While many Senegalese schools were quiet and empty during spring vacation, Tostan’s regional office in Kaolack was noticeably more lively and bustling with activity. This was due to the fact that the Tostan regional coordination hosted a five-day training seminar on the Reinforcement of Parental Practices (RPP) module for 17 high school students. The workshop shared knowledge from the RPP module with the students in order to teach important skills and techniques for effective early childhood development. Chosen for being top students in their schools, they arrived to the office eager to participate in the training and to learn about Tostan and the RPP module.

While the RPP module is generally taught to adults, the regional RPP coordinator for Kaolack, Yandé Astine, adapted the content to a version and pace more appropriate to high school students. She presented the content, covering topics such as brain development, language acquisition, the rights of the child, and the five forms of intelligence: emotional, social, psychomotor, linguistic, and logical-mathematical. The students were eager participants, sharing stories about everything from empathy to parenting tactics that illustrated the RPP concepts. Later, Imam Omar Kant, the religious consultant for Tostan Kaolack, discussed how the concepts that Tostan teaches in its classes and the advice it gives parents are consistent with the teachings of the Koran. The regional coordinator for Tostan Kaolack, Rose Diop, also engaged the students by teaching them songs used in the Tostan program that talk about friendship and the difficulties of child marriage. The students commented that the combination of all of the discussions and presentations taught them how to be better community members and effective parents.

Over the five days, the students developed a real bond among themselves and with the Tostan staff. They are eager to continue a strong collaboration with Tostan and to share what they learned to their families and friends. As one of the students remarked, “We are the top students in our classes. When we go back to school, the other students will ask us what we learned, and we will be able to tell them about Tostan, the RPP, and about everything we learned.” They also created a Facebook group in order to stay in contact with each other and continue to share information relevant to what was covered in the training, demonstrating their commitment to continuing this collaboration and their eagerness to use technology to disseminate Tostan and the RPP’s message to their social networks.

At the end of the seminar the Kaolack coordination distributed certificates of participation to all of the students to recognize their successful completion of the training. The students also received ten different children’s books in Wolof that are used in the communities participating in the RPP module. Since books in national languages are very rare in Senegal, these books provide a unique opportunity for children to begin the process of learning to read before learning French in school. The students will use these books to read with their younger siblings and the children in their neighborhoods. As the training ended and the students left the office for the last time, the office became noticeably quieter. Although this was the end of the five-day workshop, it is just the beginning of their energetic dissemination of the information they learned over the training.

Story by Charlotte Greenbaum, Regional Volunteer, Tostan