Starting the Program

When Tostan is invited into a village to begin the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), we assign a trained facilitator to the village. The facilitator is fluent in the local language and is of the same ethnic group as the community members. Facilitators live in the village during the three-year program, getting to know community members both in and out of the classroom. Tostan pays the facilitator and provides the curriculum, and community members house the facilitator and provide classroom space. These mutual commitments encourage everyone to be engaged with the program even if they cannot participate in classes.

Our program consists of two main parts: human rights-based education classes and the establishment of a Community Management Committee (CMC).


Each village runs two classes of 25 to 30 participants – one for adults and one for adolescents – that meet three times per week over the course of the program. By holding separate classes for the two groups, we ensure that both the youth and older community members can participate and contribute comfortably in the classroom while gaining the tools and confidence to actively apply what they learn in their community. Most participants have never been to formal school, or dropped out at an early age.

We draw on modern nonformal education techniques as well as traditional African oral traditions like theater, storytelling, dance, artwork, song, and debate. By presenting information in ways that are relevant and engaging, we ensure the lessons resonate and new ideas take hold quickly.

The CEP classes have two phases: the Kobi and the Aawde.

The Kobi

The Kobi, the first phase of the CEP, is structured to foster discussion and establish an open, inviting, and comfortable class dynamic. This helps participants feel more comfortable with the facilitator and each other during challenging literacy modules. Facilitators draw on local oral traditions such as song, poetry, and theater to spark debate and dialogue about issues affecting the community’s well-being. The goal of the Kobi is to promote positive traditions while encouraging discussion of how new ideas and practices can help build a healthier community. Right at the beginning of this phase, community members establish a collective vision for their own development.

The Aawde

In the Aawde, participants learn to read and write in their own language, study basic math, and gain management skills. They also learn to select, manage, and implement small projects. This phase builds on the skills and knowledge participants gain during the Kobi and helps develop new practical skills that can directly contribute to improved living conditions.

Community Management Committees

In addition to the CEP classes, communities establish a CMC that is responsible for implementing development projects designed by the community. Trained by Tostan, these are democratically-selected 17 member committees, of which nine members are women.