Tostan CEO says community engagement at center stage of their activities

Jun 14, 2023, 10:51 AM | Article By: Momodou Jawo

Elena Bonometti, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Tostan International, has reaffirmed their continued commitment to supporting the government of The Gambia in achieving its developmental objectives especially in rural Gambia where the West Africa based organisation is intervening.

She said that community engagement has always and will continue to remain their top priorities with the desire in ensuring that their intervention communities take ownership and ensure sustainability of the project in their respective communities.

In an exclusive interview with The Point yesterday, CEO Bonometti, who is currently in the country to attend the National Sharing Seminar and strategic plan launching, said: “2023 is a pivotal year for Tostan after more than 30 years contributing to community wellbeing in so many different ways. We have made so many breakthroughs in partnership with communities across so many sectors ranging from education, health, the environment, governance and economic empowerment among a host of others.”

The grassroots NGO which started operating in the country in 2006 has now reached more than 200 communities in both the Upper and Central parts of the country. It has been credited by many as one of the leading NGO’s in the Upper River Region and in the country at large; that is working towards transforming the lives and livelihoods of the beneficiary communities.

It is a widely view that due to the intervention of the NGO in the beneficiary regions, the deeply rooted cultural traditional practices, dubbed-Female Genital Cutting (FGC), wife battering among others have drastically reduced. The NGO is also focused on promoting rights and democracy, health and hygiene, illiteracy among a host of others.

“We now realised that we can go further especially when we work together with partners. Our partnership towards community wellbeing which is the title of the strategy is going to bring us and our partners together towards 2030. I can assure you that with our strategy and innovation and taking into account that community wellbeing is at the center of what we do, be rest assured that we can go faster and further,” she stated.

“Communities in The Gambia in particular the Upper River Region (URR), have really shown that thanks to the Tostan’s Community Empowerment (CEP) that they can do better in all the different sectors pertinent to their wellbeing as defined by themselves in so many ways,” she further stated, adding that they have been working in URR for more than 15 years.

The government, she said, requested them to expand their intervention to CRR due to the achievement they registered in URR. We are not only focusing on the Tostan’s CEP, which is our flagship programme of three years, but we will also be starting to do more innovative ways starting from 2024 ranging from early childhood development, parental practise, supporting caregivers to really sustain the learning journey of kids in schools.  We will try to work in collaboration with other partners to really address the issue of women living with fistula condition,” she promised.

The grassroots NGO, she went on, is intervening in 60 communities in CRR. “However, the Tostan beneficiary communities will also be working with other communities with the desire of ensuring that they also learn about Tostan and the work they do. In fact, we are also planning to expand further to 14 other communities. After that, we will launch two innovative works around fistula work in the CEP and the parental practices.”

Commenting on the achievements registered by the NGO in URR, CEO Bonometti said: “We feel so proud of the achievements that Tostan did in URR and now doing in CRR. At Tostan, we teach the communities and make them understand the implication of FGC, and other harmful traditional practices affecting the wellbeing of women and girls. At the end, they take the commitment to abandon the practice for the betterment of their children, their communities and their future generation. This shows how the momentum has been gained and this clearly indicates that the practices have drastically reduced.”

The Tostan CEO will today meet with officials of the UNFPA, Ministry of Local Government, U.S. Peace Corps and Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare.