Sixteen year-old Fatoumata Sumareh was born in the community of Touba Sandu in the Upper River Region (URR) of The Gambia, where she lives with her mother and father and her younger siblings. Fatoumata participates in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), which began in her village in the spring of 2011. In this interview with Elizabeth Loveday, Tostan Project Assistant in The Gambia, Fatoumata describes how her participation with Tostan has changed her everyday experience and goals for the future.

Fatoumata Sumareh

Fatoumata is a keen participant in Tostan’s CEP class sessions. She was inspired to join the program because of her desire to further her knowledge about themes in the CEP, such as human rights, health, literacy, and project management. In early 2012, her community completed the second phase of the CEP, the Kobi, which focuses on hygiene and health. As a result of learning about health and hygiene, many communities organize village clean-up days and promote hand washing and clean food preparation. These class sessions were of particular interest to Fatoumata:

“Tostan has strengthened our community’s awareness of why it is important to have a clean environment. We have learned that if you do not have a clean living environment you cannot be free from diseases and you cannot be healthy. I think understanding that is really important.”

In addition to attending Tostan classes, Fatoumata is currently enrolled in Grade five of the Koranic school in a nearby village. “I enjoy this education and I love to learn! I want to learn everything I can.’’ Fatoumata is dedicated to her studies both with Tostan and at the Koranic school and has strong ambitions to take her education to the highest level: “In the future I would like to be somebody who is very educated. I would like to be a doctor.’’

Fatoumata’s parents approached her about marriage in 2011. She said: “They proposed marriage to me once… but I want to get married at 18 or above, I do not want to get married before that because I am not ready.”

Through the CEP class sessions on human rights and health, parents are encouraged to let their children chose their spouses after they turn 18 and are educated on child protection and the harmful consequences of early pregnancy. Fatoumata’s parents respected her decision. Reduced rates of child/forced marriage have been some of the most prominent and visible results of the Tostan program.

Now that the village of Touba Sandu has completed the Kobi, it will begin the final phase of the CEP, the Aawde. The Aawde focuses on functional literacy in national languages and project management. Fatoumata is looking forward to learning how to read and write in Mandinka. At the moment, she is only literate in Arabic.

Speaking with great confidence about her ambitions for the future and becoming a doctor, 16 year old Fatoumata is excited about participating in the Aawde and using her knowledge and skills to reach her goals and improve the well-being of her family and community.

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