However Long the Night

Spirituality & Health Magazine
reviewed by Jennifer Haupt

However Long the Night: Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph

By Aimee Molloy


Can one person really make a difference? If that person is Molly Melching, the answer is yes. In 1974, Melching went to Senegal as a 24-year-old graduate student from the University of Illinois. Her suitcase was stuffed with jeans, a few miniskirts, and her favorite African novels; her bank account was nearly empty. What began as a six-month study-abroad program to work on her master’s degree in French studies has turned into nearly 40 years of delving into the customs and culture of Senegal and, eventually, establishing a nonprofit dedicated to women’s human rights.

The writer and journalist Aimee Molloy weaves the threads of Melching’s fascinating transformation into one of the world’s leading activists together with the stories of the courageous women she’s helped. Tostan, the organization that Melching founded in 1997, started as a group of 35 women from one small village who had stood up against the barbaric practice of female genital cutting. Since then, more than 5,000 other communities in Senegal and in the surrounding countries have followed suit. In 1999, the Senegalese government made the practice of female genital cutting illegal.

Melching’s story is bigger than life, inspiring us to do more with our own lives, yet it’s also filled with small, tender moments. For example, Melching often refers to her own inspiration: her mother, Anne, who instilled in her “a deep belief in education, unwavering persistence, and an unceasing willingness to create something better for herself and others.” 

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