On Sunday, December 16th , the community of Hella Kunda in the Jimara District, Upper River Region (URR), The Gambia hosted a public declaration for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. Of the 20 declaring communities, 17 directly participated in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) and three participated indirectly through Tostan’s outreach approach called organized diffusion .

This was the second declaration to take place this month in The Gambia. The first took place in Bantunding on December 9th.

The day before the event, the village of Pirai Tenda in the Tumana District held a press conference where journalists and CEP participants discussed the community’s decision to abandon harmful traditional practices as well as the positive changes they saw during the implementation of the CEP in their community.

The declaration itself was attended by the Chairman of the Basse Area Council, Mr. Omar Sompo Ceesay; government officials; NGOs and civil society organizations; Tostan facilitators, supervisors, and partners; community members; and the media.

In his welcoming remarks on behalf of the village chief of Hella Kunda, a village elder, Malick Krubally, shared how this day is very significant in the history of their village. He highlighted that it is a great pride for him and the entire council of elders to witness a ceremony marking positive social transformation. He stated that his village’s participation in the Tostan program has inculcated a spirit of love, unity, and cooperation among the community members, which is vital for any developing society.
Following Malick Krubally’s remarks, several other community leaders spoke. Mr. Gassama Sanneh, the Head Master of Hella Kunda Lower Basic School, highlighted that the decision to abandon harmful practices does not just occur; it is the result of careful evaluation and community discussion on the importance of human rights and the negative health effects of these practices.
He stated that many of these discussions took place during the communities’ participation in Tostan’s human rights-based education program as well as CMC-led social mobilization activities. He thanked the funders of the program for providing an enabling environment and urged the participating communities to ensure the sustainability of the project.

A former cutter, Sarjo Jatta, gave a testimony on behalf of her fellow practitioners and stepped on a calabash bowl (traditionally used to hold cutting instruments) to symbolize their complete commitment to abandoning the practice of FGC and child/forced marriage.

Mr. Omar Sompo Ceesay, the Chairman of the Basse Area Council, gave the closing remarks on behalf of the Governor of URR. He reinforced Tostan’s mission in the URR: to empower communities through knowledge of human rights and responsibilities, democracy and good governance, and hygiene and health, as well as to complement the government’s efforts in eradicating illiteracy and poverty in the region. This declaration, he stated, is a step in the right direction.

The declaration statement was delivered by Yayinding Jallow and Sarjo Jatta in Mandinka and English respectively, stating: “We, the representatives of the 20 communities, voluntarily and with full knowledge declare that we are abandoning the practice of FGC and child/forced marriage in our communities.” The declaration ended with a call for other communities in the region to join the movement to abandon these practices.

Read more coverage of this declaration on FOROYAA Newspaper.