At Tostan, our human-rights based approach to community-led development builds resilience in some of the most remote and vulnerable communities in West Africa who have little access to basic supplies and services. The environment is an important component of Tostan’s holistic approach. Rural and urban communities in developing countries are often the first to feel the effects of neglectful and harmful environmental practices by industries in developed countries—the communities in which we work are no exception.

We have seen the importance of communities learning about environmental best practices. For example, many Tostan communities collectively agree to use solar energy to charge cell phones, to provide light for children to study after sundown, and to cook with as an alternative to coal or firewood.

This year’s theme on Earth Day is ‘Trees for the Earth.’ Planting trees helps combat climate change, allows us to breathe cleaner air, and provides income and livelihood to communities. The very act of individuals or groups coming together to plant trees is a pro-environmental behavior that can have a significant impact on other people’s attitudes and eventually on environmental social norms.

As we continue to expand the Tostan Training Center (TTC) to provide trainings on our development model, we have begun to promote pro-environmental social norms as a means for communities to collectively rethink their relationship with their ecosystem and how various natural systems can interact with each other. The TTC created six primary environmental objectives, largely inspired by and adapted from the International Organization for Standardization’s 14000 Family of Standards for Environmental Management.

  • Objective 1: Recycle organic and solid waste
  • Objective 2: Reuse water and collect rainwater
  • Objective 3: Implement energy efficient lighting solutions
  • Objective 4: Power the center with solar energy
  • Objective 5: Promote sustainable architecture and construction
  • Objective 6: Make ethically-driven purchases

Achieving these objectives requires two courses of action. First, to foster long-term partnerships with locally-based social businesses who are finding practical solutions to meet some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. Second, to work with these partners to train our staff and the local community on environmental issues and solutions.

For example, we are working closely with Jokko, a Senegalese permaculture organization that is inspired by spirituality and nature’s interconnectedness to promote the social, moral, ecological and economic wellbeing of individuals and communities. And to meet our first objective—recycling solid waste from our kitchen and guest rooms—we will begin recycling plastic with ProPlast, the only recycling plant for hard plastics in the Thies region (where the TTC is located).  

This Earth Day and beyond, we urge you to think about partnerships you can create to build a community of conscious and like-minded people with the aim to motivate others to action and ultimately, to bring about greater positive impact on the environment.

By Valencia Rakotomalala, Environment and Ethics Officer – Tostan Training Center