This story is a follow-up from a piece on Elhadji Rokitall in October of 2014.

Since 1998, Elhadji Rokitall has run a daara, or Koranic boarding school, in Niobène Tallène, a village in the Kaolack region of Senegal. More recently, however, he was named the President of the Diamatou Euhill Khourane Association Kaolack (ADEK). This association of marabouts unites ten daaras towards their common goal of improving the living conditions of daara students, eliminating begging and fostering respect for children’s rights.

Elhadji’s ascension to this role is no surprise. Since partnering with Tostan in 2013 through the Child Protection Module, the face of his daara has fundamentally changed. Elhadji used to take his students out during the day to beg, a common practice in Senegal purported to teach humility as part of a holistic religious education. Time spent begging, however, was time spent out of the classroom. Since putting an end to this practice in his daara, and with the support of the local Community Management Committee (CMC) in the form of clothes, medicine and help with cleaning, Elhadji noticed marked improvements in his students’ health, hygiene and academic performance. Moreover, their daily behavior changed with the once-common and severe in-fighting between students coming to an end.  

As his school morphed into a model of ADEK’s vision, he became a clear choice for its leadership in late 2014. He now works with a renewed ADEK of 20 members that meets every two months in Niobène Tallène to discuss budgeting, current activities and future planning. Beyond the indirect financial support Tostan provided through the local CMC, Elhadji credits Tostan with a role of “capital importance” in the success of ADEK’s current projects. This is due to the education he and other members received with regards to the respect of children’s rights and the management of funds.

He is complimentary of the government’s program for daara modernization: “…the construction of daaras, the overseeing of teaching and the protection of students are very good ideas.” But he sees some problems. For example, he feels revisions are needed regarding both the very short period of time currently allowed to students to master the Koran and the ineffective system for replacing ill or deceased marabouts.

Elhadji maintains a practical focus gleaned from his personal experience as a marabout. He works towards the organization’s goals, while keeping in mind the living conditions of marabouts and the work they do in Senegalese society. At every opportunity, he pushes ADEK to adopt new daaras and spread their newfound awareness. This holistic approach, pursuing change from within the daaras, always with respect for their role, has resulted in positive reactions to ADEK’s work throughout the region, and has elicited inquiries from other local marabouts interested in learning about ADEK’s unique approach.

For Elhadji, the answer is clear: “We must work towards a religious education without violence, and with better protection for students, who have rights like all other children in the world.”

Written by Daniel Newton, Volunteer