At Tostan, we use a process called organized diffusion to help spread information through connected communities, or social networks. This process increases the impact of our programs, spreading new ideas organically from person to person and community to community. Radio is one of the six methods of organized diffusion we often use.

West African radios are not what you might imagine: knobs, dials, and bent antennas. Today’s radios are pocket-sized, digital, and usually accessible on cell phones—an indispensable tool for many in Africa and never more than an arms-length away while cooking at home or farming in the field. Besides being a jukebox full of contemporary pop and traditional musical epics, the radio also acts as a portable Tostan classroom, broadcasting the latest information about Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) or Reinforcement of Parental Practices (RPP) module across Senegal and Mali.

In February 2015, Souleyman Coulibaly, mayor of Sirakorola, Mali (where Tostan launched the Generational Change in Three Years project with 40 communities), commended Tostan’s weekly radio program, saying the content and call-in debates directly contribute to improving community awareness about CEP themes—such as human rights and hygiene—among communities unable to participate directly in CEP classes. Haïdara Bernadette Keïta, Regional Director for the Promotion of Women in Koulikoro, Mali, cited Tostan’s radio program as being instrumental for the promotion of women’s rights, the reduction of domestic violence against women, and changing attitudes about FGC and child marriage in the region. Even Tostan’s own Social Mobilization Agents in Mali experience the positive results of the radio programs: new communities they visit are often already up to speed with what their neighbors are learning in CEP classes, and are able to engage in deeper conversations about the content than communities who have never had any exposure to program themes.

Learning to use the recorder

It’s no wonder then that the Italian Association for Women in Development (AIDOS) chose to work with Tostan for an audio-documentary workshop, titled ‘Promoting the Abandonment of FGC through Radio,’ at the Tostan Training Center in Thiès, Senegal, earlier this past summer.

Financed by UNICEF and UNFPA, and in partnership with Tostan and Audiodoc, AIDOS sought radio journalists from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal to train and produce mini-documentaries meant to broaden listeners’ perspectives on FGC and inspire change locally. The 12 participants (four from each country) ranged from municipal radio journalists and call-in community radio hosts, to regional coordinators of NGOs who work closely with local radio for the promotion of health and development.

Over the course of 10 days, participants collaborated in both theoretical and hands-on sessions designed to introduce new storytelling techniques and technical competencies to their skill sets. They began by analyzing a variety of radio programs that use the power of personal narrative and non-linear storytelling to deliver journalistic information, then practiced handling recording devices and microphones by conducting field interviews. They finished by producing and editing 15-minute audio-documentaries in small groups.

To close the workshop, representatives from Tostan, AIDOS, UNICEF, UNFPA, and the Ministry for the Protection of Women in Senegal hosted a press conference attended by Senegalese media. Tostan founder and CEO, Molly Melching, discussed the importance of expanding radio’s role in community education, and the Minister for the Protection of Women commended Tostan’s collaborative work to reinforce the Government of Senegal’s National Action Plan for the Abandonment of FGC.

To build on the skills developed during the workshop, three participants (one from each country) were selected by a joint committee, based on the merit of their story ideas developed over the course of the workshop. Those selected received an award with funding and a small kit containing a microphone and recorder.

The three audio-documentaries produced during the workshop, in addition to the three that will be produced in the coming months, will be aired on local community radios, as organized by Tostan and AIDOS, to increase awareness and continue to inspire change from within communities.

You can listen to one of the audio-documentaries (in French) here:


In the above audio-documentary (one of three produced during the workshop), we the listeners follow along with an anonymous narrator: a mother who guards her identity because of a family secret whose consequence, if revealed, could result in her youngest daughter being taken and forcibly cut to conform with family and social norms. The narrator in this story travels from Mali (where FGC is still legal) to Senegal (where a 1999 law made FGC illegal) to talk with experts and community members about what protection is available for families in similar situations. In one powerful testimony, a girl who also wished to remain anonymous, describes her memories of being cut in Dakar when she was four years old. The narrator becomes discouraged to learn that even in Dakar, where a law forbids FGC, families are not always protected.

Maimouna Yade, a community activist interviewed in the story, tells listeners that it is through open communication with our parents and peers that we will eventually reach the end of FGC. Through such conversations, the narrator realizes that the new generation of mothers and fathers are discussing FGC more than ever before and change is sweeping the region, slowly but surely. For now she will keep her secret, but she is confident that one day her daughter, and others like her, will be able to make informed decisions about their bodies and their futures, free from any threat.


Written by Tim Werwie