Female genital cutting. It’s a gruesome thought yes, but it is also happens to be a widespread cultural practice in many ethnic communities around the world. What were your first thoughts when you read those first three words? Inhumane? Illegal? Immoral? How would you respond to it if you were in a position to prevent it? Did the word “education” immediately come to mind? It certainly didn’t come to us. To the non-profit organization Tostan however, education is the exact word that comes to mind.

Headquartered in Senegal, Africa, Tostan works in about 10 different countries “empower[ing] African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights.” Tostan provides “holistic, participatory education to adults and adolescents who have not had access to formal schooling,” because they believe that the most effective way of facilitating lasting change is by helping each particular community understand the benefits/detriments of their cultural practices.

Consider again, the practice of female genital cutting (FNC). Faced with a community conducting this practice, Tostan workers first respond with an effort engage with the community. As they build relationships with community members, the workers ask them to describe some of the health issues they face. As they learn that the community’s girls get pregnant too early and that they have problems giving birth, Tostan workers are then able to explain how FNC can lead to these issues and help the community understand why this specific practice needed to change. According to Tostan‘s website, 6,236 communites in seven countries have made a decision to abolish FNC through this method.

The coolest part? Over 99% of Tostan’s paid staff are African themselves. Talk about making a difference.

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