The Senegalese village of Sinthiang Bouré is over 44 kilometers away from the nearest town. Unless you are lucky enough to happen upon a motorcycle passing through, the only way to travel from Sinthiang Bouré to other villages is to walk, cycle, or take a donkey cart. This isolation, in addition to no electricity, makes many forms of communication difficult, such as face-to-face meetings with outside community members, television, internet, and even phone use.
Recently, I accompanied Tostan’s Kolda social mobilization team as it traveled to Sinthiang Bouré and other communities in Senegal to raise awareness about topics including female genital cutting (FGC), child/forced marriage, human rights, and democracy. My first night there, a boy named Fallie pointed out a water tower a short distance away. He told me that the tiny light I saw there was the light of a cell phone screen; someone was climbing the tower so they could make a phone call because it was the only way to access the phone network.
Even in this remote location I was surprised to learn that members of the community already knew all about Tostan and our work! While settling in for a village meeting facilitated by the social mobilization team, I was approached by a community member, Ali Diamanka. He told me that he loved the work Tostan was doing. Tostan had never visited Sinthiang Bouré before and we hadn’t even begun to talk about what it is that Tostan does, so I wondered, how did he already know about our work?
Despite obstacles to communication, information about Tostan and our mission to empower communities through knowledge of human rights still reaches these communities through our coordinated outreach approach called organized diffusion. This social mobilization process encourages new ideas and information to be spread organically from person to person and community to community – resulting in entire networks of people being impacted by new knowledge.
Inter-village relationships are a critical part of this process. Families intermarry between communities and thus have extended social networks. The transmission of information from one village to the next via friends and relatives allows for messages to be shared in a culturally relevant way.
During the village meeting, community member Diadia Kandeh demonstrated the effectiveness of the network of intermarrying communities as a vehicle for the spread of information. Diadia shared that she too had heard of Tostan and supported our work.
Before she moved to Sinthiang Bouré, she lived in a village that had been invited to an intervillage meeting organized by Tostan. The intervillage meeting she referred to brought together communities hosting Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) and the ‘adopted’ villages within their social networks with whom they shared everything that they learned in Tostan class sessions. It provided an opportunity for these communities to exchange ideas and spread information.
Diadia’s village was not participating directly in Tostan’s program, yet they still learned about human rights, health, and democracy though the awareness-raising done by these interconnected communities. Now that Diadia has married into a family in Sinthiang Bouré, what she learned from her participation in an intervillage meeting has been shared with an entirely new community.
Tostan’s strategy of organized diffusion relies on these channels of communication between social networks to ensure that valuable information on issues like human rights and health reaches the greatest number of people and can have the greatest impact. Though remote, Sinthiang Bouré plays a crucial part in this information sharing process.
Story by Allyson Fritz, Tostan