I was quite shocked by how much I enjoyed this book. I usually don’t go for biography or book about Africa, but this one called to me and I read it. I think it is a book everyone should read at least once in their life.
The story follows the life of Molly Melching and how she brought the knowledge of human rights to numerous villages throughout rural Senegal. Molly is originally from the U.S. and moved to Africa in her early twenties. She stayed because of how welcome and at home she felt, something she had never found anywhere else. After studying and working as a translator, she became obsessed with how to get education into the rural areas of Senegal where it was gravely needed to help maintain and encourage the improvement projects that were being put in place by NGOs (Non-Governmental Organization). She had several incarnations of organizations before founding Tostan – primarily setting up a local community center through the local Peace Corps then working with her (then) husband to establish a local education program for the village of Saam Njaay. Between these two organizations, she developed a teaching model that met the needs and cultural traditions of the rural community, allowing them access to basic information such as reading, writing, and hygiene.
When she finally broke out on her own and developed Tostan, she used what she had learned to develop an educational program that brought knowledge to the participants. Not only did the program teach reading and writing, but they were taught in connections with core ideas set up in modules – hygiene, basic health, leadership skills, and project development. After gaining success, she was prompted by receipt of funding to include a module on human rights and women’s health, including the dangers of FGC (female genital cutting) which was a widespread practice in Senegal. This last module was developed and presented with great care to be non-judgement and non-confrontational, simply presenting information that described the rights of women as outlined by the United Nations and gave the women information on their bodies they greatly wanted to know.
This module had an unexpected result. As the women grew in their belief in their rights and themselves, the communities started to change as women demanded their rights. The most stunning result was the decision by different villages to discontinue FGC, which caused anger and dismay with other villages. This led to the discovery of social norm connectivity and how members of a group will decide together.
As an educator and a woman, I found this book highly informative. Not only did I get an overview of life in Senegal, but I learned more about my rights as a woman and innovative educational practices I hope to someday use in my classroom. I thought it did a wonderful job of not only discussing Molly’s life, but also the different things she and her assistants learned over the years and the amazing stories shared by the brave women and men in Senegal who are attempting to bring an end to FGC in the country, and to spread the knowledge across borders.
I highly recommend this book to everyone, but especially women and educators. It also gives you a glimpse into a life we cannot imagine in the United States and is a great way to learn about a mindset completely foreign to us. It definitely ranks on my “needs to be read” list for someone who will take the time to appreciate what they can learn from it.