KAOLACK, Senegal March 2010 — As a volunteer in the Tostan Kaolack office, I have had the opportunity over the past two weeks to travel with my colleagues through six different villages in the Kaolack region of Senegal to attend inter-village meetings, or RIV (rencontre inter-villageois). These meetings give us at Tostan an opportunity to hear from representatives of each community hosting the Nike Project.

The Nike Project, an implementation of the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP) already present in villages across West and East Africa, is taking place in seven zones, six in the Kaolack region and one in Thiès. Each zone is made up of about 8 to 10 villages. Five of the seven zones are receiving Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), which includes three years of classes on human rights, democracy, health, literacy, numeracy, and problem solving plus an added component on gender issues. As these villages have now completed the first half of the program, RIVs give members of the community an opportunity to come together to reflect on what has been accomplished since beginning the program, what difficulties they are encountering, and what solutions are possible.

In many of the villages, participants report that before the gender sessions incorporated into the Tostan program as part of the Nike Project, men did not play an active role in household chores. Now men are beginning to collect wood and water to assist their families with chores traditionally reserved for women. Some men in the villages are also going to the market for their wives and are getting involved in village clean-up days. In addition, it was noted that men have started to take more of an interest in the opinions of their wives and children and are talking and interacting with them at home more frequently.

Present at the inter-village meetings are imams or religious leaders, village chiefs, youth representatives, Community Management Committee (CMC) members (who are also participants in the Tostan program), as well as members of the local government and development organizations, like USAID. Community members from the meeting’s host village also like to wander over to listen to the proceedings!

Tostan Kaolack’s Regional Coordinator Abdoul Aziz Sy along with the village chief and an invited speaker open the meetings before groups break off for discussion. During each RIV, community members highlight many of the achievements that have been made in their village since the beginning of the Tostan/Nike Project program including the implementation of community clean-up days and awareness raising initiatives about health and hygiene. Community members also discuss the shifts they have seen in gender roles.

The RIVs wind down in the late afternoon with closing speeches and a closing prayer by the village imam. Then comes lunch! In the heat of the afternoon, our stomachs empty, we slowly make our way over to where we finish the RIV with a large, delicious dish of rice and meat for everyone to share.

By Elisabeth Sexton