Jasmine's Place Issue No. 12 - July/August 2014 - Page 10

We had a few questions for Molly Melching: You went as an exchange student to Senegal, what is it about Senegal that has made you stay for the past 40 years? I fell in love with the Senegalese people and way of life pretty much as soon as I arrived in 1974. I felt it was a place where people truly care about other people in a way I had never experienced before – there was such a warm and welcoming spirit! I volunteered to work with children while I was studying at the University of Dakar and was concerned by the lack of books and materials for kids, so I opened a cultural center in a very populated area of Dakar – the Medina. I soon realized that using traditional African stories, songs, poetry and theater were wonderful ways to teach literacy and get across important health information. After six years, I moved our center to a small village about an hour away from Dakar - Saam Njaay. No one in this community had ever attended school yet everyone, particularly the women, wanted so desperately to learn. So our team started by teaching people in their own language - Wolof - things they wanted to know - about health, hygiene, the environment, reading and writing. They were so excited and I realized this was something needed throughout the country, not just in one village. The main reason I have stayed in Senegal for 40 years is the people, like those I met at the children’s center, or in Saam Njaay or in the thousands of villages we have reached with the Tostan program since 1991. The women and adolescents are so proud of and grateful for all they have accomplished in such a short amount of time. When you feel like you are making a real difference in the lives of people, you don’t even think about leaving – just about how you can continue to do more! Hillary Clinton said you saw a practice that you refused to believe couldn’t be changed. Please could confirm what that practice was. What gave you the courage to believe that you could make a change especially as you were in a foreign society? The practice Hillary Clinton is referring to is the deeply entrenched tradition of female genital cutting (FGC). This was a very taboo subject in Senegal and other African countries where we work. At first, I was worried about Tostan bringing up such a sensitive issue in our classes, but during our research for a women’s health module, we learned that this was an incredibly important JASMINE'S PLACE 10