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.

Though significant progress has been made over the last decade on the fourth Millennium Development Goal (reducing child mortality), primarily due to better access to health services, approximately 29,000 children still die each day around the world, mainly from preventable causes. When communities are better able to access health services and are empowered with knowledge of hygiene and their own health, including their right to good health, they are better able to prevent common illnesses such as diarrhea and malaria, giving their children a healthier start in life.

Globally, more than 30 million children are unimmunized, making their bodies more susceptible to harmful diseases.  Two of the greatest factors contributing to this figure are the lack of easy access to vaccinations and a lack of awareness about the benefits of childhood vaccinations.

Children born to mothers who have received some education are more likely to survive than the children of mothers with no education. Tostan’s holistic, non-formal Community Empowerment Program (CEP), seeks to provide communities with the information they need in order to keep their children healthy.

Communities participating in the CEP in Mali have greatly improved their hygiene levels by organizing monthly community clean-ups, and by adopting other healthy behaviors. Community Management Committees (CMCs) have created health sub-committees and now work together with local health services to initiate vaccination campaigns. Because of these campaigns, 38 Malian communities are now ensuring that children are vaccinated against preventable diseases. These communities are also now monitoring pregnant women, making sure that they receive sufficient pre-and postnatal care.

Another significant change in some communities in Mali is the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC), which is practiced by many Malian ethnic groups. FGC can cause serious health consequences for young girls, sometimes even resulting in death. The CEP enables communities to begin talking and sharing their thoughts about this taboo issue. In Spring 2013, interzonal meetings, reaching over 350 participants were held in Kénénkoun, Fégoun, Sindo and Yirimadio to discuss the practices of FGC and child/forced marriage.

These efforts culminated on June 8, 2013, when 30 Tostan partner communities and adopted communities declared the abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage, with even one cutter, Kaba Ballo, deciding to not only stop practicing FGC, but to also start raising awareness about the harmful consequences of the practice. Over 800 people participated in this public declaration of abandonment, including representatives from local and national authorities.

There is still a long way to go in helping ensure that Malian children have a healthier start in life, but many important changes can already be seen.

Story by Olivia Caverly