Recently, in a series of cross-border meetings organized by Tostan’s Peace and Security Project team, communities from three countries gathered to discuss the lessons they had learned about peace-building and human security through Tostan’s ‘Peace and Security from the Grassroots Up Initiative’ and to find solutions to cross-border issues and celebrate newly developed alliances.

The first of these meetings, which included nearly 200 people from 30 villages across the Senegambia region, took place in the Senegalese village of Ndiamacouta from November 29 to December 1. During the second event, from December 10 to 12, representatives from 20 villages from the Senegal/Guinea-Bissau border region assembled in Tendinto, Guinea-Bissau. For both of these meetings, four delegates from each of the participating communities traveled long distances in order to share their experiences and the lessons they have learned to ensure positive peace and human security in their villages.

In his opening remarks at the cross-border meeting in Tendinto, Alassane Diedhiou, National Coordinator of Tostan Guinea-Bissau, described ‘peace and security’, “When we talk about peace and security, we’re talking about health, education, environment — everything a human being needs to grow peacefully in her or his village.

During each meeting, working groups organized by regional proximity were set up to discuss what was needed for positive peace and to reinforce human security across borders. The process was set out: identify, discuss, and prioritize shared problems, reach a consensus on the most pertinent issue, then create a three-month action plan in order to find a common solution.  With the help of facilitators and translators the work groups became dynamic think tanks that allowed for intermittent applause, laughter and above all, mutual respect for each other’s input.  The resulting action plans focused on the following issues: frequent out-of-control bush fires (one group from both meetings chose this as their priority problem), banditry, lack of free movement of people and their belongings across borders, and excessive chopping down of trees. For each of the working groups, awareness-raising was a key step in their proposed solutions.

Both meetings were attended by representatives from authorities and national governments, at the Tendinto meeting in Guinea-Bissau, Mame Balla Ndiaye, Adjunct Prefect of Kolda and Ibrahima Sory Diallo, the President of the National Assembly of Guinea-Bissau were both in attendance.  On seeing this, the representative of the elders of the village of Tendinto, Sakeba Conta, proudly proclaimed, “This is the first time we’ve welcomed [government] authorities into our village—thank you, Tostan, for giving us this opportunity and giving us a change in lifestyle. [For example,] we no longer need to go straight to the police with our problems, and we now ask our wives’ opinions.”

In addition, since Tendinto has participated in Tostan programs, there have been no maternal deaths in the village, there has been an increase in birth registrations, and a re-planting initiative has been established. 

According to Sirifu Sané, Administrator for the Sector of Contuboel, Guinea-Bissau “This meeting [in Tendinto] has great importance because Tostan has gone where the government hasn’t been able to reach yet. It [the ideas from today] will spread; now with the support of the government, we can work to make future recommendations together. This government support, along with the intention of the community representatives going back to their villages and sharing their experiences from the meeting, will help lead to perpetual and permanent change at the local and regional levels, and perhaps beyond. Tostan aims to facilitate the implementation of these action plans and provide guidance to strengthen the capacity of each community.”                                                                         

The cross-border meetings represent the first step in bringing border communities together to dialogue and work on common problems related to peace and security. Tostan plans to facilitate the implementation of the action plans and provide guidance to strengthen the capacity of the communities.