Every day, community members across Africa are working towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In recognition of this year’s MDG week, we will be posting a story each day about how communities are working together to achieve each of these goals, leading their own development from the grassroots.

Many of the community members who participate in Tostan’s holistic, human rights-based nonformal education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), have never attended a day of formal school. They are attracted to the program for many different reasons – some have always wanted to learn to read and write, others look forward to interesting discussions on human rights, while others want to gain practical skills such as money and project management. Whatever their motivation, they see first-hand what a powerful impact education can have on their lives.

CEP class sessions are led by a facilitator and cover a range of topics including human rights and responsibilities, democracy, problem-solving, health and hygiene, literacy, numeracy, and project management.. The facilitator aims to create an environment that encourages dialogue and can lead to a positive change in social norms and practices, giving everyone in a community the opportunity to reach their full potential. In Guinea, this change can be seen as communities press forward to advance Millennium Development Goal 2: achieving universal primary education.

Community Management Committees (CMCs) from the 76 Guinean communities that recently completed Tostan’s program have been particularly inspired by the benefits they’ve seen from education, along with their new knowledge about the right of all children to go to school. Over the past year, these communities have used their own funds to obtain birth certificates for over 1,000 local children, enabling them to sign up for classes, and they have ensured that 2,978 children were newly enrolled in school.

Even with the full support of parents, it is still not easy in many Guinean communities for children to pursue their education. Not every community has a school, and sometimes there are none within a reasonable distance, making the long journey to school a significant barrier for many young students. With an understanding of the importance of education, the communities themselves have in many cases collaborated, using money they have generated through income generating activities, to finance the construction of a local school.

The village of Kèlèya in western Guinea used funds they collected to purchase one ton of cement for the construction of a new school. And in Simbaya, a suburb of the capital, the CMC was able to secure a donation from the government of Qatar to build their own school, because the nearest school lies across from one of the country’s busiest highways and is difficult to access.  Today, the school is a center of learning for 180 students.

Each of the 76 communities that participated in the CEP also participated in a supplementary training on child protection, and a Commission for Child Protection was formed from members of each CMC. Part of the role of these commissions is to help parents keep their children in school and to monitor the situation at each school, ensuring that the students are getting a quality education and helping to mediate if necessary between parents and teachers.

When parents are empowered with knowledge about how important school is for their children and know what concrete strategies they can use to keep them in school, they are able to work with their friends, family, and neighbors to give their children access to new opportunities. In many parts of Guinea, this can be an exceptional challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Now communities are becoming powerful examples of how to ensure education for all.

Story by Matthew Boslego, Tostan