Bombo Ndir, originally from Senegal, works at Associació de Dones Immigrants Subsaharianes  (ADIS)  in Barcelona, Spain. ADIS is an organization dedicated to empowering African women in Europe. In this interview, Bombo describes how learning from Tostan in Africa has influenced her work with diaspora communities in Spain.

Bombo Ndir grew up in a suburb of Rufisque, Senegal and moved to Spain 14 years ago where she set up with other immigrants an association for African women in Barcelona. Associació de Dones Immigrants Subsaharianes (ADIS)  works to empower immigrant women to make their own decisions by providing training in computer technology, cooking, and literacy. ADIS also facilitates discussions on topics related to human rights and health for diaspora community members.

This September, Bombo visited Senegal to learn more about how Tostan implements its programs in Africa. This was her second trip to visit Tostan in Africa. In 2009, Bombo visited several villages in The Gambia and participated in the public declaration for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage in the community of Sotuma Kantora. These visits to communities where Tostan works provide context for her work in Spain. She explained:

“When I speak to someone who used to live in [The Gambia] and I say that I was in your village, I spoke to your family, and I participated in the declaration, they see that their life truly interests me. They see me in a different way. ”

Bombo learned about Tostan at a presentation by Tostan’s Founder and Executive Director, Molly Melching, at a conference organized by L’Unité de médicine tropicale et de santé internationale in Spain in 2007.  Bombo reached out to Tostan’s sister organization, Tostan France, to learn more about their work engaging with diaspora communities in Europe. Emphasizing the importance of working with diaspora and African communities, Bombo stated:

“This work cannot only happen in Europe because when immigrants leave their countries, they bring ideas with them. When they leave to live abroad, they want to keep their culture and traditions. An immigrant in Europe wants to be the model woman of her African culture, however, sometimes the people living [in Africa] begin to change, and those in Europe are not aware. So the communication needs to be bi-directional – between women in Europe and women in Africa.”

Tostan France conducts a modified version of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) and raises awareness about Tostan’s work in Africa. By engaging diaspora communities in the movement to abandon FGC, Tostan France strives to bridge the communication gap created by the distance between the two continents.

While many African communities are abandoning the practice of FGC, some diaspora communities may be reluctant because it is a deeply rooted social norm. “Many people [in Europe] can’t imagine that people in Africa are changing,” stated Bombo. She continued that ADIS’s approach to FGC is similar to that of Tostan’s approach.

“We don’t say ‘stop FGC because it’s bad.’ No. We try to give information in the workshops that we organize. We try to give women the foundation. For example, with computer training, a woman can search the internet to find out exactly what FGC is. She will find the health consequences herself, and then we can have a conversation. She will make decisions on her own.”

Bombo’s collaboration with Tostan has helped ADIS engage hard to reach diaspora populations in Barcelona. For example, ADIS had difficulty reaching the growing Diola population, an ethnic group originating in the Casamance region of southern Senegal. While in Senegal, Bombo visited the Diola communities of Tendieme, Thiobon, and Thionck Essyl and saw how Tostan adjusts its education approach to work within local cultures.

Bombo feels that she now knows how to apply those same techniques to better support Barcelona’s Diola community.

When asked what she thought was unique about Tostan, Bombo responded, “I think Tostan resonates strongly with diaspora members because the people know that it is rooted in Africa.” She hopes to continue to use her experience with Tostan to improve ADIS’s work to empower African women in the diaspora.

To learn more about Tostan’s work in diaspora communities, read about Bacary Tamba’s recent trip to Europe.