Tostan has been named the 2007 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, which includes a $1.5 million award, the world's largest for humanitarian achievement and one of the largest monetary prizes in any category.
The organization, which works to help African communities through an informal educational program that employs local languages and oral traditions, has offices in Senegal and Washington, D.C., and operates in Senegal, Guinea, Gambia, Mauritania, Somalia, and Djibouti. It is planning to return to Sudan, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Tostan's thirty-month program teaches basic literacy and math, knowledge of health and hygiene, and problem-solving and management skills. The organization's work is credited with helping to transform the role of women in these societies; more than eighty percent of its community management committees are headed by women, and are organized as independent, self-sustaining NGOs.
Previous recipients of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize include Women for Women International (United States) in 2006; Partners in Health (United States) in 2005; Heifer International (United States) in 2004; the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (Denmark) in 2003; SOS Children's Villages (Austria) in 2002; St. Christopher's Hospice (England) in 2001; Casa Alianza (Costa Rica) in 2000; the African Medical and Research Foundation (Kenya) in 1999; Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (France) in 1998; the International Rescue Committee (United States) in 1997; and Operation Smile (United States) in 1996.
"Tostan means 'breakthrough' in the Senegalese Wolof language, and Tostan has achieved major breakthroughs, empowering women and improving the lives of millions of people in nine African countries," said Steven M. Hilton, president and CEO of the Los Angeles-based Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. "Through Tostan's Community Empowerment Program, villages have reduced infant and maternal mortality, ended domestic violence, improved community health services and nutrition, and provided education for their children. Microcredit, environmental, and income-generating projects have mobilized communities to work together to improve their lives."