Our History

Tostan Canada was founded in 2012. Canadians from coast to coast to coast are generously supporting the spread of human rights education and practical skills across thousands of rural communities in Western Africa.

Because of its unique success in creating community-led change, Tostan’s programming has been implemented in 22 languages across eight African countries and supported at the international, national, and grassroots levels.

Tostan’s beginning

Before Tostan began in 1991, Molly Melching, its founder, had been living in Senegal since 1974. Not only had she experienced first-hand the deep wisdom and inner strength of people living in difficult circumstances in rural communities, but by learning to speak Wolof, she gained an understanding of the culture, proverbs, and key words that expressed important values.

Relying heavily on community feedback, Molly created a new type of development program: the Community Empowerment Program (CEP). This three-year program respectfully engaged communities by working in their own languages and using traditional methods of learning like song, storytelling, and dance. It gave communities new knowledge, and at the same time, facilitated ownership over the development process, allowing communities to fulfill their own potential.

Powerful transformation

Tostan was chosen as the name of the organization because it means ‘breakthrough’, a name that embodies the powerful transformation that occurs in communities who embrace and enact the learning opportunities offered by a unique development program. Key program successes spread to surrounding areas leading to communities in Mali, The Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, and as far as Djibouti and Somalia, to request that Tostan share their approach to development.

Tostan’s community programs have led to large-scale social change including an increase in women’s leadership, the movement to abandon female genital cutting (FGC) in West Africa, the movement to end child/forced marriage and a decrease in domestic violence.

Scaling Impact

Tostan’s approach to FGC abandonment has been integrated into UN Agencies and governmental frameworks. In Senegal, the Government has adopted a National Action Plan that puts Tostan’s human rights-based approach at the center of its plans to end FGC in the country.

Today, Tostan continues to embrace the values of humility, inclusiveness, and community-centeredness under CEO Elena Bonometti’s direction. African leadership within the organization is building strong and efficient systems for continued success. Tostan instills positive change on the ground, and teaches other nonprofits about its unique approach.