The peaceful village of Gniling Mbao sits along the river West of the Langue de Barbarie National Park.

A Force for Change in Gandiol by Jen Keuler
GANDIOL, Senegal March 2010- Only a few kilometers south of St. Louis, the former capital of French West Africa, the tiny village of Gniling Mbao seems a world away. The highway from the big city gradually transforms into a road of packed earth, winding its way through brilliant white dunes and swaying palm trees. Gniling Mbao is the only village in the region of St. Louis currently participating in the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP). Thanks to the generous financial support of Sara Minard, the community began the 30-month Tostan program in February 2007, in partnership with the Yarum Jin Project, a revolutionary social entrepreneurship endeavor funded by the Minard-Garfinkle Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. Entitled Integrated Development in Health and Aquaculture in Senegal, the cooperative project aims both to preserve the culture and way of life of a people who have traditionally depended on the sea for their livelihood, and to provide the knowledge and resources for community members to become independent agents of development.
As the Tostan program comes to a close in Gniling Mbao, Tostan participants have organized a day-long celebration to honor the changes in their community. The event, which is open to neighboring communities as well as citizens of Gniling Mbao, has a dual purpose. First, it will seize a valuable opportunity to share the lessons of the Tostan program with nearby villages by providing a demonstration of the Yarum Jin fishery and informational theater performances on several themes taught in the CEP. Second, the event will recognize the extraordinary progress that has already been achieved in the village, and will provide important acknowledgement and thanks for all those involved in the village’s development.
The Yarum Jin Project is an innovative aquaculture project undertaken in partnership with the Tostan CEP. The launch of the project was inspired by a 2005 study, commissioned by the Government of Senegal and the European Commission that identified the Gandiol region as one of the most promising locales for a burgeoning aquaculture trade. The Yarum Jin fishery capitalizes on the natural skills of community members in Gniling Mbao, traditionally a fishing village, to provide them with a sustainable source of both food and income. After a thorough feasibility study, construction of the fishery began in September of 2008 and the first batch of full-grown fish was sold in December of 2009.

Yarum Jin proved to be a vital component of the Tostan program in Gniling Mbao because it allowed villagers to experience the theories they were learning first-hand. When the adolescent fish were not growing as fast as they should have been, Tostan participants invoked their newly acquired problem-solving skills to trouble-shoot. When it was time to feed the fish or fill the tanks, they employed their math and management skills. When it was time to record the pH of the water, they used their writing skills. Most important of all, community members learned that they were indeed capable of running a business.

Aby Thiam, a Tostan participant and member of the CMC, shared her new perspective: “Before I did not know how to do anything but go to the fields, work, and come home to rest. I never thought I had the capacity to help develop my village. Now I know how to get money, and how to keep and multiply it!”

The 17 members of the Gniling Mbao CMC

While Gniling Mbao is the only village in Gandiol participating in the Tostan CEP, they have reached out to many other villages in the area. They have also worked with several of the other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the region. At the village’s request, NGO Plan International funded a new French school in Gniling Mbao so that children would not have to travel kilometers away to school every day. The CMC also arranged for two Tostan participants, nominated by the community, to receive extensive health training from the local hospital, a central force for improved healthcare in Gandiol and host of Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH). Finally, the village is not far from the well-known Millennium Development project in Potou, and has learned from some of the techniques employed there.

The CMC has drafted comprehensive plans for the coming year, many of which would bring major improvement in the community’s quality of life. Ibrahima Gueye, coordinator of the Finance and Materials Commission, explains their attitude: “We are very enthusiastic and have great hope that we can find new partners to help us in the development of our community. Because of Tostan, we know that we can have a better life, and we are ready to work hard to achieve that.”

About the author: Jennifer Keuler joined Tostan as the Coordinator of the Adopt-a-Village Program in September 2009. She has now traveled to almost every region of Senegal and looks forward to completing her tour of the country on her upcoming trip to Kolda!