïla has already started developing partnerships with local NGOs and philanthropists, but he said that Tostan is the city’s main partner. Tostan is still active in the region, helping communities to realize their own projects through community development grants, advice in better management of their environment, health and hygiene, better access to education, inclusive decision-making processes, etc. One of Baïla’s first decisions as a mayor was to reduce taxes so that petty traders can make more profit.

Baïla Dia wants to keep working with the Community Management Committees (CMC) who empowered him to run for election in order to continue to promote human rights and community-led development. Like another CEP participant named Demba Diop who became mayor of Mbagne, in southern Mauritania, in 2010, Baïla is in a good position to know the population’s needs and support them to implement their own vision of the future.