On Thursday June 26 and Monday June 30, 2014, Tostan’s Child Protection Project (CPP) hosted two community meetings in conjunction with the release of a new advocacy document “Focus: Modern Koranic Schools,” which addresses the program to modernize daaras, or Koranic schools. 26 communities from the Kaolack region gathered in the villages of Lamarame and Ndiakhané to discuss the modernization of daaras. Religious instructors serving as heads of the daaras and Community Management Committees (CMC) members came to share successes and give feedback on the advocacy document and the CPP.
At both meetings, Moussa Sao, a CPP supervisor, and Marame Mbaye, a project facilitator, explained the process of registering for a “modern daara,” how to become a part of the Association of marabouts, and what a modern daara is: a religious school that is regulated and periodically inspected by the Senegalese Government. They have to maintain minimum standards of safety and teach from an approved curriculum. After these two meetings, participants gained a deeper understanding of the importance of these processes.
According to participants, the CPP improves students’ quality of life and facilitates certain administrative processes. Souleyman Badiane, a public school Arabic teacher, commented, “This project is important because it is improving the quality of life for the children attending the daaras, or talibés.” Furthermore, El Hadji Ngary Badiane, a religious leader in Lamarame, explained, “The most important impact of the project [for my adopted daara] has been the connection to local authorities and Tostan’s ability to facilitate these contacts.”
Another topic brought up during the meetings concerned women in the communities, also called Ndeyou Daaras, who adopt and take care of talibés. Kéwé Diop Nidaye stated, “Certain religious leaders think the women spoil the children in adopting them, but we are helping them to stay clean and eat well.” Oumar Fall from Touba Fall explained, “Our village is the example of cleanliness. The women put rules in place around hygiene and sanitation. Everyone sees the importance of the children’s cleanliness and all of the chores.” Lastly, Modou Yama Ndiaye praised the women in his village stating, “I thank these brave women who trouble themselves [with the talibés] in the village, even while others mocked them. But they understood the significance of taking care of them, and this is why they stuck with it. If it were not for them, we would not be present today.”
There is still work to be done regarding the modernization of daaras such as reinforcing the capacity of religious instructors and children’s treatment in schools. However, meetings such as these illustrate the impact on daaras and talibés when you work closely with religious leaders and communities.