Two dozen men and women sit in a circle at a training center an hour’s drive from Dakar, the capital of Senegal. They are Muslim teachers, religious leaders, and community heads from Ghana and Nigeria who are participating in a workshop offered by Tostan, a Senegalese nonprofit.
Molly Melching, a warm American in her 60s who is Tostan’s founder and chief executive officer, listens attentively as participants share what they’ve learned. A Nigerian woman wearing a niqab exclaims, “Women have the right to acquire property. Women have the right to work.”
With support from the Atlanta-based Carter Center, these individuals are learning about human rights at Tostan. The training workshop, held in Thiès, Senegal, is one of many activities the 26-year-old organization has undertaken to address a range of social issues in Africa.
“Religion is such a powerful force in our lives and the world,” says Ms. Melching in her down-to-earth manner in a later conversation. “If you don’t take into account that aspect of people’s lives, you can’t work toward positive change.”
Melching, standing tall in a flowing dress called a boubou, recalls how she came to Senegal in 1974 as a 24-year-old graduate student from Illinois. She thought she’d stay for six months to study Francophone African literature. Now, 43 years later, she’s still in Senegal after unexpectedly growing an organization that focuses on literacy, health, hygiene, community governance, and more.
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