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African charity wins $1.5 million

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A Senegal-based charity that works to improve the lives of Africans has received the $1.5 million Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize for 2007.

The prize, the world’s largest humanitarian award, is presented annually by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to a group that “significantly alleviates human suffering.”

Tostan, founded in 1991, uses native languages and the African oral tradition to promote community development in six African countries, teaching in 17 different languages.

The program, which encourages “social diffusion,” so far has touched 160,000 people directly, who then visit neighboring villages to pass on what they have learned in areas including health, education and nutrition.

By teaching about human rights and democracy, the group says it has prompted 2,600 villages to voluntarily end practices such as female genital cutting, child marriages and force marriages.

Tostan’s most recent program aims to protect the rights of young boys sent to boarding schools and forced to beg several hours a day on behalf of the school.

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