In 2018, IHE had the great privilege to welcome Toti Yalé to our week-long humane education immersion at our campus in Maine. After waiting for many months, Toti received word that his visa had been approved just three days before the start of our program. The next day he was on a plane, and after a two-day journey from his home in Côte D’Ivoire, he arrived in our much colder climate to a very warm welcome. Toti is the CEO and Founder of Education and English for You, a non-profit organization that fosters childhood education, gender equality, and English language learning, primarily among girls. Toti works as a volunteer, infusing animal and environmental protection into his social justice work.
Zoe: Toti, it’s been almost three years since you came to Maine. What are some of the ways in which you are bringing humane education to children in your country, especially to girls?
Toti: Since attending IHE’s humane education immersion week, I have intensified my work against discrimination in primary schools. Generally, only children in private schools learn English, so we teach children from poor families to speak English in public primary schools. Now when they enter secondary school, these children are at the top of their class in English learning. This is extremely helpful for their future opportunities.
A primary goal of our nonprofit is gender equality, and with the support of Global G.L.O.W we have now 90 less-privileged girls ages 10-18 who are the beneficiaries of our leadership course. Many more girls are entering high school and college thanks to our program.
We are also providing environmental education opportunities and have planted 400 trees in our school yard and community since 2019, thanks to the support of the International Community School of Abidjan. And through the support of the Pollination Project, more than 500 people in our community have been sensitized to the rights of animals through the creation of the Kindness Club of the Ivory Coast. Then there’s our MOGO (most good) Club where our kids are learning kindness through empathy. We have helped bring compassion for dogs to our community, which has traditionally considered them pests.
I should add that before I came to Maine, people thought that I was wasting my time in my humanitarian efforts. Now they are eager to witness and participate in the work I’m doing, simply because I have been to the United States.
Zoe: What are some of your other priorities, especially during the pandemic?
Toti: Quality education requires healthy school conditions, so we’ve provided ceiling fans and cupboards to 1,500 students in schools in our community. During the pandemic, we’ve also been providing basic support within our community thanks to the Didier Drogba Foundation. We’ve been delivering hand sanitizer, masks, rice, oil, and soap along with door-to-door teaching.
Zoe: What inspired you to devote your life to volunteer work on behalf of girls in Côte D’Ivoire? How did your own childhood experiences lead to your dedication to education?
Toti: More than sixty percent of the population of Côte D’Ivoire is illiterate. At the primary level, the education of girls and boys is equal, but in secondary school and college, there are many more boys than girls. Poverty and early pregnancy are both a cause and persistent result of this educational inequality. I want all of this to change. I care deeply about gender equity.
As a person with a disability, I have been the victim of all kinds of discriminations since childhood. My message is this: disability does not mean inability.
I want to add that through IHE I became devoted to educating about animals and the environment. Climate change impacts everyone and is a grave threat. The two scholarships I received from IHE to take online courses and come to Maine deepened my understanding of these issues and made me dedicated to teaching about them.
Zoe: What obstacles do you face in your humane education work?
Toti: The biggest obstacle is lack of resources. We don’t have enough learning materials for our students, and this limits out ability to spread our work regionally and globally.
Zoe: What do you see as the most pressing problems in Cote D’Ivoire right now, and how can education help?
Toti: We have two primary problems: too much conflict and too little quality education. Côte d’Ivoire ranked the second to last in Francophone Africa in terms of education. Our teachers are on strike, and when that happens our students don’t get to learn. We need community leaders to teach and foster the following values: civic moral education, respect for others, healthy communication, and solutionary learning.