“It is not easy,” said Mr. Gueye, Prefect of Matam, Senegal, “but one day we will be able to stand up and say that we worked together and now the rights of everyone are respected.” His words rang true to the group of 15 youth from the Fouta region that had coordinated the gathering, which took place in Ourossogui. This was just one of 16 stops that the youth made during a three-day, awareness-raising caravan in March. Organized in partnership with Tostan and UNICEF, the youth visited villages throughout the department of Matam to raise awareness about the importance of human rights and education, as well as the harmful consequences of child/forced marriage, female genital cutting (FGC), and early pregnancy.

Throughout the 16 village visits, caravan participants spoke to children, adolescents, and adult community members about the human rights issues that were most important to them. One of the girls participating in the caravan bravely told the audience how sad she was every time she heard about girls her age undergoing painful childbirth because of female genital cutting. Having undergone FGC herself, she promised not to continue this harmful practice if she had daughters in the future.

Community members in each of the villages also shared their insights on human rights topics with the youth. In the first village they visited called Somano, the village chief shared how pleased he was with the positive way Tostan’s human rights-based education program impacted his community. In the village of Nguidjilone, a midwife named Corka Diop shared how FGC is a setback for the community and that awareness-raising by young people can help health workers in their jobs. And in Diowguel, excited community members performed a skit on child/forced marriage, which was then followed by a discussion led by the youth caravan participants on the negative consequences of the practice.

When asked about the youth caravan, Abou Diack, Tostan Regional Coordinator in the Fouta, expressed how important it was for young people to participate, especially those who have undergone harmful traditional practices and wish to spread messages of awareness. Their personal perspectives can help build knowledge in the surrounding communities on the importance of protecting and promoting human rights.

Story by Roland Kongo, Assistant to the National Coordinator in Thiès, Tostan