‘Education sans excision’ in the Casamance, Senegal – Part 2
So my previous blog left ‘Education sans excision’ in Thionck Essyl, where Sister Fa was welcomed with open arms into her home community. The morning after the concert, our whole group woke up to the sounds of the cockerels (two of whom were later strapped onto our tour bus!) and stumbled bleary-eyed onto the bus for a not-too-long but incredibly dusty journey to Sedhiou, which included a ferry trip.
We arrived in Sedhiou in the middle of the day, along the main street, into an almost festival-like atmosphere, the street full of teenagers, girls and boys alike, welcoming Sister Fa and the rest of the party to the town, with signs, drummers, dancing and singing. We headed straight for the school which later that evening was the concert venue, and were welcomed by hundreds of pupils, teachers and the highly efficient organiser of the Sedhiou leg of the trip. We were whisked off for meetings with the local school authority, where it became clear just how pleased the people of Sedhiou were that Sister Fa had chosen their town for her tour. Meetings with the Inspector of schools and local minister almost took our minds off just how very hot it was in Sedhiou!
Later on we headed back over to the school, Ecole Fode Kaba Dounboya, where we were met by pupils and teachers and shown a powerful, impressive and at times disturbing art exhibition. The classes of 13 and 14 year olds in the school had spent Art class working on their own depictions of Child Rights, which made for some powerful drawings, especially when pupils had chosen to focus on the right to live free from violence. We were equally impressed by the English skills of the pupil who guided us around, and were really struck by how clearly the students depicted rights through art – yet more support for Sister Fa’s belief in discussing human rights through art.
The pupils and staff of Ecole Fode Kaba Dounboya had been busy preparing for Sister Fa’s visit, which meant the evening was really an exchange – we were treated to performances of plays by pupils, dealing with themes like child rights, rape and early marriage, and we were very impressed. After some speechese from Tostan representatives and others, Sister Fa and Band took to the stage. A few songs in Sister Fa asked a local, renowned musician to join her on-stage for a chilled rendition of ‘Milyamba’, but once he had left the scene things really got started! The audience of over 1,000 were really engaged and singing along with Sister Fa – who took the opportunity to talk about her tour and the reason behind it, as well as giving her brilliant band the chance for a solo each. Right at the end a young boy took over the microphone and rapped along – and although we couldn’t understand him the Orchid team were super-impressed.
The next morning we met with the local Tostan Supervisor as well as two women who recently completed Tostan’s community empowerment programme in the area, and heard from them how resistant some people in the region are to abandoning FGC. We heard that, while progress is being made, there is still a long way to go, and that what’s really needed in the area is more funding so that those people who have abandoned FGC can go out and speak to relations and those in their social networks about they they, too, should abandon even though they are in small villages far away from Sedhiou – as we heard everywhere in the Casamance, these women were lamenting the lack of funding for the region.
After lunch we all piled back into the bus once again, and headed for Kolda. We’d been promised it was only 45 minutes away — let’s just say it took slightly longer, but when we arrived at the peaceful accommodation we forgot all about the dusty bus ride! We were met by the Regional Co-ordinator for Tostan in Kolda and a CEP Supervisor, and after some interesting conversation we went with them to an incredible welcoming ceremony, organised by Tostan participants.
Sister Fa and the organiser in Kolda had, sadly, taken the decision to cancel the scheduled concert in the town, as a concert 10 days earlier by another Senegalese hip-hop singer had ended in violence when local musicians clashed. Sister Fa did not want the same thing to happen at her concert. However, the welcoming ceremony laid on for us featured singers, and was attended by about a dozen local artists – and Sister Fa wasted no time in telling them the precise reason she had been forced to cancel her show. We were also treated to some superb dancing and felt truly warmly welcomed by the people of Kolda.
The next morning we headed off for school visits in Kolda. Handily, the two secondary schools in Kolda are right next door to each other! So after visiting two large classes full of 16 year olds in Lycee Cyckelo Ovest we popped next door to Lycee Alpha Molo Balde. This was where the concert was meant to have taken place, so after a fantastic presentation involving lots of audience participation, Sister Fa and Band, along with a local musician, took to the stage for a mini concert in the main hall – and once again this included a teenage boy getting up and rapping!
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