Tostan is a holistic 30-month community empowerment program that focuses on priorities of daily life while teaching reading, math, health, hygiene, problem solving, and management skills.

From literacy education to community empowerment model

When Molly Melching arrived in Senegal in 1974, she found there was no basic education program in national languages, leaving 80 percent of the country’s population functionally illiterate. Using traditional African stories, poems, songs, and theatre, Melching devised a non-formal literacy program for women, which would later grow to serve men and adolescents as well.

Breakthrough development in a teaching model

In 1991, Tostan (which means “breakthrough” in the Wolof language) was established, following years of testing and adapting teaching modules with thousands of villagers of varied cultures.

A real breakthrough occurred in 1996 when human rights and democracy modules were introduced and became the foundation for all Tostan programs. The human rights-based approach resulted in dramatic changes: ending domestic violence and exploitation of children, empowering women, and honoring the right to health and education for all. It also led to the shattering of a number of harmful cultural traditions—Tostan estimates that more than two million people in seven African countries have been reached by voluntarily public declarations for the abandonment of female genital cutting, child marriages, and forced marriages.

Having worked in 10 countries, in 22 languages, Tostan’s educational model has been recognized for its ability to bring about social change, empowering African communities to transform lives.