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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

27 Fula Communities Abandon FGM, early and forced marriage

January 26, 2011
Today Newspaper 
Neneh Galleh Barry 

Thousands of people converged over the weekend at Sara Alpha village in Tumana District Upper River Region to witness the declaration of 20 Fula communities and seven adopted villages in Tumana-Kantora and Basse- Jimara to abandon the practices of female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage.

The villages are directly in the UNICEF TOSTAN and The Gambia government joint community led sustainable development project for the past three years with support from UNICEF. During the intervention, the 20 fula communities and seven adopted villages have successfully undergone a community empowerment program (CEP) modules on democracy, good government, human rights and responsibilities, problem solving process as well as health and hygiene.

According to the community, before the intervention of the joint project, issues of basic human rights and responsibilities, and in particular harmful traditions which have negative health implication on the welfare of women and girls, were hazy to them. However, with the new knowledge and skills gained from the community empowerment project (CEP) coupled with dialogue, consultation and social mobilization and advocacy activities, the community have now realized and understood the human rights and health implication of  some traditions.

Speaking before the gathering, the alkalo of Kolley Kunda, Alhagie Sarjo Sowe underscored the importance attached to the community empowerment project, implemented by TOSTAN within the URR in Basse. He noted that with the intervention, there has been immense contribution toward changing the lives of the people, adding that the project has also added more value to his community, having created more awareness about issues.

For her part, Binta Jawo, president of community management committee expressed delight that TOSTAN has brought changes in the livelihood of the people in Basse URR particularly in Kolley-Kunda in Kantora.

She further highlighted some of the achievement and development that the project has brought into the district, ranging from mutual understanding among families members, creating more awareness about the traditional life, and its impact to the society in particular to the girl child.

The education received by the community members on the dangers of FGM led to their decision to henceforth abandon the practice. According to her, the reality of the health implications of the practice on women and girl children stared them in face, and they could not but be sorry for having engaged in it for so long.

She also noted that many mothers in Kolley-Kunda were not aware of the importance attach to obtaining birth certificates for their children, adding that with the vigorous sensitization carried out within the villages, many now know where to apply for birth certificates for their children.

Other areas of the project intervention, according to her, were the planting of 80 mango trees. She said the community now understands well the importance of growing trees, a new realisation which saw them engage in a ‘massive tree planting exercise” last year.

According to the chairman of the village development committee, Mr. Saidou Kolley, the project intervention has built the capacities of the community people to tackle some issues by themselves. He said there are expected increases in the economic buoyancy of the people, thanks to TOSTAN. He said both men and women in particularly now engage in business in the weekly markets to improve their livelihood and that of their families.

For his part, Mr. Salifu Jarsey, a child protection specialist at the UNICEF commended the community for their high sense of participation. While noting that the results have been impressive, he urged the Fula communities to double their commitment to the sustainability of the project. Mr. Jarsey added that TOSTAN could continue to have fund through UNICEF with the support of the community. “Therefore, the Fula communities should emulate the Mandika in order for the Sarahule community to benefit from this very important project,” he said, adding that the successful implementation of the project depend on the communities’ participation.

Speaking at the declaration, the deputy governor of URR, Mr. Momodou S. Jallow also conveyed the regional government’s appreciation to TOSTAN, UNICEF and central government for ensuring that the project came to Basse. He then challenged the community to stand by their words, adding that this is the only way that the project could succeed. Mr. Jallow further advised the community to put their newfound knowledge into practice.

Other speakers all commended the director of TOSTAN the Gambia, Mr. Bakary Tamba for brining the valuable empowerment project to their community. They also thanked TOSTAN and UNICEF for coming to their aid at the right time.