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Santhiou Maleme Panorama - Tostan

Social change through community empowerment.

Ending female genital cutting.

Founded in Senegal in 1991 by former Peace Corps volunteer Molly Melching, Tostan (‘breakthrough’ in the local Wolof language) is guided by a philosophy of sustainable community empowerment through participatory grassroots education. Now operating in ten countries and 17 languages and working primarily in remote regions, the organization provides holistic education grounded in local social and cultural systems to adults and adolescents who have not had access to formal schooling. 

The organization’s innovative 30-month ‘Community Empowerment Program’ relies on a cross-cutting approach that includes modules on democracy, human rights, problem solving, hygiene and health. Participants learn to design projects relevant to their community’s needs and build the management, mathematical and literacy skills necessary to implement those projects, paving the way for positive community-led shifts in social norms. Although abandoning the harmful practice of female genital cutting was never among Tostan’s initial objectives, it has become a ‘rallying point’ for program participants and a symbol of the organization’s impact. 

As of 2011, more than 6,000 communities in seven countries have publicly declared the abandonment of both female genital cutting and child/forced marriage following involvement in Tostan’s projects. In total, it is estimated that the organization has reached a population of millions throughout West Africa via its ‘organized diffusion’ model.

(Photo © Tostan)