I have been involved in Tostan since my sister Molly Melching, its Founder and Executive Director, established it as a nonprofit in 1991 in Senegal, West Africa.
I became more involved in researching Tostan’s approach to development in 2006, during my sabbatical from the University of Washington Bothell. While conducting this research, I gained new perspectives that let me understand the truly unique approach that Tostan is taking to community-led development: it provides a three-year nonformal education program that builds on participants’ understandings of democracy and human rights and their vision for their collective future.
The program extends that learning by engaging participants in classroom interactions about health, the environment, government, education, and economic development (e.g. microcredit). What struck me during my visits with Tostan participants was their animation: they said that because of Tostan they were different, more skilled, able to take actions that improved the well being of their communities.
I am now retired from university teaching and volunteer for Tostan, lecturing, helping to develop its training center, and working with researchers and volunteers.