November 27— Engulfed in a singing sea of people, we dance our way into the rural village of Tankanto Mauondé near the city of Kolda, Senegal. Voices celebrating education and human rights welcome our small delegation; Tostan staff and volunteers, including myself, have arrived to take part in an afternoon of cultural activities and celebrations preceding the department-wide public declaration scheduled for tomorrow. In the morning, thousands of people from local communities will add their voices to the international movement advocating for human rights by announcing to Senegal, to Africa, and to the world their commitment to abandon harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. Khady Baldé, the vivacious president of the Tankanto Mauondé women’s association, greets us and invites us to dance (above).
The energy of the women is infectious, the happiness pervasive. High spirits are almost louder than the clacking calabashes, the high-pitched whistles, and the pounding drums.
Young girls hold up posters proclaiming No to Female Genital Cutting, [The Village of] Tankanto Welcomes Tostan, No to Child/Forced Marriage,The Community Thanks You for Everything.
Thanks to an understanding of human rights gained from Tostan’s 30-month, holistic education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), both men and women of the community have made the decision to abandon the practices of FGC and child/forced marriage.
Harmful traditional practices not only undermine women’s rights, but often lead to devastating and even fatal health complications. A new generation of women and girls in this community, and in thousands of communities across Senegal, will have the opportunity to live free of the harmful effects of FGC.
Story and photos by Sydney Skov, Tostan Voluteer in Dakar, Senegal