This first week in Dakar has been a whirlwind orientation about all of Tostan's work. I thought I knew what type of work they did (abandonment of Female Genital Cutting, (FGC)), but I quickly discovered that is only one small part of it. Tostan is easily pigeonholed as having this single issue focus (because they are extraordinarily successful at it), when in reality their success in changing the cultural psychology surrounding this social norm, towards the abandonment of harmful social practices, is only one result of their commitment to ground-up community empowerment, where the communities themselves direct their evolution.
The past three days of orientation were at the Center for Capacity Building and Sustainable Development in Thiès, the national headquarters 40 miles outside of Dakar, the international headquarters where I work with the communications team. Today we drove out to a village that
completed Tostan's education program, and a second program that reinforces better parental practices. When we arrived there was a huge group of
people waiting, playing make-shift drums on an overturned stainless steel bowl and 10 gallon plastic tubs. Individually the rhythms the three drummers were playing seemed sparse and erratic, but together they swirled into the classic sabar sound.
The gathering was organized
specifically for the four of us so that the community of Keur Thiam Sawaré could share and boast about the changes in their community
since the Tostan program, and their plans to continue self-sustaining development projects so that we,
the new volunteers could see how the programs actually function in the field. Needless to say it
was inspiring. I even got to address the gathered crowd after their
presentation around a board, with chairs assembled in the sand, entirely in wolof,
which was really just two sentences but they got a kick out of it: Man itam, am naa yaakar yi. Bëgg naa gis Keur Thiam Sawaré jël nañu seen futur bi. (I as well have a hope. I want to see Keur Thiam Sawaré take their future). I learned the word yaakar that day from one of their songs. The beauty in Tostan's model is that communities direct how they learn: song, dance, formal classroom, group discussion...the main goal is delivering information communities want to know in a way that they want to learn. Tostan's projects are not directive. Tostan reacts to goals defined by individual communities (who work in broad networks across regions) and supports access and logistics to getting information. Each community who chooses to collaborate with Tostan works with a trained facilitator and elects a group to manage community projects.
Some of the other amazing programs that get overshadowed by the increasingly successful abandonment of FGC project includes: working in prisons to reintegrate released detainees into their communities as productive members of their social networks; reinforcement of parental practices; a child protection project that in part works with Islamic religious leaders and the Senegalese government to restructure, and support koranic schools, a foundation of Senegalese culture, in order to protect young children from forced begging and poor living conditions; using mobile phones to teach literacy; fistula; and teaching project management and economics through a microcredit system that fosters self-sustaining small businesses in rural communities. It's amazing how thorough their programs are and how desired and well-accepted they are in communities.
It is too easy for me to take for granted that we learn things like family planning and sex education starting in grade school, and we become mathematically literate early on, preparing us for skills like budgeting and project management, even at a basic level. The public sector in much of West Africa is unable to provide resources
to achieve these skills, which is where many NGOs, including Tostan,
and private funding play a huge role. They enable communities to achieve
their own success by empowering them with tools to manage their
success, and support communities through their efforts to achieve good health, community governance, and income generating projects.
Next week I will start working in the office in Dakar. My role with Tostan is exactly what I was hoping it to be: animating existing educational pamphlets used in the program in order to reinforce education modules; illustrating "best practices" regarding other topics that encourage stronger brain development in children, and producing graphics for social media that highlight their work beyond FGC. We'll be developing projects that are similar but different to this, which they call Edutainment (a word I don't particularly like, but accept as field-specific jargon).
Here is one graphic I previously produced for Tostan for the International Day for the Abandonment of FGC:
And happily, in order to get artistic material, sound, ideas, etc, I'll be able to travel a lot to other regions and into rural communities, which is where I like to be. Then I'll be able to go back to Dakar after a few days or a week to work on projects and enjoy conveniences I never knew Dakar could offer when I was here previously, like sushi and delivery pizza.
Also, it's fun to be on email lists with some of the leaders in development theory and "social norm" theory, whose work I've been reading over the last few years, and to have them support my specific arts-based project within Tostan.
Oh yes, and it's mango season, which means it's my favorite season. If you're in need of good mango music, download this and read this.
In 2006 I was awarded a travel grant through Fairhaven College. Months later I was sitting at a bar in Dakar, listening to Orchestra Baobab and fretting about how intense the city was for a 22 year old kid on his first international travel experience. While making up my mind to leave the city, then stranger Bara approached me declaring, "you don't speak French, do you?" No, not really, and I definitely didn't speak any Wolof yet. We chatted for a bit and he offered, "before you leave come by my uncle's house". He told me that his family are bunch of musicians and I might like at least seeing their house and talking to them. The next day I hopped out of a taxi, met Bara out front, and then I spent every day for 6 months with the Diop
building drums, repairing drums, playing drums, drinking tea, eating rice, etc.
The family has a long history of drumming in Dakar and their many brothers have been members of the National Band of Senegal, a few emigrated to Europe and the US. After some time I moved on and traveled to Mali, returned to the US and eight years passed with zero contact with the Diop family-- I had no phone numbers and they didn't use email. Two years ago I moved to San Francisco in order to piece together a public health education animation project, which eventually connected me to an amazing NGO working in 6 West African countries and Somalia.
In preparation to
return to Dakar over the last few weeks I was thinking about all my past
wondered how I could find the family, since I didn't have a clear
recollection of which neighborhood they lived in the city, and like I said, no phone numbers. I remembered however, where in Dakar
their cousins lived, who performed under the group name Sing Sing Rhythm. (The oldest neighborhood in Dakar is Medina...easy enough to remember). I
figured I'd go to them and ask how to track down the Diop family.
a few weeks ago I
decided to search the internet for Sing Sing, but instead actually found a website
for the Diop family. The brother with whom I was closest, Djamil, actually
had a San Francisco number listed on the site. I called the number but it was
wrong. I emailed but got no response. Finally, on midnight of
last night in SF, hours before I was to board a plane to leave,
Djamil called me, gave me his address and we were able to reconnect after eight years without any contact. How nuts is that? I have no idea why over 8 years I never even considered a simple
internet search to find them, especially given my interest in digital
technology and its applications in community development (and my
infatuation with Marshal McLuhan's genius regarding digital technology and the Global Village).
Reconnecting with Djamil after such a long time was amazing enough, but even more incredible to me is that his wife Lisa (who we determined met Djamil a few months after I
left in 2006) previously worked for the same NGO with whom I'll be working in a matter of days!
I've got phone numbers and an address and look forward to seeing all these little kids who I imagine aren't so little anymore.
loving the Lauren Child technique, though I'm sure she's not the first to use photography with hand-drawn. She was the first that I realized I could do it too. Then I played Samorost 1. If you want to problem solve your way through this simple game, click the arrow pointing at the sewer pipe-looking thing on the opening page, then point-and-click away. Here's a shot from the second level:
Photos of moss, granite, and some guy's face smoking a hookah. It's awesome. Here's another:
I need to set a schedule. Here are some more watercolors. This first one is the beginnings of a public health education project I'm working on in Senegal. The standing girl is excitedly exclaiming to her friend: "And then the message jumps across a synapse!" But in this case I translated it into Wolof. A group in Senegal teaches communities about early child development, including brain development. I used Photoshop to crop in their skirts...
...because I really like the style of the world Lauren Child creates for her characters Charlie and Lola and very briefly experimented with pasting in photo textures. Child uses photos of wood textures amongst scribbled drawings, as one example, for a really cool look. Her book series was adapted directly to an animated series that pretty is fun to
Anyway...here are some Amazonians:
And Wendy's frosties. These yellow cups are no longer used though, so I actually drew a coffee cup and had to look up the Wendy's logo. Too bad I spelled burgers wrong:
I also visited Kim Zick, with whom I studied jazz drumming for many years. Her cat Zoila likes to crawl between the blanket and Kim's bass drum as she plays, or even crawl all over the drums. Check their band, Mrs. Fun, out on their website or CDBaby. Also Kim plays with Victor Delorenzo (from the Violent Femmes) in a band called Blem Blem. Pancake Day is my favorite.