Tostan’s Youth Caravans in The Gambia give young people the opportunity to share human rights knowledge from Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) with community members. From November 24th to 29th, the Tostan Gambia team held the 7th annual six-day Youth Caravan in five communities across the Upper River Region (URR). Two youth representatives from 187 communities were invited to take part in the caravan, other guests included the Women’s Bureau Regional Officer, National Women’s Councilor, ward councilors, health, police, and local government representatives.

The team, along with the Community Management Committee (CMC) members, first met with elders from each village to discuss problems facing the youth and positive ways to contribute to their long-term development.  Many of the villages expressed the need for a school focused on early childhood development, which was either missing in the area or was too far away for children to walk to. The team brainstormed solutions with the elders and helped them draft an action plan.

Isatou Bah, a 13-year-old CEP participant from the Fula community of Sare Donfo, presented on the right to child protection. It was her first time talking in front of such a large crowd, but she consistently presented well, and gained more and more confidence as the caravan progressed. While on the caravan, she was excited to learn that children were required by law to enroll and attend school. Many young people in her community are not able to attend school, but she is one of the lucky few. She is currently in class four (4th Grade) and loves it.

34-year-old* Mamadou Sillah, from the Serahule community of Diabugu Basillah, finished the CEP in December 2013. He is now in charge of record keeping for his CMC. The biggest achievement for the CMC has been the purchase of an ambulance. Mamadou said that his community’s health was the first priority. Unfortunately, his community lost several people while waiting for transport (car or donkey cart) to the nearest hospital, which is almost an hour away and on a bad road.

For Mamadou, joining the youth caravan enabled him to meet new people, experience other cultures, and see different parts of the region. He expressed his excitement about sharing his knowledge on human rights, particularly The Gambian law against child/forced marriage with his community. He was reminded of a particular incident when a teenage girl from his community who had been married off suffered from a difficult pregnancy and operation, which left her permanently handicapped. 

Another youth representative, 18-year-old Fatoumata Jallow from the Fula community of Sare Gella, was really excited for a chance to exchange ideas and make new friends. She graduated from high school earlier this year and wants to pursue her education in IT and computer technology. Her parents almost took her out of school to marry her off last year; she hopes the same thing will not happen again. When the CEP came to her community in July, it gave her the confidence to pursue her education because she knows it’s her right; “If I continue with school, I can get a job and support my mother.”

For Fatoumata, hearing different people speak about the harmful effects of child/forced marriage was particularly enriching. Several girls from her community aged 13 to 15 years old were almost married off this year, but thanks to the CEP, the weddings were delayed until they were ready to decide for themselves.

​The Tostan team in The Gambia also picked these human rights for four former and current adolescent CEP participants to present in each meeting; the right to education, health, protection from all forms of violence (female genital cutting (FGC), child/forced marriage, domestic violence), and clean drinking water, followed by a skit on youth rights. This was a great opportunity for youth representatives to hear from their peers about their different experiences.

On the sixth and final day of the youth caravan, youth representatives and others marched through the town of Basse, led by the regional scout band. During the closing ceremony, they presented a youth manifesto to the Governor of the URR, Omar Cessay. The manifesto outlined five human rights: food, education, employment, recreational facilities, and child protection- with recommendations and requests for the government to ensure and protect these rights.

* Definition of youth by the African Union is 15-35 years old

Story by Beth Roseman, Volunteer Project Assistant in The Gambia, Tostan