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					                                 Chicago Tribune         DECEMBER 6, 2007




Walking away from the past
HOW DOES AN OUTSIDER CHANGE A CULTURE? FROM THE INSIDE,
SAYS ACTIVIST MOLLY MELCHING.

By Jessica Reaves | Tribune staff writer


“Are you sure?”came the question,
anxious and probing. “You have to be
absolutely sure.” Their brilliant heads-
carves bobbing like tropical birds, they
nodded. They were sure. It was time. And
they were ready.
     It was the fall of 1996, and the women
of Malicounda Bambara, a small village
in northern Senegal, were in the midst of
a 30-month community education pro-
gram courtesy of Tostan, a human rights
group founded by Molly Melching, a tall,
plain-spoken transplant from Danville,
Ill.                                          tackled math, literacy, problem-solving            Female genital cutting/mutilation is
     The most recent lesson covered hu-       and management.                               defined by the World Health Organization
man rights and health, with emphasis on            But they hadn’t forgotten what           and the United Nations as “the partial or
women’s well-being through puberty,           they’d learned about cutting. And so they     total removal of the female external geni-
marriage and childbirth. Their teacher,       talked, first in hushed voices in private     talia or other injury to the female genital
herself a Senegalese woman, broached          quarters, then in louder, more forceful       organs for cultural or other non-therapeu-
the topic of female genital cutting, a        tones back in their classroom. They talk-     tic reasons.” The debate over calling the
common rite of passage in the region,         ed to one another, to their husbands, their   practice “female genital cutting” versus
describing health risks of the procedure:     friends, their neighbors. They talked to      “female genital mutilation” is ongoing.
infections, hemorrhage, fever and death.      their imam, who, like many other men in       Some groups, including Tostan, prefer
     For many of the women, this was a        the village, had only a vague idea of what    the former term because they believe the
revelation: They all knew someone who         the practice entailed. After some consul-     practice isn’t carried out in an attempt to
had suffered, even died, after cutting, but   tation, he confirmed that the practice had    mutilate or harm, but rather as a way to
it was in the same way they knew women        no religious basis; nothing written in the    preserve cultural homogeny.
who had died during childbirth. It was        Koran required them to cut their daugh-            Today, genital cutting is performed
simply something that happened.               ters, to remove parts of every girl’s labia   annually on 2 million girls and women
     Most of them had never consciously       and clitoris. The women regrouped and         worldwide--in 28 African nations, some
linked chronic health problems to geni-       talked and thought and talked a while         Asian and Middle Eastern countries, and
tal cutting, which was as much a part of      longer.                                       among pockets of immigrants in Europe
their culture as dancing, good-natured             By June 1997, they didn’t need to        and in the United States. It is often prac-
teasing and impromptu singing. Some of        talk anymore. Thirty-five women of            ticed in secret, away from public view
the women were angry with the teacher,        Malicounda Bambara had made up their          or documentation, which makes exact
horrified that such a sacrosanct tradition    minds, and they wanted to tell the world:     figures nearly impossible to pin down.
was being discussed in the open and in        The last generation of their daughters had    Mortality rates are also vague, as many
such clinical terms.                          been cut. The declaration was made on         communities have no official register for
     The months passed and the Tostan         a scorching July day in 1997. It was the      births or deaths.
lessons continued, three days a week, for     first public announcement of its kind in           Most countries have outlawed fe-
two to three hours at a time. The women       Africa.                                       male genital cutting, often referred to
as FGC, but laws generally don’t make        as recently as the 1950s in attempts to          their mothers or another female mentor,
much impact on cultural behavior. Sen-       combat “illnesses” like masturbation and         use a knife, scalpel or other sharp object,
egal banned FGC in 1999, but more than       lesbianism. A major misconception about          often without sterilizing it, and almost al-
2,000 villages, or about 25 percent of the   cutting is that it’s an inherently Islamic       ways without using anesthesia. In some
population, still perform it. (The Wolof     practice; in fact, it is linked to culture and   countries, including Egypt, there is a
people, Senegal’s culturally and politi-     ethnicity, not to religion. I spoke to many      growing trend toward “medicalizing” the
cally dominant ethnic group, do not en-      women who were shocked to learn from             procedure, taking it out of the villages
gage in it, which is why the country’s       their imams that they don’t need to be cut       and into local hospitals or clinics. Anti-
rates are relatively low.)                   to be a good Muslim.                             cutting activists fear this is an attempt to
     While the prac-                                                                                                     legitimize cut-
tice may seem barbar-                                                                                                    ting by cloak-
ic, even cruel, to any-                                                                                                  ing it in clinical
one unfamiliar with                                                                                                      terminology and
its cultural currency,                                                                                                   white coats.
it is not viewed by                                                                                                        Another trend
either men or women                                                                                                      that concerns
here as an act of vio-                                                                                                   opponents of the
lence, but rather one                                                                                                    procedure: Girls
of inclusion. Imagine                                                                                                    are being cut at
you’re a mother, and                                                                                                     younger ages.
you’ve been cut, and                                                                                                     While the age
every single other                                                                                                       varies dramati-
girl and woman in                                                                                                        cally      among
your village and all                                                                                                     cultures--some
the surrounding vil-                                                                                                     girls are cut as
lages have been cut.                                                                                                     infants,      oth-
How do you tell your                                                                                                     ers right before
daughter she can’t be                                                                                                    marriage--many
cut, because some bureaucrat who’s not            Standards established by the World          are cut right before puberty, between the
even part of your ethnic group decided it    Health Organization outline four varia-          ages of 7 and 10.
wasn’t a good idea? How do you tell her      tions of FGC. Type I involves the removal             This risky procedure can lead to
that she’s going to be a social pariah and   of the clitoral hood with or without exci-       blood loss, chronic illness, even death.
will never get married, because someone      sion of part of or the entire clitoris. Type     Short-term consequences can include
outside your community passed a law? It      II requires the removal of the clitoris          bleeding, severe pain, shock and anemia.
doesn’t work that way.                       with partial or total removal of the labia       Infections from unhygienic tools and
     Tostan is one of the first organiza-    minora. Type III is the most extreme, and        urinary tract disorders are also common,
tions to understand this, says Ann Ven-      involves the removal of part or all of the       and being cut increases a woman’s risk
eman, executive director of the United       external genitalia as well as the stitching      of contracting HIV. Long-term effects
Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).            and narrowing of the vaginal opening.            range from abscesses, cysts and scar-
“The thing about Tostan’s approach is        This is generally followed by binding the        ring, which can cause serious problems
that they respect culture,” she says. “So    girl’s legs together for 10-14 days, which       in childbirth and pregnancy or infertility.
many organizations go in and preach,         allows scar tissue to form. Girls who un-        Some communities cut open and re-close
‘Just Say No.’ This is a 2,000-year-old      dergo this form of the procedure are cut         a woman’s vagina before and after she
cultural practice, and that’s not going to   open again after their weddings to allow         gives birth, dramatically raising her risk
happen. But Tostan gives the population      their new husbands to penetrate them.            for infection and blood loss.
information about health,” and goes from     Type IV is the catch-all for anything not             Molly Melching came to Senegal in
there.                                       included in the first three categories, and/     1974 planning to study linguistics for a
     Why are women and girls cut? Prac-      or the piercing, cutting, stretching, cau-       semester or two, then head back to the
titioners cite any number of reasons,        terizing or scraping of the clitoris, labia      U.S. Instead, she made the West Afri-
including perceived health benefits, an      or any vaginal tissue. This iteration can        can country her home, marrying a local
attempt to control female sexuality, for     also include the introduction of corrosive       man, raising a daughter and creating To-
aesthetic purposes (female sexual organs     substances or herbs into the vagina to           stan, which means “breakthrough” in the
are considered ugly), and to ensure that     cause it to tighten or narrow. In Senegal,       Wolof language.
a girl is acceptable to her future hus-      both Type II and Type III are performed,              Melching doesn’t talk much about
band and in-laws. It’s worth noting that     although Type II is more common.                 her personal life, but she’ll expound for
certain forms of female genital cutting           “Cutters,” female elders in the vil-        hours on the academic minutiae of cul-
were performed by doctors in the U.S.        lage who have learned the practice from          tural anthropology, and she’s endlessly
inspired by the women she meets in her          worse, un-African.                                 region are connected--through marriage,
work. She tells this story about a village           “We went through a terrible period            social groups and culture. For one village
meeting shortly after the human rights          when we were crying all the time,” says            to abandon the practice without involv-
lesson was introduced into the Tostan           Mariama Traor, one of the women who                ing its neighbors wasn’t just impractical,
curriculum: “One woman stood up and             attended the original Tostan classes. “You         it amounted to cultural suicide. “After
said: ‘My daughter is 9, but one day I saw      can’t believe the noise and the confronta-         Malicounda, we knew: Never again,’ “
her standing next to the other 9-year-old       tions.”                                            says Melching. “Never again would a
girls in the village, and she looked 6. Ever         “The people of the [nearby] Mbour             village do this alone.”
since she was cut, she’d had gynecologi-        village were awful to us,” recalls Tako                 Malicounda Bambara doesn’t seem
cal problems. Can you imagine, that little      Cissokho, the midwife. “They were furi-            like the kind of place where insurgencies
girl with those kinds of problems? And, I       ous and would tell us, ‘The white people           are born. Located 45 miles east of the
know, I did that to her. That’s my fault.’      came and gave you money to do this.’               Senegalese capital of Dakar, it looks just
And we all cried that day. It was a turning     And there was no money. This is about              like every other village in the country’s
point in the process.”                          knowing our human rights.”                         dry, northern region. The first part of its
     That’s just one of the scores of stories        Melching was not in the habit of shy-         name means “In the home of the Mali-
to emerge from the Tostan classrooms.           ing away from a fight, but she also knew           ans,” a reference to the migratory pattern
     Women have described losing their          this wasn’t her battle. If the women’s             that brought residents west from neigh-
daughters, sisters and nieces to the af-        groundbreaking announcement was go-                boring Mali, a country in which some 93
termath of cutting. They remember their         ing to stick, it had to be because they            percent of girls are cut; “Bambara” is the
own conflicted pain -- the searing, slicing     were dedicated to an idea, not because             town’s dominant ethnic group.
agony of the procedure, but also the pride      she, or anyone else, was telling them                   The village, home to 3,000 people,
they felt when it was over. They were real      what to do.                                        consists of a group of low-slung build-
women now, ready for husbands, for the               “I never dreamed when we created              ings--a school, a meeting house, a com-
rigors of their adult lives.                    this curriculum that anyone would aban-            munal kitchen space--fanned out around
     At the heart of Tostan’s teach-            don FGC,” says Melching, shaking her               a large dirt field dotted with a few mango
ing method is what
Melching calls “or-
ganized diffusion,”
a social scientist’s
term for harnessing
the connections in a
social structure. “Our
approach revolves
around community-
based decision-mak-
ing. When we work
with one village,
we’re working with
all the intertwined
social       networks,
and all the villages
whose livelihoods
are bound up in one
another’s.” Melching
and the rest of the
Tostan staff learned
this critical lesson
the hard way. In the grim days that fol-        head at the memory of that day a decade            trees and one large baobab tree, its thick,
lowed the Malicounda Bambara declara-           ago. “I never thought it. I never dreamed          ancient branches the sole source of shade
tion, Melching was heartbroken by the           it. . . . I felt so guilty about the situation.”   from the brutal midday sun. Arid winds
abuse inflicted on the 35 women who             The vicious aftermath of the Malicounda            bring sand from the encroaching Sahara,
led village’s decision to end FGC. They         declaration served as a valuable lesson            coating the cheaply constructed buildings
became outcasts in their own community          for Melching and the Tostan staff. The             with a thin brown film.
and neighboring villages. They were spat        problem wasn’t the declaration itself, it               Outside the main village lies a string
on, ridiculed, harassed. They were ac-          was the fact that the village--and the To-         of small compounds, each consisting
cused of taking bribes, of colluding with       stan approach--hadn’t taken into account           of rooms for the head of the family, his
the white devils, of being unfeminine, or       the extent to which communities in the             wives and their children, a kitchen and
a shared outdoor space. Laundry flutters      licounda declaration, another 13 villages,    history was very much on Melching’s
from clotheslines, children and chickens      including Keur Simbara, abandoned cut-        mind in August, when thousands gath-
run from one another, kicking up red          ting. In 2001, another 173 villages fol-      ered in Malicounda Bambara for a trium-
dust.                                         lowed suit. From 2002 to 2007, at least       phant celebration of “the Amazons who
     Before the summer of 1997, no one        1,820 villages officially denounced the       dared.”
would have guessed this unassuming            practice. This year, Tostan announced a            The crowds moved slowly along the
place would become a national symbol          new goal: ending FGC in Senegal by the        roads of the tiny village, inching like a
in a movement centuries in the making.        year 2012.                                    lethargic snake behind the lumbering
     For Cissokho, whose work as the               Tostan’s unprecedented success is        pickup trucks, blaring celebratory music
village’s midwife had exposed her to          based on finding--and pushing beyond--        and honking their horns. Groups of girls
the worst of cutting’s aftereffects, the      the tipping point in communal behavior.       in white Tostan T-shirts carried hand-let-
women’s decision was necessary. “I            “As the critical mass grows,” says Melch-     tered signs listing the towns and regions
had been trying to                                                                                                 that had made pub-
get the village to                                                                                                 lic declarations. As
abandon FGC for                                                                                                    they passed under
years,” she said in                                                                                                the entrance to the
an interview ear-                                                                                                  square, sandy field
lier this year. “I                                                                                                 in the town center,
didn’t know how                                                                                                    a banner twisted
to get the message                                                                                                 between two poles,
across because no                                                                                                  its careful lettering
one would listen to                                                                                                rendered unread-
me.”                                                                                                               able by the wind.
     But people did                                                                                                     The women of
listen, she found,                                                                                                 Malicounda Bam-
when Tostan pro-                                                                                                   bara, who had been
vided information,                                                                                                 preparing for this
rather than lectur-                                                                                                day for months, had
ing at the villagers.                                                                                              dressed carefully
“I’d been saying                                                                                                   in matching bright
these things for years,” she says, “but I     ing, “and more and more people declare,       blue boubous, a traditional, draped shift
wasn’t giving them the information they       we have seen that many who initially op-      dress. They stood watching the throng
needed.”                                      posed it are now actively campaigning         make its way toward the center of the
     At first, the women of Malicounda        for abandonment.”                             village. The sun was relentless, and the
didn’t get much help from their husbands           Over the years, reports have surfaced    women were eager to find a spot in the
and brothers. “We were humiliated, and        charging that the public declarations are     shade.
the men in the village told us we had to      simply for show, that cutting continues in         They wore their celebrity with typi-
stop talking about [cutting]. So we said,     those villages, it’s just been driven fur-    cal, unsmiling composure, greeting the
‘Fine, you can have your opinion, but we      ther underground. Like the rest of the To-    strangers who had come to celebrate their
are not going back, whether you like it       stan staff, Melching is largely unruffled     audacity. This included a large group
or not.’ “ Eventually, the men, many of       by these charges. “Tostan knows that 100      from Mbour village who had vilified the
whom said they were shocked to learn          percent of the population doesn’t always      women after their declaration in 1997,
what happened during the cutting ritual,      abandon FGC during the public declara-        and as recently as last year had refused to
came around.                                  tion,” she says. One woman, Melching          even discuss the subject.
     “We never backed down,” says Cis-        remembers, came to see her in 1998 to              “I am 60 years old. I was a cutter
sokho. “I am proud that no matter how         explain that while her village had de-        for 30 years. It was a practice I inher-
hard things got, we never abandoned our       clared recently that it would abandon the     ited from my mother, who inherited it
beliefs.”                                     practice, there were women who couldn’t       from her mother. And I taught it to my
     Villagers in nearby Keur Simbara,        give it up just yet.                          own daughter . . . I can’t even count the
another Bambara community, were al-                “It seems that her ethnic group mar-     number of girls I’ve cut. Ten years ago, I
ready taking up the cause. After complet-     ries into communities that refuse to inter-   stopped.”
ing the Tostan program, they were think-      marry with those who’ve made the pub-              Oureye Sall, an ebullient, compact
ing of making their own declaration.          lic declaration,” Melching says. So the       woman, was speaking to a well-dressed
But first, the elders insisted, they had to   woman recruited others, and they began        crowd on the roof of New York’s Wal-
consult the surrounding villages and their    visiting the resistant villages together.     dorf-Astoria hotel. She is there with
villages back in Mali.                             In April 2000, this new community        Melching, who was receiving the $1.5
     In the 12 months following the Ma-       came out against FGC. This bittersweet        million Hilton Humanitarian Prize,
awarded to Tostan from a group of 250        science at the University of California at    garb, a turquoise wrap sweater draped
applicant programs.                          San Diego and an authority on normative       over a black shirt and pants. Her large
     “I was married at 8 and had my first    political theory and social choice. Mack-     hands are in constant motion, heavy
child at 15. Many of my children have        ie, along with University of Chicago pro-     silver rings flashing in the sunlight that
died,” she told the room, now silent, the    fessor Martha Nussbaum, is widely cred-       bounces into her office on the second
sound of forks against china replaced by     ited with creating the model upon which       floor of Tostan’s headquarters in Yoff, a
the rise and fall of Sall’s voice. “It was   Tostan’s methodology is based.                fishing village located at Dakar’s north-
only when I went to the Tostan classes,           For many years, Mackie says, “An-        ernmost point.
and we began studying human rights and       thropologists insisted that human emo-             The offices feel more like a home
health and hygiene, that I began to think    tions are relative from culture to culture.   than a place of business. Everyone--staff,
more about cutting, and about the things     That belief has been robustly falsified. I    volunteers, drivers--eats lunch together,
that had always bothered me instinctively,   argue that if one lived in the circumstanc-   sitting on the floor around platters heaped
but that I could never quite articulate.”    es, one would have one’s daughter cut as      with spicy rice mixed with meat and fish.
     Since then, Sall has become one of      well, but that is not the same as saying      It’s the most democratic of meals, typi-
Tostan’s star emissaries, traveling with     that it is ‘right for them. ‘ “ It simply     cal of both Senegal and the environment
fellow elders to far-flung villages. She     means, he says, that the key is for every-    Melching cultivates.
carries one of her old razor blades with     one to give up the practice together, so           She was raised in a working-class
her and will sometimes elaborate, in a       that girls’ marriageability is preserved.     family in Danville, a blue-collar town
low, even voice, on the procedure itself          Mackie remembers asking a group          120 miles south of Chicago. Her sister,
and the pain it causes. She has experi-      of Senegalese women about the idea of         Diane Gillespie, now a professor of arts
enced it firsthand, not only as a woman      preserving tradition in their village. “The   and sciences at the University of Wash-
who was cut as a child, but as a mother      women said they did not want to be a          ington-Bothell, remembers that their par-
who nearly lost her daughter to hemor-       museum exhibit for European tourists,”        ents nurtured their daughters’ creativity.
rhage. This experience, and her role as a    he says. “They want better lives for their         “They gave us both piano lessons,
former cutter, gives her credibility when    children. They also say that they love        and we were always surrounded by mu-
she answers those who wonder: Did To-        their traditions, just as we do, but will     sic,” says Gillespie. “I remember ‘Tristan
stan pay her to stop cutting girls? Didn’t   change any that they discover to be mis-      and Isolde’ was always blaring through
they come in and force her village to give   taken.”                                       the house.”
up the practice?                                  Melching is a tall, solidly built             An industrious student--at least in
     “Money could not have encouraged        woman, with short chestnut hair and a         the subjects she loved--Melching was
me; there was no way I could have been       smattering of freckles across her nose.       president of the high school French club
paid to end this practice,” Sall said in     She often wears traditional Senegalese        and spent a summer in France. After
New York. “I was making far too much         clothing, and when she’s in the villages,     graduating with a B.A. from the Univer-
money as a cutter for Tostan to replace      she’s surrounded by a group of chattering     sity of Illinois, she spent a year teaching
that money. It was only the education, the   women; she chatters back at them in their     in an inner-city public school in Toledo.
knowledge of the consequences . . . [that]   language, her loud, staccato laughter ris-    “That really affected her,” says Gillespie.
confirmed my sense that the practice was     ing above the din.                            “She’d always had these really principled
not the right thing to do.”                       At our first meeting she’s in Western    ideas about education--you can’t do any-
     In a conversation about
cutting, someone invariably
will introduce the issue
of cultural relativism--the
idea that there are no uni-
versal absolute definitions
of “right” and “wrong.”
Instead, the argument goes,
each culture or society has
the right to determine its
own code of conduct. Who
are we to force our Western
ideas on people who have
lived for centuries without
the benefit of our intrusive,
culturally      imperialistic
“help”?
     Gerry Mackie is an as-
sistant professor of political
thing from the outside-in, change has to        that fits seamlessly into the Senegalese            “She’s expended a lot of effort to
come from the inside-out,” but that year        way of life.                                   overcome that obstacle,” says Gibbons,
in the trenches brought the theory to life.          Melching counts among her sup-            the Tostan board member. She’s fluent
     In 1974, as a graduate student at Il-      porters some big names in Washington,          in two African languages, including the
linois, Melching became the first par-          including Sens. Hillary Clinton and Dick       purest form of Wolof, which once moved
ticipant in the university’s fledgling          Durbin, who has pushed for increased           her housekeeper to tears. “She couldn’t
exchange program with the University            foreign aid focused on female health is-       get over it,” says Gillespie. “She just kept
of Dakar. Her goal was to study Franco-         sues.                                          saying, ‘You speak Wolof like my grand-
phone African literature under famed an-             “I’m very impressed with Molly,”          mother did.’ “
thropologist Cheikh Anta Diop.                  Durbin says. “She is not in Senegal to              By the end of the long, celebratory
     “She’s always told the same story          dictate U.S. policy to the Senegalese.         weekend in August marking the Mali-
about the moment she set foot in Sene-          She’s there working with communities to        counda Bambara declaration, Melching
gal,” says Gillespie. “She just fell in love.   help them make choices to safeguard the        looked drained, her usual exuberance
And she’s never really come back.”              well-being of girls and women.”                slightly dulled by 48 hours of nonstop
     Melching was initially drawn to the             If you ask Melching to explain To-        activity. She’d attended meetings, held
question of language in Senegal, a partic-      stan’s success, she’ll never mention her-      press conferences and danced under the
ularly delicate subject for an indigenous       self as a critical factor. She says that all   hot African sun. She’d been embraced by
people expected to function in a colonial       she did was push “a snowball,” and the         crowds of men and women and scores of
language--in this case, French--while lo-       programs gained speed and power. Her           children, including girls who will never
cal languages, most notably Wolof, were         goal, she says, is to make every Tostan        be cut, thanks to Tostan.
either suppressed or ignored.                   regional office--in Senegal, Somalia,               “I know she’s so proud of what hap-
     Stunned by the lack of reading mate-       Gambia, Guinea and Mauritania--auton-          pened in Malicounda,” says Gillespie.
rial available to schoolchildren, Melching      omous.                                         That pride came at a steep price, paid
wrote a book in Wolof called “Anniko.”               “We want them to be equipped to           by both Melching and the women of the
She later helped create a children’s cen-       meet the needs of their region,” she says.     village, whose determination to stand by
ter in Dakar, where kids could learn, sing      “To be strong enough in management and         their decision to end FGC caught even
and perform in Wolof.                           in grant-writing to see what their needs       Melching off guard. “Molly called [me]
     This was a critical moment for             are and translate that into proposals. And     and said, ‘I told them they didn’t have to
Melching’s future in Senegal, says Mi-          then we can support them in helping their      do this.’ “ her sister recalls.
chael Gibbons, a Washington, D.C.-              local populations.”                                 “And so I told her, ‘Do you know
based education consultant and Tostan                It also means Melching and her hus-       what, Molly? Where there are two wom-
board member.                                   band, Malick Diagne, Tostan’s deputy           en, there is hope. And where there are 35,
     “The language you were born into           director, can concentrate on fundraising       they can change the world.’ “
and grow up speaking is the language you        and big-picture plans, which include ex-
can learn in, feel powerful in,” he says. In    panding Tostan’s global reach. When I
1982, Melching and other volunteers be-         point out that handing over the reins to
gan developing an educational program           local offices isn’t part of the MBA play-
based on their collective experience and,       book, Melching laughs. “That’s why so
more critically, feedback from village el-      many [non-profits] in Africa have failed,”
ders and participants. The three-year im-       she says. “They’ve had all these manage-
mersion formed the roots of Tostan.             ment problems.” A lot of their money, she
     Twenty-five years later, Tostan is         notes, goes to big offices and big salaries
widely considered the blueprint for all         in the U.S. “So I wondered how to do this
campaigns to end female cutting. The            in a way that puts all of the money in Af-
organization also addresses other issues,       rica. I’m the only paid American staffer
including the lack of adequate education-       in Africa, and I keep my salary low.”
al opportunities for girls, the mounting        (Public tax records show she earns less
problem of the talibes (children in certain     than $50,000 a year.) “We decided . . . to
religious schools who beg in city streets       run [an] organization, where people are
as part of their education) and creating        empowered at all levels.”
financial opportunities for women.                   Melching also takes pains to remem-
     She has spoken to international man-       ber that while she may feel Senegalese,
agement groups, to health consortia, to         she’s still perceived by some in her ad-
the UN--all eager to understand how this        opted country as a privileged white for-
woman from Illinois created a program           eigner.

				
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