In December of 2016, something incredible happened in West Africa—something Tostan founder, Molly Melching could have only dreamed about.

Imagine finding yourself in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people from over 300 different communities. “Overwhelmed” might be a word that first comes to mind.

Then, imagine knowing this massive crowd had come together to publicly declare a commitment to human rights. That sense of overwhelm would likely transform into awe pretty quickly.

In West Africa, traditions such as female genital cutting (FGC) and forced childhood marriage have endured a long-standing practice. That is until this bold declaration was established in December 2016.

Of course, a commitment is inspiring, but what about education and formal mobilization?

Enter Tostan.

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Children hold up chalkboard signs declaring their community’s abandonment of FGC. Source: Tostan

What is Tostan?

Tostan is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Africa and committed to empowering communities with education and resources so they can achieve their vision for the future.

Rather than focus on aid, Tostan emphasizes agency and approaches community development with a successful “leading model for community-led change.

History

When Molly Melching arrived in Senegal over 40 years ago as a young exchange student from Danville, Illinois, she quickly realized how drawn she was to the field of development.

Her initial curiosity and desire to help took her to a children’s center in Dakar and a handful of rural villages. Melching witnessed development efforts unfold that ultimately undermined the actual needs of the communities. Although thoughtful, they did not address their requests in genuinely relevant ways. 

In the 1980s, Melching and other cultural specialists from Senegal created a new development program: the Community Empowerment Program (CEP). Their approach involved cultural methods of learning to cover not only the fundamentals of human rights and collective decision-making but also:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Arithmetics
  • Health and hygiene
  • Problem-solving
  • Confidence building

As the implementation of CEP grew, Melching decided it was time to officially form her non-profit, Tostan, in 1991. Her model for community-led change has been applied in eight African countries and executed in 22 languages.

With a core value of respecting the communities they serve, Tostan’s vision and approach have proven to create successful results and sustainable change.

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Women participating in a classroom session of Tostan’s program. Source: Tostan

Project Examples

Tostan seeks to achieve Dignity for All by focusing on areas of impact such as education, health, environment, governance, and economic empowerment. They also observe issues of intersection such as gender and social norms.

You can support their efforts by contributing a direct donation that will aid various project initiatives such as:

1. Prison Project

The Prison Project helps detainees reintegrate back into their communities, equipping them with knowledge as well as practical skills. Tostan implements a modified version of their CEP model that offers skills training in project management and income-generating activities.

Since the Prison Project’s inception back in 2003, the team has assisted in thousands of reintegration success stories throughout Senegal and West Africa.

2. Solar Power! Project

The Solar Power! Project is a collaboration with the Barefoot College in India that seeks to address the issue of limited access to electricity in rural West African communities. Having to rely on the infrastructure in their respective countries, many are limited to only work during daylight hours, which stifles productivity.

Rather than simply installing solar panel units, Tostan sponsors women to attend a six-month training program at Barefoot College to learn about solar electrical engineering. Over 25 West African women have become solar engineers through this project, bringing electricity and opportunities back home to their communities.

You can also become a Tostan Global Mobilizer and build community around their mission by hosting a local event or fundraiser. Whether you choose a Book Club and dive into the story of Molly Melching’s work in However Long the Night or host a viewing party on the Stories of Change film and explore case studies of fieldwork, you will be a catalyst for positive change.

Lead others by example and demonstrate your passion for human rights on behalf of Tostan.

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Women celebrating. Source: Tostan

How to DonateH

To learn how to use Giving Assistant to easily donate a portion or all of your cash back to Tostan, visit their fundraising page

1. First, sign up for a Giving Assistant account.

2. Select Tostan on your Giving Assistant account settings menu.

3. Choose how much of your balance from cash-back rewards you’d like to donate.

4. The next time you shop using Giving Assistant and earn cash back you’ll automatically donate your set percentage to Tostan.

Giving Assistant members interested in donating to Tostan can choose just a portion (or all!) of their cash back earnings to go to Tostan.

If you need more help then you can see how to use Giving Assistant to shop online and donate to a nonprofit here.

If you haven’t already you can also download the Giving Assistant button cash back extension for your desktop browser.

Get the Giving Assistant browser extension

This will help you to start easily support the Tostan and save money on your everyday online purchases at thousands of online retailers.

Not a member yet? Sign up here to start supporting Tostan as you shop online.

If you’d like to learn more about Tostan and what they are achieving; visit https://www.tostan.org/.