Coinciding with International Youth Day on August 12, 2014, a four-day long youth-led caravan was held in Sédhiou region, Senegal. It aimed to give the youth a voice in leading awareness in communities about the harmful consequences of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage and encourage community members to engage in discussions about these practices. The caravan reached nearly 400 people in nine villages.

Youth-led activities included sketches and chants as a way to illustrate the themes of FGC and child forced marriage. With the support of Tostan supervisors, Abdoulaye Kébé and Oumar Pam, the youth also led a forum dialogue, encouraging other caravan participants to share their views on the topics discussed.

On the second day, we toured the village of Nimzat where we were met with several surprises; first, participants broke out in song and dance. One particular participant, Fatou Ndiaye, gave a moving speech in which she declared that she would abandon FGC because of its harmful consequences and immediately after started dancing and singing while attracting other participants to join her.

​Caravans are also an opportunity to hear accounts of why some communities still observe harmful traditional practices such as child/forced marriage. In the village of Diendé for example, Néné Djité said that before girls did not get married until at least the age of 17. Nowadays though, girls are getting pregnant at an age much younger than 17; therefore, parents have resorted to marrying their daughters young to avoid early unwed pregnancy and bringing shame to the family. She admitted that child marriage is not good for either girls or boys and that one way to solve this problem is to have parents hold frank discussions on the matter with both their daughters and sons. Youth participants also deepened their knowledge of FGC and child/forced marriage, especially as it pertains to the human right to health.

 Overall, the awareness raising efforts led by caravan participants proved to be successful; out of those nine villages present, the five which have never been recipients of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) showed eagerness to welcome Tostan and its program to their villages.

 Story by Wendy Bongjoh, Regional volunteer in Kolda, Tostan