Tostan’s partnership with Orchid Project is focused on contributing to the movement for complete abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) in Senegal. To this end, Orchid Project supports 100 communities in the Sedhiou, Kolda, Saint Louis,and Matam regions of Senegal, by supplementing Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP). The CEP is currently being implemented in these communities with additional information on how best to support awareness raising and social mobilization to facilitate organized diffusion.

As the partnership entered its third phase in 2014-2015, the time had come to organize a seminar to exchange ideas on how to build on best practice in the fields of awareness-raising and social mobilization.  This would further enhance the effectiveness of the partnership and help realize its objectives for long-term impact.

On the 27th and 28th of October, 2014, social mobilization agents (SMAs), radio show presenters, the regional coordinators and those responsible for coordinating this project in Senegal gathered at Tostan’s Center for Capacity Building and Sustainable Development (CCDD). Doussou Konate and Baye Demba, two pioneers in the movement to raise awareness about FGC from Keur Simbara, were in attendance—along with other guests from the village—to offer their views on social mobilization.

The get-together was also an opportunity to share results from the 2013 where social mobilization activities reached 10,912 people, over half of whom were women. During this project, Intervillage meetings (IVM) reunited 1,157 people, and 193 local and religious leaders gathered for sharing seminars.

The aim of the two days was as follows: to find a common method of working in each region, which would still be flexible enough to take into account specific local differences.  This would then create an operational strategy better-suited to the project.

Some of the important issues raised were: Which villages should be visited first for the raising awareness tours? How can the radio broadcasts be improved? What is the best way of raising awareness during school campaigns? How should the issue of FGC in an intervillage meeting be addressed?

Working in groups, social mobilization staff from each region exchanged ideas on how they implement their strategies, before concluding what were good ideas and which strategies needed further improvement. After a long debate, everyone agreed upon a plan of action that would increase the likelihood of the project’s objectives being realized.

Some of the decisions reached were: The number of sharing seminars would be increased:  SMAs felt that reaching community leaders (village leaders, religious leaders, chairmen of youth groups, chairwomen of the Women’s Advancement Group)), was an excellent idea as these opinion-formers can influence decisions to abandon harmful practices. Generally, those who were invited to the workshop would be going back to their respective villages with a lot more ideas and information to share with their communities. On the subject of radio shows, all the participants agreed on new methods to organize the shows, including the planning of the program, choosing the topics, picking the guests, and following up. Finally, SMAs commented that it was important to have more health workers in attendance to reinforce the health-related reasons for abandoning FGC.

At the end of the two days, the national coordinator for Tostan Senegal, Khalidou Sy, paid tribute to the commitment of all the participants, especially the SMAs who remained motivated despite the difficulties they faced in their respective regions. Baye Demba, from Keur Simbara, was visibly moved as he added: “I have listened carefully to everything that has been said for two days, and the thing I notice is we have a common cause to address the issues before us. I encourage all of the participants to double and re-double their efforts. If we haven’t tried it yet, we don’t know whether it is possible or not.”