Program Structure

When Tostan is invited into a community 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 often from the same ethnic group as the community members. Facilitators live in the village during the three-year program, getting to know community members. Tostan pays the facilitator and provides the curriculum, and community members house the facilitator and provide meeting space. These mutual commitments encourage everyone to be engaged with the program even if they cannot participate in classes.

Our program engages communities in two main ways: by providing human rights based education classes for adults and youth, and through the training and support of a Community Management Committee (CMC) designed to advance community projects.

Empowering Education

We see an important opportunity to invest in empowering education. Such an education prepares communities to better engage with the opportunities they have across education, health, economic empowerment, and many other issues. Nonformal empowering education fosters study and participation in activities that increase community well-being and can be very  efficient in the longer term.


Each community 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.

Tostan draws 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, a Mandinka word meaning “to prepare the field for planting” and the Aawde, which means “to plant the seed” in Fulani.

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. 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. At the very 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.

Post-CEP Modules

Tostan has also developed post-CEP modules which are implemented in communities which have completed the CEP. These include modules on: Peace and Security, Reinforcement of Parental Practices, and a recent innovation on Strengthening Democracy and Civic Engagement.

Community Management Committees

In addition to the CEP classes, communities establish a Community Management Committee (CMC) that is responsible for implementing development projects designed by the community. CMCs are made up of 17 democratically-selected members, at least nine of whom must be women.