However Long the Night
Molly Melching, Founder and Executive Director of Tostan

Photos | Transcript | Press Coverage


Washington, DC—On April 29, 2013, Molly Melching, founder and executive director of Tostan, spoke to WFPG on her work with women and girls in West Africa, and how human rights education has empowered them to lead change within their villages. Her experiences are featured in the newly released book by Aimee Molloy, However Long the Night: Molly Melching's Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph.

When Melching first established Tostan in 1991, she focused on providing health and childcare information. As Tostan’s informal education program expanded, it began incorporating concepts of human rights. According to Melching, once people learned that they had the right to be free from discrimination and violence and the right to health, they started having conversations on whether certain practices aligned with their goals of well-being. One such conversation inspired the women of the village Malicounda Bambara to lead the first public declaration to abandon female genital cutting (FGC) in July 1997, a previously taboo topic for discussion. Since then, over 5,000 villages have declared an end to the practice in Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, and Guinea-Bissau. Melching cited the growing movement to end FGC as an example of how empowering education can make a difference.

Melching also underlined the role Tostan has played in educating people about malaria, family planning, the role of interactions in child brain development, and the importance of vaccinations and birth registration. Women who participated in Tostan’s education program have emerged as local and national leaders. Melching stressed that “the best way to bring about change is for community members to initiate the programs that their villages need most.” For change to be effective and sustainable, everyone who will be affected by change needs to feel engaged.

Melching firmly believes that education is going to change Africa, but only if the development comes from within, rather than being imposed from the outside. The name of her organization comes from a Wolof word that means the hatching of an egg. Tostan embodies the idea of a chick emerging from an egg, becoming a hen, and laying more eggs, so the process can continue for generations. Similarly, Melching hopes that as people gain new knowledge, they can share it with others, and change can happen on a grassroots level. The path to change will not be simple or quick. Yet as her biography suggests, “however long the night, the sun will rise.”


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Founder and Executive Director of Tostan Molly Melching and
WFPG President Patricia Ellis

  Molly Melching signs copies of However Long the Night

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Molly Melching addresses WFPG members and guests
  WFPG Board Member Theresa Loar asks a question

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Audience members listen to the conversation
  Molly Melching and Patricia Ellis pose with a
copy of However Long the Night