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NGO_Tostan
Education is one of the key weapons to combatting poverty around the 
world. Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have come up with unique programs and solutions to allow greater access to education in developing countries.

1. Barefoot College was founded in 1972 in India and works to build skills in rural villages. The founders of Barefoot College wanted to apply traditional knowledge to modern day problems by teaching locals specialized skills. They believe that literacy is learned in school, but education is gained from “family, culture, environment and personal experiences, and both are important for individual growth.” Their entire campus is powered by solar energy, teaching the local community about sustainable energy. Barefoot College teaches the local community about modern technologies and women’s empowerment, to help them grow as human beings.

2. Room to Read was founded in 2002 to increase literacy and gender equality in Africa and Asia. This organization aims to improve the habit of reading among elementary school children and increase the number of girls who stay in school beyond elementary school. It has become one of the most well known international education programs, with 50 chapters in 16 countries. The organization relies on a model that creates programs to support girls financially and mentally, building new schools and libraries, and providing books. Since 2002, Room to Read has encouraged around 7.8 million children to read more.

3. Tostan was founded in 1991 and is dedicated to community development education and ending female genital cutting. Located in 8 African countries, this organization combines education and development goals in a “three year nonformal education program.” Instead of conforming to a standardized model of development, local communities can create own programs that suit their own needs. A facilitator is appointed to live and work with each rural community for three years, teaching them human rights concepts, health habits, reading and mathematics, project management and income generation ideas. Out of the democratically elected 17 members Community Management Committee, who carry out development projects, women must hold 9 of the positions. This ensures that the women in their community have their voices and problems heard. Since 1991, over 200,000 individuals have directly participated in Tostan.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: International Relations Online, Tostan
Photo: Tostan

Female_Genital_Mutilation
Immigration in the United States has been an issue throughout this millennium. Reform for the immigration system has been discussed in various forms, yet presently there still seems to be no progress on the issue. This deadlock affects immigrants of all forms, but particularly for many potential immigrants in the West African region.

A recent PBS Newshour report detailed the plight of a family living in Baltimore struggling to deal with the intricacies of the immigration system. This family left their home in Mali after worries that their daughter would be subjected to the female genital mutilation (FGM) that is a common practice in that part of the world. The mother, who still suffers pain from her mutilation, says that at any time someone “can just come and take your daughter, and just do it.”

FGM is a practice that has deep roots in the West African region. The practice has been mentioned as far back as the Ancient Greek historians, like Herodotus. Community members consider it shameful for women to not undergo the process, leading to the sort of animosity that lead the Newshour profiled family to leave for the U.S.

Health issues and the difficulties in adjusting to a new country lead the family to miss the initial application for asylum that is required after one year of residency. Since they missed that initial application, the members of the family have no path to citizenship under the current system and are left to appeal annually for residency. There is still a definite risk that their requests could be denied by the courts, leading to their final deportation.

This difficulty in applying for asylum will remain until the immigration issue is finally settled in Congress. The Fofana family profiled by PBS Newshour is not alone in its struggles. Reports from the BBC describe Gambian women seeking asylum for the same reasons in the United Kingdom with hundreds being rejected for using the peril of mutilation as a basis.

The World Health Organization states that over 125 million females are living today after undergoing genital mutilation. Like the matriarch of the Fofana family, many times the procedure is involuntary and will cause the females lasting pain down the road. One can only imagine if this was a practice that was prevalent in the Western world and the outcry that would come about because of it.

Studies on the practice of genital mutilation show the benefits of educational programs in the areas that still carry it out. The Tostan program in Senegal shows how the end of the practice will provide health benefits for women and will bring about better overall respect for women in the community. However, programs like that one are few and have to be much more prevalent to have a serious impact in Western Africa.

For nations in the Western world, spreading education about the female body could bring benefits in Africa and the West. A successful program could lessen the immigration demands on the West and give women a better chance at being leaders in the communities of Africa. For the women that live in fear and pain due to this practice, funding by the nations of the Western world might go a long way towards improving the world as a whole.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: Stanford University, BBC, World Health Organization, PBS
Photo: MintPress News