Despite notable efforts by the Guinea Bissau Government and development partners, many communities continue to face a complex set of challenges in the health, education, economic engagement, environmental challenges, and in activities related to civic engagement. This phenomenon is no different in the resource-poor communities of Bafata region of Guinea Bissau.

These overlapping challenges often contribute to increased social exclusion and act as an obstacle to achieving sustainable community wellbeing, especially for the most marginalized groups, such as women and children.

Sene Dabo, the Community Management Committee coordinator in the community of Priam in Bafata region where Tostan Guinea Bissau has operated since 2009, shared the difficulties her community was facing before the implementation of Tostan Community Empowerment Program

Before Tostan there were other NGOs that came to help us with our development, but Tostan’s way of teaching us is different. There were a lot of conflicts in the community. The police were always called to resolve personal conflicts related to land, animals, and money. Our past micro credit efforts failed because the person responsible for keeping the savings ran away with the money.  

Tostan serves as a facilitator of community development through the implementation of a non-formal education program called the Community Empowerment Program which is based on 19 Human Rights linked to Education, Health, Economic Empowerment, the Environment and Governance lasting three years.

Tostan’s program has a holistic curriculum that encompasses many facets of wellbeing, including girls’ and women’s empowerment, gender equality and equity, personal hygiene, environmental sanitation, conflict resolution, democracy, literacy, numeracy, economic empowerment and abandonment of practices that are harmful to health, such as female genital cutting and forced or early marriage, among others. 

Over the three years, communities like Sene’s are supported by a well-trained local Tostan facilitator who were welcomed by the community itself. Tostan’s participatory methodology uses elements of African culture, based on songs, proverbs, dance, poetry, reflection, creativity and open discussion.  The program includes discussion of topics such as democracy, human rights, civic information, dialogue and consensus of participants. 

According to Sene, Tostan’s participatory methodology of teaching has been positive for people in her community.

Tostan organizes us in two groups, one of adult classes and the other of youth classes. In the adult classes you find people as old as 60 years learning how to read and write without feeling humiliated or shamed.  The classes are adapted to our lifestyle, culture, and availability. At the same time Community Management Committees are established and members are trained on roles and responsibilities like social mobilization, child protection, and project management.

Sene Dabo was one of the people who received training as a Community Management Committee member in the Priam community and was very happy with the positive result in her personal life.

Before I attended the classes I never considered getting my ID card – for me that was not important. I never considered that opening a bank account was important either. When I was taught the importance of those things, I invested 15.000 CFA from my savings to get a ID card, and our community development fund is kept safe in a bank accountThanks to my ID card and my savings, I was able to visit my relatives in Gambia last year.

Tostan’s teaching approach to learning creates an environment of positive change, respect for personal values and compassion. Tostan understands our needs, our way of life, and our culture. So the classes are designed to give tools that we will use in everyday life not only to change our life positively, but also to influence others in the same way. We are sad that the Tostan program ends in our community today but we know that Tostan teaching is staying in our minds and hearts.

Sene speaks while sitting at the table of honor during the sectorial declaration in support of human rights, which was organized by her community where 21 neighboring communities joined them.

At the end of Community Empowerment Program, Tostan phases out of the community, leaving a solid structure in each community led mainly by women like Sene Dabo that continues to ensure the sustainability of activities and the realization of the community vision.

Between the 9th and 14th September 2023, a number of communities made public declarations in support of human rights. Sector declarations were held in: Ga-Tamba (Bambadinca District), Sintcham Alanso (Bafata Distict), Priam (Ganadu District), Bangacia (Cossé District), Xitole (Xitole District), Lenqueto (Contuboel District).

At the regional level, a declaration took place in the town of Bafata. 120 communities joined the event to pledge their support: (23 in the District of Bambadinca, 21 in the District of Ganadu, 19 in the District of Contuboel, 20 in the District of Cossé, 20 in the District of Xitole, 17 in the District of Bafata).

As part of community-level declarations 9,000 people were in attendance, with around 70% participation by women and girls and 30% by men and boys. At the sector-level declarations, 960 people, joined 60% of whom were women, while at the regional declaration in Bafata, 240 people attended, with 50% women.