Tostan’s mission is “to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights.”
Tostan (meaning “breakthrough” in the West African language of Wolof) is a US international nongovernmental organization with current operations in over 450 communities in Senegal, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia, Mali, and Mauritania. Tostan’s mission is “to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights.” It employs over 1,000 people and works in mostly rural regions to promote literacy and increase community engagement in projects to promote health and hygiene, child welfare, human rights and democracy, the environment, and economic development.
Tostan takes a holistic approach to development by facilitating a human rights-based, nonformal education program, called the Community Empowerment Program, that aims to empower communities to lead their own development. Although Tostan is well known for its success in accelerating the abandonment of female genital cutting, the program has also achieved results in the impact areas of governance, health, economic growth, education, and environment, as well as four key issues: child protection, empowerment of women and girls, early childhood development, and abandonment of female genital cutting.
Tostan is the winner of the 2007 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize for its “significant contributions to the alleviation of human suffering.”
The origins of Tostan can be traced to 1974, when an American student named Molly Melching came to Senegal as an exchange student. After completing her studies, Melching stayed to work as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Dakar, creating the first African language radio program for children. Her work began to take her to rural villages in Senegal where she observed that many development efforts were not addressing the needs and realities of the communities.
Relying on community feedback, Melching and a team of Senegalese cultural specialists developed a new type of educational program, one that engaged communities in the process by working in their own language and using traditional methods of learning, such as dialogue, theater, dance, etc. Their efforts grew throughout the 1980s. Melching founded Tostan in 1991 to continue this work.
Tostan’s international headquarters is located in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Tostan’s US office is located in Washington, DC. Tostan maintains national offices in Senegal, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia, Mali, and Mauritania.