Below is the first of a two-part series written by Emma Giloth, Assistant to the Reinforcement of Parental Practices Project, featuring the Senegalese community of Kolma Dior Dior as they participate in the project.

Tostan’s real measure of success comes from seeing how communities continue to harness their capabilities and develop themselves years after they have completed Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP). Tostan helps to provide knowledge and tools at the grassroots level, but it is the openness of individual local leaders as well as the collective will of the community that ultimately leads to positive social change.

The village of Kolma Dior Dior, located in the Kaolack region of Senegal, is an example of a community that continues to progress and strengthen their knowledge years after completing the CEP. One only has to meet the village chief, Cheikh Thiam, to understand the impact the program has had on the community’s development as well as his own leadership abilities. Before becoming chief of the village, he was a member of his community’s Community Management Committee (CMC), a 17-member democratically selected group trained by Tostan to lead development initiatives. Mr. Thiam graciously attributes his understanding of dialogue and democracy as well as his management and problem-solving experience to his participation in the CMC, which he then applied to his role as village chief.

Mr. Thiam’s appreciation of the Tostan program and his desire to bring more education opportunities to Kolma Dior Dior, are why he was eager to host Tostan’s new Reinforcement of Parental Practices (RPP) Module. The RPP is a one-year module that is implemented in villages that have already implemented the CEP and are interested in furthering their instruction. The RPP builds on themes from the CEP, but focuses specifically on early childhood development.  It provides caretakers with the knowledge, skills, and resources to create a positive learning environment for children by teaching parents how to enrich their interactions with their children.

The idea is to support the development of a child’s social, linguistic, and emotional intelligences at a young age by teaching parents the science behind brain development as well as simple practices they can incorporate into their everyday life. Some examples of such practices are speaking to a child using complex vocabulary, teaching babies how to count, reading storybooks, telling ancient folktales, and asking the child questions and validating their responses.

On a recent visit to Kolma Dior Dior, Chief Cheikh Thiam told us how much his village valued the RPP classes that were supporting mothers and fathers to better prepare their children for the future. As in the case of many communities hosting the RPP, he said that the class participants consisted almost entirely of women–mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, etc. Traditionally in Senegal, particularly in rural areas, women are seen as the primary caretakers of children, but, he agreed with the module’s promotion of the importance of fathers to take on a more proactive role in their child’s upbringing.  Mr. Thiam said regularly attended classes and encouraged other men in his village to take an interest in the RPP Module too.

After speaking with Chief Cheikh Thiam, we walked over to one of Kolma Dior Dior’s meeting places where the facilitator, Ndéye Astou Diouf, was getting ready to host the 32nd RPP class session.

Stay tuned next week for more on Chief Cheikh Thiam and a look into a Reinforcement of Parental Practices class session in Part Two of this blog series.