Keur Simbara hosts the Executive Director of UNICEF New York

“Thank you very much my brothers and sisters of Keur Simbara, salaam maleekum.” With these words, expressed with a broad smile and accompanied by enthusiastic applause, Mr. Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) New York ended his visit to the village of Keur Simbara on Wednesday, May 19, 2010. Located just five kilometers from the city of Thiès, Keur Simbara is home to people of the Bambara, Sarakhole and Serer ethnic groups. The community, which participated in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), is known in Senegal as one of the first to have abandoned the practice of female genital cutting (FGC) in 1998.
The Tostan program, which was developed in collaboration with UNICEF and the Government of Senegal over the past 19 years, responds to the interests, needs, and priorities of participating communities. Having partnered with Tostan to support development efforts in Keur Simbara, it was fitting for Mr. Lake to visit this community on his first trip to Senegal as Executive Director of UNICEF. In turn, Keur Simbara welcomed its guest of honor with much celebration.

The importance of human rights education in national languages and the sharing of information were the themes emphasized during the various presentations made during the visit. A pioneer of the historic movement to promote the abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage, Demba Diawara shared his experience as a human rights activist. According to this wise elder, the main purpose of his life has been to work for the welfare of humanity. As a result of his and his team’s awareness-raising activities throughout Senegal, Demba Diawara has traveled to 347 communities to promote FGC abandonment among his relatives. According to Diaware, abandonment can only be achieved with full consensus and commitment of the entire extended family.

Members of the community also spoke of their participation in Tostan’s CEP, noting how the classes on human rights had empowered them to speak about FGC and child/forced marriage, and to share their acquired knowledge with friends, families, and other communities both near and far. In particular, the women appreciated that the classes were taught in national languages, allowing them to fully participate in community decisions and small business ventures. These dedicated and dynamic women now run their own projects, have set up income-generating ventures, and lead movements for positive change in a wide range of areas.  
The contagious joy and enthusiasm of the communities touched Mr. Lake and he joined the women and the children of the village in dancing to the frenzied rhythm of jembe drums. Speaking during his visit, Mr. Lake congratulated the entire community of Keur Simbara on its accomplishment of protecting and promoting human rights. Mr. Lake acknowledged the difficulty in changing behavior of any kind, which was corroborated by Demba Diawara, who noted three criteria needed in discussing sensitive and often taboo issues: courage, intelligence, and respect for others.
The end of the visit was marked by a strong message from the Executive Director of UNICEF New York, as he announced: “During this visit to Keur Simbara, I feel an indescribable joy. I met noble and dedicated pioneers such as Demba Diawara and the women of Keur Simbara. You are proof that the world can change starting with one, then two, three, five hundred and then thousands of communities. This change is not only about the abandonment of female genital cutting but is also a positive movement towards a world of human rights. What you did had a strong foundation that I am well aware of. Human rights unite us and remain a proof of our equality.”
Click here to read UNICEF’s article about Mr. Lake’s visit to Keur Simbara.