On March 24-25, the villages of Keur Baka and Keur Alpha hosted two interzonal meetings with representatives from Tostan partner communities participating directly and indirectly, through coordinated outreach called organized diffusion, in the Reinforcement of Parental Practices (RPP) module. These meetings served to promote a non-violent education and home life for all children and prepare the communities for a future community engagement ceremony.

The first interzonal meeting (or RIZ) in Keur Baka on the 24th covered 57 villages from the zones of Keur Baka, Taïba Niassène, and Kayemor, while the second RIZ in Keur Alpha covered 17 villages from the zones of Thiomby and Dya. In total, 40 communities participating in the RPP and 34 communities participating indirectly attended the meetings. Participants included the village chiefs, religious leaders, facilitators, expert primary caregivers, and members of both the Community Management Committees (CMC) and School Management Committees (SMC) from all of the communities. A number of local officials from the region also attended, including three sub-prefects, nine presidents of rural communities, and four leaders from the support committees for local development (CADL). The students from the Arabic school in Keur Alpha were present as well and made signs in Wolof saying “We must stop violence against children,” “Reinforcing parental practices is good for children and for the community,” and “Children are the hope of tomorrow.”

While the meetings were focused on promoting the abandonment of violence against children in communities, group discussions were tailored to get participants to think about how they could personally contribute to this effort. After the Tostan staff presented a brief introduction to the objectives of the meetings, the participants were split into groups and asked to consider a variety of topics such as: (1) how the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) educated his children, which was addressed by the religious leaders present; (2) what alternative methods of discipline are available that still respect children’s rights, asked by the village chiefs and the members of the Education Committees; (3) how a community can ensure children’s safety, discussed by the expert primary caregivers and Tostan CMC’s; and (4) what the community can do to explain to authorities the importance of early childhood development, addressed by the local officials.

Each group was given ample time to discuss these topics, and at the end of the session, a representative presented the conclusions that the group reached. During the presentations, it became clear that all of the participants were engaged in the issue. The participants agreed that the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) provided his children with a non-violent education and that there are other ways to discipline children.

In order to show their support for the RPP module, the participants from Keur Alpha presented a skit to illustrate what they learned about the importance of early childhood development. In the skit, a family was raising a child that was not their own. The mother mistreated and beat the child frequently. Eventually, the imam in the community intervened and explained to the family that if they want to be more like the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him), they should embrace his non-violent approach towards children. The skit finished with the family explaining that they did not know this before and that they would change the way that the treat him.

At the end the meetings, participants signed a resolution outlining the importance of early child development and a non-violent education, thereby committing to the issue. The two interzonal meetings were a successful step in preparing for the community engagement ceremony in the months to come.