Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Adopt-a-Village through Tostan

Organization helps with education in Africa

Express Staff Writer

The newly formed Wood River Valley Friends of Tostan are hosting an informational evening and fundraiser 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24 at Light on the Mountains Spiritual Center, four miles south of Ketchum.

Made up of Charlene Levie, Wendy Isen, Barbara Thompson, Eve Heart, Diana Whiting and Candace Witt, the Friends of Tostan was formed in September after an August visit and talk by Tostan founder Molly Melching. The organization is hoping to raise $10,000 to sponsor a village to receive Tostan?s Adopt-a-Village two-year educational program.

Based in Senegal, the nonprofit organization was founded by former Peace Corps volunteer Molly Melching. Melching has visited the Wood River Valley several times to speak about her work and the progress that has been made.

According to Tostan?s Web site, ?The mission of Tostan is to contribute to the human dignity of African people through the implementation of a human- rights based, nonformal, participatory education program in national languages. Tostan provides learners with the knowledge and skills they need to become confident, resourceful actors in?and instigators of?the social transformations and economic development of their communities.?

The most important aspects of Tostan?s work is the cessation of female genital cutting and of marrying off girls as young as eight years old. In just 6 years, nearly 1,400 Senegalese villages have publicly abandoned female genital cutting in celebrations attended by government officials and other dignitaries.

FGC involves cutting the genitalia of young girls and then sewing the vaginal opening almost closed. The vagina is cut open the first time girls have sex with their husband and again to give birth, only to be restitched afterward. The operation is done without anesthesia and often without the girl?s knowledge of what is happening. Disease is rampant from infections, Urination, menses, sex and childbirth are intensely painful and problematic. Countless young girls have died as a result. At the same time, it is, traditionally, a matter of marriage. If a girl were not cut, she would be considered a disgrace to her family and would never marry.

Gary Stivers, a former radio newscaster, is the emcee for African theme evening. Members of the Ketchum World Beat Street Band, Will and Julie Caldwell, will entertain on drums. The Caldwells are showing artwork at the event as well. Proceeds from the sale will also go to the Adopt-a-Village program.

?We?re selling $10 raffle tickets now until the drawing in early December in public locations such as the post offices and grocery stores in Ketchum and Hailey and, of course, at the fundraiser before and after the presentations,? Levie said. ?We?ll have a number of prizes, but our top prize is a week at a wonderful vacation home in Kauai courtesy of Lowie Graves.?

Wine and cheese is being served. There will also be a screening of a short documentary about the village of Dialocoto and the residents? public declaration of the abandonment of FGC. The film was made by Californian Sharona Thompson, who spent a year in the Peace Corps, then another working with Tostan in Senegal.

My most memorable experience was seeing 13 villages in the conservative region of Matam publicly declare the end of FGC in 2002,? Thompson said, according to Tostan?s 2003 Annual Report. ?The combination of Tostan classes and the declaration saved my friend Mariama from being excised, and probably saved her life.?

As well, several Friends of Tostan members will make speeches at St. Luke?s. Wood River Medical Center Head of Nursing Marion Constable is speaking about the medical ramifications of FGC.

?We?ll also have a short dramatization with R.L. Rowsey, Wendy Isen and Daniel Stern, of what five villagers have actually said about FGC,? Levie said.

For more information and to donate please contact Charlene Levie at 726-7210. Space is limited.

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