Tostan CEP Participants in Tambasansang, The Gambia

Song and dance go a long way in Tambasansang.

Situated just ten kilometers from Basse in the Upper River Region of The Gambia, Tambasansang has over 200 women, men, and adolescents currently enrolled in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP).

Class sessions in Tambasansang begin with participants joining together to sing songs about what they are learning and to celebrate their involvement in the 30-month program. One lyric that resonated with me was, “open the door for me for Tostan so that I will have the knowledge.” Coming together at the beginning of sessions, which sometimes cover difficult and sensitive issues, fosters a strong sense of unity and shared experience among participants.

Tostan CEP Participants in Tambasansang, The Gambia put class topics to lyrics and danceOutside of the classroom, song and dance have also been used to engage community members in various initiatives. One CEP participant, Kaddy Jaigen, told me about a cleaning exercise organized by the Tambasansang’s Community Management Committee (CMC) every Sunday. The exercise, which invites members of the wider community to remove waste from family compounds and village roads, is led by a troop of singers, dancers, and drummers. The troop leads the procession through the roads of Tambasansang, performing songs to maintain the momentum and to motivate others to join.

CMC members have also initiated a penalty tax system, which requires class participants to pay a fee if they do not engage in the cleaning. This money is fed back into the community fund and used to pay for events, activities, and to support income generation projects. The CEP participants with whom I spoke all told me how these initiatives have improved the overall health of people in their community. Also, as a result of the health modules, community members said that now people in Tambasansang understand the importance of taking their children to the doctor instead of relying solely on local medicines.

The Tambasansang Drama Troop performing a play about the importance of treating malaria

Along with song and dance, drama is also used as a tool to promote positive change within the community. I was introduced to the Tambasansang Drama Troop made up of predominantly young, enthusiastic female class members who hold performances every two weeks at the bantaba (meeting ground), a large open space in the center of the village. The troop presents educational and entertaining plays on topics including malaria prevention, drug abuse, and child/forced marriage. The troop told me that people have been very responsive to such fun performances and accessible messages. Through these productions, passionate youth performers help engage and educate other community members, young and old.

Tostan CEP Participant Kaddy Jaigen

To learn more about how the CEP is impacting the community, I sat down for a more lengthy discussion with CEP participant Kaddy Jaigen. She told me that Tambasansang classes are currently completing the module focused on developing problem-solving skills. As a result, community members now recognize the importance of engaging in discussion and planning together as a unified community. Through the Tostan program, Kaddy Jaigen has seen the community become much more united. People are working together to establish and achieve shared goals.

One such goal is to build a youth center where young people can receive additional support with their schoolwork. The CMC understands the financial implications of such a project and is already taking steps to raise the necessary funds. Every month they ask that participants contribute a small amount to a community fund. CMC Treasurer Mohammed Kora told me, “we do not have the funds, but we have the desire and we are trying to settle the finances with the monthly contributions.”

Through developing their own community initiatives and celebrating positive change through song and dance, the people of Tambasansang are engaging and investing in their own empowered future.

Story by Elizabeth Loveday, Regional Volunteer in The Gambia