Wind of positive change has started blowing again in URR as 5 adopted and 16 communities participating in the Tostan Community Empowerment Program in Wuli East and West and Sandu, on Sunday 9th December, pledged to abandon the harmful cultural practice of child forced marriage and Female Genetal Mutilation (FGC) at a colorful ceremony held in Bantunding in the Wuli East District. The event was preceded by a panel discussion between journalists and the community of Judah in Sandu.
The ceremony was attended by the Governor of URR, Chief of Wuli East, TAC members, NGOs and Civil Society Organizations, security officers, including child welfare and community policing officers, ward and women councillors, development workers, cutters, traditional kanyalengos, parents, facilitators, supervisors, partners and the media.
In his welcoming remarks, the Alkalo of Bantunding Nkoi Wally welcome the gathering on what he described as an important ceremony in the history of his village. He expressed his delight and pride for being the most lucky village head to preside over a ceremony marking a positive social transformation. He said Tostan's intervention in his village has contributed to the empowerment of women and children on their rights and responsibilities which, according to him, is important for any sustainable development. He thanked Tostan and the Gambia Government in providing an enabling environment and expressed his readiness in supporting the CMC so as to realize their aims and objectives.
For his part, Sarjo Jaiteh, the VDC Chairman, also made similar remarks. He said the intervention of Tostan has empowered and complemented the efforts of the VDC in village development matters. He assured them of his continues collaboration.
The Community Management Coordinator Koday Camara said the day is an important day for them as women in committing themselves to abandon what she called a "violation of the women rights to health and sexuality". This, according to her, is a blessing for women since they are the very people who suffer the consequences. She thanked Tostan and the government of the Gambia for their support.
For his part, the chairperson of the steering committee Malamin Wally welcomed the gathering and also reiterated the importance of the day for the communities participating in the Tostan-Swedish Post Code/Tostan Sweden-Nike GM and the Government of the Gambia joint project in uniting to openly declare the abandonment of child force marriage and FGC. He reminded that the decision does not just occur, but has come after an intensive three year holistic community empowerment program led by dynamic Tostan facilitators. He added that this was reinforced by social mobilization activities by the CMCs and social mobilization teams on issues affecting the health and personal wellbeing of women as violations of fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Universal declaration of human rights, CRC, CEDAW as well as African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights to which, he said, the Gambia is a signatory. He said the decision also came after careful observation and evaluation as well as discussion and dialogue with the community member's and influential leaders on the negative effects of these practices from the human rights and health perspectives. He said the Tostan Community Empowerment Program is a holistic approach to community led sustainable development covering issues of democracy and good governance, human rights and responsibilities, problem solving hygiene and health, Literacy and management skills, micro finance amongst others.
Mr Wally, while thanking the donors for their support and the also the Government through the Women's Bureau in providing and enabling environment, urged the participating communities to ensure the sustainability of the project, noting that sustainability of projects and programmes is a concern to donors and project funders.
Other speakers included the chief of Wuli East Ebrima Minteh Juwara, Alasana Manneh and Haja Fatou Sillah of the social mobilization team as well as the national women councilor Haja Nyima Fofana.
In closing the ceremony, the Governor of URR Alhagie Omar Khan said it is a great honor for him to preside over what he called a historic ceremony marking the abandonment of child force marriage by 20 communities. This event, according to him is very timely and a step in the right direction. He expressed his satisfaction over the work of Tostan in URR since 2007, in empowering the people on their rights and responsibilities thereby complementing the Government efforts in eradicating illiteracy in URR. He thanked the donors and the entire Tostan family through the Executive Director Madam Molly Melching, who is commonly called Sukaina Njie, for her inspiring leadership and having the interest of URR at heart. He assured Tostan of his continuous guidance and support.
The declaration of the statement was made by Mansata Kanteh in English and Satang Drammeh in Mandinka. It was graced by traditional performances by traditional communicators and Kanyalengos.
For the benefit of our readers, this historical social transformation and momentum started in Darsilame Mandinka in Sandu, followed by that of Manneh kunda, Sotuma Kantora, Sare Alpha, and Sare Ngai respectively. It was done in culturally sensitive, respectful and joyful festival by participating communities.