Every Friday, we will share the story of a member of the Tostan team. The wide range of people who contribute to Tostan each bring with them a unique perspective on community development, and use their talents and knowledge in important ways to make our programs possible. This week, learn about Penda Mbaye and how she is helping to create an innovative new program for parents and children.

“But, I already speak Wolof! What can I learn from this program?” Penda Mbaye asked a friend of hers. Penda had been feeling down. She had just had to abandon her studies and was looking for a new direction. The program she went to check out, in her hometown of Thiès, Senegal, was Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP). 

Since that day, Penda has worked with Tostan and learned many things: she is an expert in human rights education and community development, and she can teach literacy in Wolof, her first language. Today, 19 years later, Penda is relying on her knowledge and field experience to inform Tostan’s newest program, the Reinforcement of Parental Practices (RPP) Module of the CEP. In this module, she has worked closely with psychologist Ibrahima Giroux to develop a program that encourages parents to provide more stimulating verbal interaction with their children, boosting brain development and providing children with a head start in their education. Leading a program based on  the latest child development research in rural West Africa would not be possible without the ability to collaborate with community leaders and integrate fundamental human rights concepts into their approach.

Penda gained these skills over many years, facing challenges along the way. The village of Keur Mbaye Guèye in the Thiès region of Senegal was Penda’s first post as a facilitator. “Growing up, we heard many stories about village life, some just to scare us! At first, I would wake up to every little sound, thinking it was a snake” she confessed during our interview. Gradually, she recalled, she became accustomed to life in the village. “I was living with a very kind family, and many people in the village were interested in what I was teaching. I used to see women going to class walking passed my door much earlier than they needed to. I was very motivated; I felt like I was really able to contribute to the community and help them improve their lot.” Penda still feels a special connection to Keur Mbaye Guèye – anytime she is on a mission nearby she is sure to stop over just to say hi.

Over the years, Penda worked as a CEP supervisor, training and watching over new facilitators; she participated in the implementation of several new projects in the field; and later became the National Program Manager for Tostan in Senegal. Her role was very broad and important for the program, as she describes, “I oversaw the CEP in all of Senegal. It felt like I was always in the field, but this didn’t tire me out. The communities we were working with have so much energy, I enjoyed getting to know people all across Senegal. I was able to learn how everything about the project worked, and how the communities see the program.”

Now working on the Reinforcement of Parental Practices Module, Penda has made sure that this new program works to complement the CEP and build on what communities have already learned. Penda reinforced this idea, saying, “This project relies on knowledge of human rights. You can’t even talk about children without talking about their rights. That’s why it is so important to work with communities who have already learned about them.” Respect for the rights of children helps parents support their children’s success. She continues, describing, “The Reinforcement of Parental Practices Module and the CEP are both important for supporting children.  If the rights of children are not respected, their chances of doing well in school are greatly hindered. The CEP contains many strategies for promoting their rights.” With the new strategies in the RPP module, parents and children are able to take these lessons and move to the next step.

Interview by Matthew Boslego, Tostan Communications Assistant.