From November 23rd to the 26th, 14 students aged 14 to 15 years old from the Collège (middle school) of Velingara, in Northern Senegal, took part in an awareness-raising youth caravan organized by Tostan.  The students traveled to 13 communities where they spoke to 800 community members about abandoning the practices of FGC and child/forced marriage and discussed the importance of keeping girls in school.

Before they began visiting communities, the students met with the prefect and deputy prefect of Ranérou, as well as Tostan staff to develop their presentation skills.  The prefect said he supported the students on their decision to take part in the campaign, and encouraged them all to stay in school themselves so that they can continue to support their families and communities. 

The students also prepared a skit to perform in each community. The skit tells the story of a father who wants to take his daughter out of school to get married.  One student, Amad Diallo, said, “I’ve seen some very intelligent girls who work hard for their families and have a lot of potential, but who’ve been taken out of school to be married.”

When asked about the progress made during the caravan, Fatoumata Aidara, said, “The caravan is going very well, and I am hopeful that we have sensitized the community members.  In each village, there is a recurring question of what to do about child marriages.  This is a real problem for the communities.”

The response from communities as to why child/forced marriage occurs is to avoid unplanned pregnancies that often happen when girls are sent to neighboring villages to continue their studies.  Students respond that parents should be responsible for discussing this with their children and supporting their children financially if they study outside their village.

Another participant, Harouna Sow, said, “Child marriage exists in our communities.  In the past few years, a lot of girls who were attending school have left because they’ve gotten married.  Now the parents have begun to understand the problems and to change their thinking.”

In the village of Diouguel Sanarabe, the village chief and the community’s marabout both said support Tostan’s work and efforts to abandon FGC and child marriage. They credited Tostan with helping their community to organize discussions around these issues.

The caravan’s last stop was in Velingara Ferlo, home to the 14 student participants, where they received a warm welcome from the director of their school, fellow classmates, and community members.  One woman was filled with hope to see that young people were continuing efforts to address FGC and child/forced marriage, as this is an issue very personal to her.

Several community members thanked the students and Tostan for their efforts to provide information about the harmful consequences of FGC and child marriage.  They told the students that their communities had made progress—particularly in abandoning FGC, but that child marriages still occur too often. 

 Story by Robert Delaney, Volunteer Assistant for the Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Evaluation Department, Tostan