An inspiring day in Soudiane
After almost a week in windy, sunny Dakar the Orchid Project Team in Senegal headed for Thies, a large city east of Dakar, where Tostan has its national office for Senegal.
With Tostan Volunteers Kyrra and Kaela and Empowered Communities Network Co-Ordinator Dame Gueye we set off for Soudiane, a village which participated in Tostan’s Community Empowerment from 1998 and where the people declared their abandonment of female genital cutting in 2000. In a barren landscape, complete with palm trees, baobabs and many donkeys and goats, we stepped out into heat that felt like an oven and were met by a horse and cart and Marieme Bamba, a member of the Community Management Committee, Social Mobilisation Agent, graduate of the Barefoot College in India and all-round inspirational woman. We were driven into the village on horse and cart and met by the community with singing and dancing – which, of course, we wholeheartedly participated in!
It was time for lunch, which had been prepared by members of the village, and was a delicious Senegalese ‘poulet yasser’ of chicken with rice and spicy, peppery sauce with onions and carrots. We ate until we could eat no more, and then spent some time speaking with Marieme Bamba, Khady Ndiae (Tostan facilitator for Soudiane), Fatou Coulibaly, Lalla Coulibaly and Oume Sa Noho. It was wonderful to hear stories about the work they have done – Marieme and Fatou having visited 197 villages between Thies and Kaolack in their social mobilisation efforts – and now there’s a declaration just waiting to happen in Kaolack, purely as a result of their work, in communities which haven’t participated in Tostan’s programme. With mangoes, pear juice and plenty of water we could have all sat speaking with them for the whole afternoon!
Next, after much drumming and dancing, we sat under a shady tent and Tostan facilitator Khady Ndiaye took the lead following a welcome from the chief of the village – who asked if we’d ever seen a drumming chief before! We watched a fantastic skit by members of the community management committee, which is used by the social mobilisation team to raise awareness in neighbouring communities about the dangers of FGC.
Next we heard a song about discrimination, and how it isn’t good for the community, and presentations followed, from Marieme Bamba about her learning to become a solar engineer at the Barefoot College in India, from Fatou Coulibaly about the work of the social mobilisation team, and from Oumou Ndiaye about the health hut and the treatments provided there. Vieux Traore, Marieme’s husband, rounded off Soudiane’s presentations by telling us about how the Tostan programme has benefited and improved the relationships between men and women in the village. Following that, Orchid Project and Tostan Dakar made our thank yous (in a little Wolof and rusty French!) and then we received our Senegalese names – all Bambara, which is the ethnic group of Soudiane.
Truly inspired, we were taken on a walk around the village where we saw all of the project sites, and made friends with most of the children. The sun was going down and we’d been up since before 6am so shortly after 6 in the evening we made our long goodbyes and headed back to Thies – for meetings this morning! This evening we take the overnight ferry from Dakar to Ziginchour in the south, where we’re promised it will be even hotter, more tropical, for Sister Fa’s Education without Cutting tour to commence.