Sub-Saharan Africa is in the early days of the regional spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, with currently just over 3,900 confirmed cases.  The World Economic Forum, and others have warned that COVID-19 could intensify in regions that lack the infrastructure to plan for and deploy relief. 

The majority of Tostan’s 782 staff live and work in the most remote rural areas of five West African countries: Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, and Mali. For more than 29 years, local staff have supported community-led capacity building and resilience, estimated as having reached more than five million people. Empowered communities in these areas can be the connection between national efforts and local uptake. 

Supported shifts in knowledge and expected behavior are a critical life-saving complement to the national response and prevention policies already in place.

Tostan’s 29 years experience in social norms change and culturally relevant knowledge will help prevent the spread of COVID-19.  Social network influencers, including religious leaders, well-respected elders, and our own trusted local staff, are establishing new norms that will replace behaviors shown to transmit COVID-19. We are developing and distributing information in many local languages in print, on the radio, and through short, culturally relevant videos.

Here in rural West Africa people experience negative consequences if they do not perform expected group behaviors such as greetings, frequent group meetings and home visitations. These same behaviors accelerate the spread of COVID-19.

This reality is exacerbated by rural poverty. Certain recommended hygiene practices are not possible given the lack of sufficient water, plates, or cups in large households; thus, many people wash their hands in the same bowl and drink from the same cup. Compounds where as many as 25 people live together pose amplified risk. Approved disinfectants may not top the list of purchasing decisions. Very few people have a refrigerator or resources to buy food for more than a few days. Weekly rural markets have been closed by the government due to large crowds. This makes the notion of “sheltering in place” extremely difficult; people will need to leave their homes to ensure basic survival.

Tostan will seize this challenging moment to examine and celebrate the role that local community leadership has to play in resilience against emergent crises. What we learn in the next three months will advance our own model for bridging the gap between rural communities and their local government authorities; Strengthening Democracy and Civic Engagement.

Please contribute now to raise $1,000,000 and keep 782 staff employed for three months as social norms and prevention ambassadors. These trusted allies provide myriad support at the level of their own communities.

$1,300 will support one team member through 3 months 

$430 will keep one Tostan team member engaged as a prevention ambassador for one month

$106 will support one ambassador for one week

$25 will support the creation of life-saving media to be distributed in national languages