Every year, hundreds of Gambian youth gather to share their commitment to human rights as they participate in the annual Youth Caravan and Forum organized by Tostan The Gambia. The theme of this year’s event, which took place on November 20-25, was kalong ka baara, meaning ‘practice what you know’ in the West African language of Mandinka. Over 200 youth took this theme to heart as they raised awareness of children’s rights in five Serahule communities in the Upper River Region (URR) of The Gambia – Sabi Kalilu, Sare Julleh, Kulari, Numuyel, and Demba Kunda.

In each of the communities visited, Tostan The Gambia National Coordinator Ansou Kambaye began the event by reiterating the objective of the caravan: to create an environment where youth, families, elders, and authorities can raise awareness about children’s rights and to encourage support in helping youth realize their dreams and become responsible citizens and future leaders. Caravan participants then gave speeches and performed skits about issues facing young people in The Gambia’s Upper River Region, such as child/forced marriage, female genital cutting (FGC), drug and alcohol abuse, child and maternal health, the importance of vaccination and health consultations, and the importance of education for all.

In addition to the main awareness-raising meeting that took place in each community, this year Tostan The Gambia team members, Tostan supervisors, community elders, youth, and women also participated in a consultative meeting. During these meetings, each of the communities openly discussed their issues and concerns related to the rights and welfare of youth and women. These interactive meetings allowed everyone — women, men, and youth — to express their concerns and to discuss strategies on how to work together with Tostan in order to resolve these issues. After each meeting, they developed an action plan outlining sustainable solutions for challenges the community saw as top priority.

Following these meetings, each host community also organized a ‘Cultural Night,’ allowing the young participants to showcase the positive traditions of their communities through dance, song, and storytelling.

The caravan culminated in a ceremony on the 25th of November at the URR governor’s residence in Basse Mansajang Kunda, following a march from the Tostan office. On behalf of all Gambian youth, Isatou Jallow, an adolescent participant in Tostan’s nonformal Community Empowerment Program (CEP), read the youth manifesto to the governor, Alhagie Kanimang Sanneh. This manifesto was a symbol of youth voice and solidarity, and it called for the support of family members, elders, organizations, and local and government authorities for the protection of children’s rights, including the right to survival and development, basic education, equality in higher education, and protection against all forms of violence.

Story by Edrisa Keita, Assistant to the National Coordinator, Tostan The Gambia.