Through our work we have learned that as communities become empowered through human rights-based education, their ability to empower girls amplifies. In celebration of the first ever International Day of the Girl—11 October 2012—we are sharing the inspiring stories of five girls as they pursue their goals and build an empowered future for themselves and their communities in our blog series, Spotlight on Girls.

Now let’s turn the spotlight on Aja Drummeh from Bajon Koto, The Gambia.

Aja speaking about human rights and health at an inter-village meeting in her community

Five-year-old Aja Drammeh lives in the Bajon Koto community in the Upper River Region (URR) of The Gambia. At an inter-village meeting held in her hometown at the end of August, Aja inspired the audience as she shared her remarkable knowledge of human rights, democracy, and issues related to health and hygiene.

Participants at the meeting could hardly believe it when Aja confidently took the microphone and explained, “democracy means power for the people. ‘Demos’ means people and ‘kratos’ means power.” She went on to share, “to be healthy doesn’t just mean not being sick but it also means someone who has good social relationships and good living with others.” After her explanations of democracy and health, Aja completed her lesson to the audience by giving key dates in The Gambia’s political history, including the day the country gained independence.

This was the first time Tostan The Gambia had witnessed a girl so young speaking so publicly and expertly about information she learned during class sessions of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program. Aja gained this knowledge through her community’s participation in Tostan’s human-rights based education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP). Tostan began implementing class sessions in Bajon Koto for adults and adolescents in March 2011. Since the beginning, Aja has joined her mother in the adult sessions. She explained, “I go along with my mum every week…learning is my favorite thing!”

Her mother, Isatou Fatty, is immensely proud of her daughter’s willingness to learn, and said, “Aja is the youngest of my ten children. I am overwhelmed by how much she knows, and I always encourage her to go further.” It even came as a surprise to Aja’s mother and the other class participants that she absorbed so much information, “I always thought she enjoyed classes but I didn’t know she was taking in so much…children are very surprising! I feel very proud!”

Aja also likes how Tostan uses traditional African teaching techniques in the CEP classes. She added, “I enjoy the singing and the dancing in Tostan classes. I am very happy when I’m singing the Tostan songs.” Joining with her mother and other female participants, she sang two songs in her own language, Mandinka. Some of the song lyrics, which were written by CEP class participants, included:

“Open the door for me to enter, so that I may know my human rights and the responsibilities for those rights.”

Aja leading a Tostan song with her mother and fellow CEP participants

Although Aja is still very young, she has already been set on the path of learning. Aja completed a preschool class when she was three and will begin Grade 1 later this year at the Bajon Koto Lower Basic School. Most children start Grade 1 when they are seven, but Aja’s ability and the support she receives from her mother have given her a head start.

Isatou’s commitment to her daughter’s education is clear: “I want her to be well-educated and to have a better future…” Already as a five-year-old, Aja says, “I’ve learned my A, B, C and my 1, 2, 3 at school, and through Tostan, I’ve learned all about my human rights.”

With the support of a community who participated in Tostan’s human rights-focused program, the messages reaching Aja will shape her understanding of the opportunities available to her as she grows up, opportunities that will not be restricted by her gender.

Aja and her mother, Isatou Fatty

Show your support for girls by sharing Aja’s story with your friends and family! Looking for more? Read other Spotlight on Girls posts here.

Story and photographs by Lilli Loveday, Projects Assistant, The Gambia