In the urban center of Labé, a city in the green and flourishing region of Fouta Djallon in Guinea, 20 women are gathered in a small room.  While the hustle and bustle of the city can be heard through the open window, the women are oblivious to the noise, concentrating on their latest business plan.

These women are part of a group of 64 people who have gathered twice a week for the past three years to participate in the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP). Through nonformal education techniques such as storytelling, song, theater and debate, the participants have acquired knowledge about their human rights, hygiene, health, and training in literacy, numeracy, problem-solving and project-management. 

When talking to the women about the program, currently in its final stage, it’s easy to see that they are proud of the progress they have made during the past three years. Most of them emphasize learning to read as their biggest achievement, others draw attention to their participation in discussions and decision-making processes in their community after having started the CEP.

In addition to the classes, the program participants have set up a Community Management Committee (CMC) with 17 democratically-selected community members.  The CMC ensures that the knowledge gained during the classes is being incorporated into the community’s vision for the future and that there is continued development, long after the program has ended.

Women coordinate 80 percent of Tostan trained CMCs and the one in Labé is no exception. Under the leadership of Ayssatou Tembering Diallo, President of the CMC, the committee has provided community members with the opportunity to earn a living by teaching income-generating activities such as making soap, cultivating potatoes and processing ginger.

In a small space in the back of the classroom the women display this month’s products to be sold at the local market: beautiful, yellow, circular soaps are placed in a box on the table and small bags of ginger mixed with honey are stacked up against a wall. The soaps leave a nice refreshing scent in the room and the women start to giggle when they explain the many benefits of the ginger and honey mixture: the product can relieve stomach and headaches, helps against fatigue, and can even be used as an aphrodisiac. There is no limit to what this one product can do, says one woman and encourages us to take two bags!

Although their CEP classes are coming to an end, the women in Labé, Guinea are not planning to slow down their activities anytime soon. Learning to manage micro-projects has prepared them for the future.  When discussing their plans for the next few years the women say that sharing their knowledge with those who did not participate in the program, and ensuring that the CMC remains active, are their most important priorities.  “We want to continue in the direction we are headed!”, concludes one woman while the others nod and clap in agreement. 

Photographs and story by Charlotte Lunde, Tostan