Sleeping Soundly as a Tostan Volunteer

By Diane Gillespie

Long-standing Global Mobilizer Diane Gillespie tells us about her journey of “awakening” with Tostan, from research contributor to resource mobilizer. Diane has most recently dedicated all profits from her book ‘Stories for Getting Back to Sleep’ to Tostan communities in West Africa. Wake up and read on…

A Tostan volunteer! Yes, that has been my tagline since I retired from the University of Washington Bothell after a 40-year teaching career in 2012. It followed naturally from my research on Tostan’s human rights education: first, a 2008–2010 project with Molly Melching entitled “The Transformative Power of Democracy and Human Rights Education: The Case of Tostan” (Adult Education Quarterly, 2010); second, a 2010–2016 project with Ben Cislaghi and Gerry Mackie entitled Values Deliberation and Collective Action (Springer, 2016). That research background prepared me to contribute to Tostan’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning (MERL) Department and the Tostan Training Center.

Diane (left) and Molly during her first volunteer trip to Senegal in 2008.

My first official volunteer task, though, was helping my sister Molly Melching, Tostan’s Founder and then CEO, proofread Aimee Molloy’s book However Long the Night. Aimee asked me many questions about our family, and in the process I discovered the letters our father had written to our mother during WWII and found lots of pictures that I hadn’t seen in years. In Dakar, Senegal, where Tostan’s International office is located, Molly and I sat side by side on a couch, reading over Aimee’s final draft, answering her questions, and remembering parts of our childhood. In this work I learned a lot about myself, my sister and Tostan.

As a long-time teacher and researcher, consulting with Tostan’s staff about monitoring and evaluation and the training center has been continually rich and rewarding. But lingering in the background of my volunteer work was my wish to help raise the funds necessary to spread Tostan’s education program further, perhaps even to a whole country. Democracy and human rights education made accessible to thousands!

Diane, Molly, and the participants in the first training seminar at the Tostan Training Center, 2015.

And then I had what Tostan participants call an “awakening”. They mean it, of course, in reference to their Tostan education, an education that allows them to make new meanings of their lives through learning about ways to hold inclusive, democratic discussions and process new information so that they can take action to increase well-being in their communities. My “awakening”? Well, it was very different, at least on the surface: trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night and then being unable to get back to sleep. I began to imagine scenarios that would lead me back to sleep. They helped me go back to sleep so that my “awakening” could happen during the day! When I described these stories to friends, they asked me to write them up so they could use them. Soon I had a book of sleep stories: Stories for Getting Back to Sleep. After reading about the importance of sleep for wellbeing and the dangers of sleeping pills, I became even more convinced of the need for cognitive behavioral approaches to sleeplessness.

It didn’t take me long to connect the different “awakenings”. I could publish the sleep stories as a fundraising project for Tostan — wellbeing for those struggling to fall back to sleep in the middle of the night without sleep medication and wellbeing for the hundreds of communities asking for Tostan’s education program.

Stories for Getting Back to Sleep is now available online and at bookstores. I make more money for Tostan if I sell them myself, so if you wish to order 5 or more, order from me directly (dianegillespie@gmail.com). But if you want to order fewer, just go to your local bookstore or online. If you don’t have trouble sleeping? Help me publicize the book through social media, buy copies for your friends who are “awakened” in the middle of the night, and ask bookstores to display the book in a prominent place.

Tostan communities will be ever grateful for your support.