and the Department of Information Services, through the Media Support to
Advocacy Project funded by UNICEF and other partners, on Tuesday held an
Inter-Zonal Meeting on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, Forced and Early
Marriage and other issues affecting the lives of women and children.
The meeting was held at Kundam Foday village in the Tumana district URR, was attended by officials of Tostan, the Department of Information Services, women and children from the four villages of Kundam including the host village, and journalists among others.
Inter-zonal meetings are an integral part of the community empowerment programme (CEP) implementation, aimed at fostering learning and sharing of best practices from CEP participants and communities.
The project allows communities and participants to share good ideas and information on what they have learned at the CEP classes, and how the knowledge and information changed their lives as individuals and communities.
The meeting, which took off on Monday night, saw a cultural night with drama display on the effects of FGM/C, early and forced marriage and a host of other issues.
The meeting day on Tuesday was also witnessed by participants who benefitted directly from the project, and who are mainly women, young girls and boys who were able to translate what they have learned in their various local languages to help educate their community.
The deputy Assistant National coordinator of Tostan, Edirisa Keita, said before the intervention of Tostan in the communities, people had less knowledge in the areas of health, FGM\C, education, and women’s voices were not respected, but that has now become a thing of the past.
He said the project has helped the community on how to improve lives.
He said the intervention areas of the project are governance, education, health, environment and economic-growth which, he said, is not about giving money to people, but empowering them with knowledge and live skills that are aimed at solving their problems.
Mr Keita said they taught them in their own languages for them to be able to govern themselves.
“We want URR to be an example in The Gambia. We want URR to not remove children from school for marriage. We urged them to continue to promote girls education.”
Even though their project in URR is ending this December 2016, it was the time for more work to be done because they have put up structures that they could continue with to help empower and educate children and women and their communities, he added.
Keita assured them that even after the project ends they will continue to engage them.
The deputy Director of the Department of Information Services, Ebrima Njie, said he has seen that Tostan did a great job.
They have been working with Tostan through the Media Support to Advocacy project for five years, which focused on empowering women and children.
Njie added that anytime Tostan has a programme, they would come with journalists from major media houses to come on the ground and report on what they see.
“We all agree that early, forced and child marriage is bad. We all agree that taking children out of school for marriage is bad, so I’m appealing to men to stop marrying off children as second wives, so that together we can end child marriage.”
Over the years, Tostan empowered various communities in URR on crucial issues relating to the well-being of the communities, such as telling them to stop FGM\C, on the importance of allowing young girls to complete their education and avoiding child marriage, and has trained them on human rights, and so on.
Mr Njie said the media support to advocacy project, over the years, partnered with Tostan by providing media coverage of their various programmes and the inter-zonal meetings.
He noted that this partnership between the project and Tostan has helped other communities to understand some of the issues affecting them.
Njie urged communities to practice what was taught, and skills received and knowledge again during the past years of intervention.
He used the opportunity to thank UNICEF for providing funds for the inter-zonal meeting and Tostan for the great job they have done in URR.
Yaya Ceesay, the ward councillor of Damphakunda, said Tostan is working very hard in The Gambia, which everyone has seen.
He added that they have built the skills of the people through improving their education and knowledge of the rights of the rural people.
He urged the beneficiaries to disseminate the information gained, adding that FGM is now a thing of the past in the community through capacity building training to everyone in the community.
He said that most of them believed that they should not take their kids for vaccination, because they believe too much injection was not good for children; but thanks to the project for creating the right environment for them, and now they could proudly take their children for vaccination.
Teneng Baldeh, a women’s leader, said the area of women’s empowerment is very positive since the coming of Tostan.
Before it took 4-6 months before a pregnant woman in URR would go to visit the hospital, but through training pregnant women had realised the importance of seeing a doctor while they are pregnant to avoid complications.
People before lacked awareness, but thanks to Tostan, they have improved on their health issues, and are empowered to such an extent that they as women of these communities have a say, when it comes taking decisions.
Mariama Krubally called on women to ensure that they hold firmly unto their decisions, when they say that they have abandon FGM/C totally.
She revealed that they have seen some children being taken across the border to be cut, during school holidays.
She said early, forced and child marriage should also be stopped, because all these laws are geared towards helping and promoting the healthy growth of children.
They have witnessed a case where weddings were organized for children and they were pampered, and then taken to other countries for marriage which does not turn out well, as their health is threatened with a lot of complications.
She said the law is here to protect them, and not to spoil any child.
She urged them to educate their children, and desist from taking them out of school to become baby-sitters at home.
She called on men who are the fathers and husbands to desist from making decisions, such as talking their girl-child out of school for marriage.