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The following is a guest post from AUA Mosaic Scholarship recipient Alisa Hamilton. She is currently volunteering with Tostan in Senegal. To find an amazing opportunity like this one, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations© today!
Recently, I attended a blood drive organized by Tostan at the Training Center for Sustainable Development (Centre de Capacitation de la Developpement Durable, CCDD) in Thiès, Senegal. I took pictures of the series of events for a photo story to be featured on the Tostan blog.
My day began at Pompier, Dakar’s main garre routière, a bustling public transport center filled with aggressive vendors and patched up station wagons taking people everywhere from remote regions of Senegal to neighboring countries. Squished between two friendly commuters, I settled into the back seat of the car that would take me to Thiès. Luckily it was only a two-hour trip.
Upon arriving at the CCDD, I was a bit nervous about taking pictures of people giving blood, a somewhat private act. Fortunately I knew two of the women working at the CCDD who were also donating. As I chatted with them about their jobs and families and began to snap photos, others in the room expressed curiosity and called me over to take their picture. I had no reason to be nervous after all.
In Senegal only .25% of the population regularly donates blood compared to the average 2% of donors in other countries. As a result, the National Blood Drive Center consistently experiences shortages. Many people are afraid to give blood or believe that their donation will not make a difference. Blood banks like the one in Thiès rely primarily on word of mouth to mobilize potential donors. Fifty community members and Tostan employees made the decision to help save lives by donating their blood that day at the CCDD.
When I asked participants why they made the decision to donate, they responded that giving blood is important because it can save lives. Many people had family members or friends who had received blood transfusions because of injury or illness. Marietou Diange, Assistant to Tostan’s Director of the Medical Prevention Institute, could not donate to her disappointment because she had received a blood transfusion in the past. Her experience gave testament to the sentiment of many participants that donating blood is important because one day, it might be you who needs it.
I was very impressed with the family connections of those present. It seemed that everyone was the brother, cousin, sister or son of another person giving blood or someone who worked at the blood bank. One woman had six children, nieces and nephews attending, all of whom invited friends to come along with them.
This kind of grassroots community mobilization is exactly what makes Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) so effective. Instead of a large campaign encouraging people to give blood, the CEP teaches people about the circulatory system. While this is only a small part of the holistic non-formal education program, participants come to understand the anatomy and importance of blood transfusions and decide to donate on their own accord, not because some foreign organization told them to do so.
The result of this new knowledge is “organized diffusion,” a term Tostan uses to describe how information is shared from participants of the program to members of the wider community. Often, as in the case of the blood drive, this means one person talking to another. While the process may seem slow and the individual steps inconsequential, the final result is community-led sustainable change for better health and well-being.
As the only volunteer currently working in the Communications Department, I am proud to be part of Tostan’s chain of information sharing. A large part of my role is reporting on inspiring individuals and events. Tostan then uses the material on the blog and website, ensuring that international audiences and supporters are aware of Tostan’s successes and continue to support the organization. This in turn means that extraordinary people like Marietou and Khady can continue to lead change in their own communities.
To view the photo story, visit the Tostan blog.