Semester at Sea is an experience of a lifetime that provides students with the opportunity to enhance their global perspective about the world around them.  My specific voyage, known as the Atlantic Exploration, takes me and fellow students, faculty, staff, and lifelong learners to 10 different countries on 3 continents in 100 days.  The courses that I take on the ship are reflective of experiences during our stops on land. The most notable one to date was our visit to the Tostan Training Center (TTC) and a partner community. 

On our last day in Senegal, I went on a field visit with my Multiculturalism and Women’s Rights class, which led us to the TTC in Thiès for a day of programming about Tostan’s approach to community-led development. In our coursework, we discuss issues that affect women worldwide. Before arriving in Dakar, our class read However Long the Night by Aimee Malloy to get a better understanding about Molly Melching, Tostan’s program and the impact this program has had on communities in and around Senegal. Reading this book ahead of time also prepared us for difficult discussion topics that are very personal in numerous villages across Senegal.  For example, Tostan is well known for its success in accelerating the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC), but they have also made great progress in the areas of governance, health and hygiene, education, child protection, environment, human rights and democracy, and economic development.

It is no wonder that my class was overjoyed to head to the village of Keur Simbara, which brought everything we learned in class to reality. At Keur Simbara, the community welcomed us with open arms. We got a brief presentation about Tostan, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), and the Empowered Communities Network (ECN). We then heard from Demba Diawara, the village chief and Doussou Konate, the community’s solar power engineer—both of whom were featured in However Long The Night.  Demba explained how he walked from village to village to explain the risks of FGC, encouraging his neighbors to abandon this centuries-old practice. Doussou told us about her trip to India, where she spent six months being trained on installing and maintaining solar panels. She returned home to bring solar energy to her community and surrounding villages, which enables community members to continue working and studying even after the sun sets.

We also stopped at the village’s school, which is a one-room building with a chalkboard. About 20 students were sitting on the floor waiting to greet us. We sat to join them and clapped along while the children sang us a song.  One student read us a book in Wolof, which was written and printed by Tostan to encourage early literacy. The courageous men, women, and children of this village are a testament to the success of Tostan’s program in supporting communities to create their own development on the basis of human rights.

After leaving Keur Simbara, we went back to the TTC to hear about their eco-friendly renovation plans and learned that the TTC plays a large role in the strategic future of Tostan’s plan to increase social impact and generate revenue for Tostan’s activities. My experience at Keur Simbara and with the TTC was one that I will hold close to me and remember for years to come. I am certain Semester at Sea students in the future will benefit from experiences like mine.

Adapted from Lizzie Shaw’s original blog post