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Molly Melching, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Tostan, spoke with WHUS News about the organization’s work in West Africa. Tostan’s innovative approach, called the Community Empowerment Program, encourages discussion and change with the help of a trained facilitator.

Tostan is a Wolof word that means “breakthrough.” The name comes from  a conversation with Cheikh Anta Diop, known as a great influencer of African thought. Diop and Melching were discussing the world vision of the people of Senegal, which is often very different than in other parts of the world.

As the story goes, Melching said that true social change seems possible only when you work with the people, and consider what needs to change with their input.

Diop added, “For what you describe, there is a perfect Wolof word. It’s a beautiful word, very important in out language. Literally, the word means the hatching of an egg – the breakthrough moment when the chick emerges from the shell. That chick becomes a hen and lays eggs that it nourishes, and so there are more chicks that become hens and the process continues for generations. For me, the word signifies the idea that as people gain new knowledge in a nurturing environment they can then reach out and share it with others, who in turn do the same…This is a word you should never forget.”

Melching was intrigued. “What’s the word?” she asked.

Diop paused and smiled. “Tostan.”

(adapted from Tostan.org)