For the past year and a half, Tostan has been actively partnering with religious leaders in Senegal to discuss improving the well-being and development of children. As religious leaders play a key role in their communities, Tostan seeks to work with them to engage others around new information and traditions.

Tostan’s Reinforcement of Parental Practices (RPP) team organized its first workshop with Islamic religious leaders in 2013 in 66 Mandinka communities in southern Senegal to share best practices concerning early childhood development. Following the success of that program, the team continued workshops in 2014 in other areas of Senegal.

The workshops encourage religious leaders to support the Tostan program, while providing them with tools to advocate for the abandonment of violence against children in their communities. Many have even traveled to surrounding communities with support for the program after completing a workshop, reinforcing RPP’s immediate results in the field and contributing to its long-term sustainable impact.

The RPP team is continuing these efforts to partner with religious leaders in 2015. New workshops have been held over the past two weeks in Ziguinchor, Kolda, and Kaolack, and the Fouta region.

Religious leader Saliou Cissé Karcia from the region of Ziguinchor emphasized the connection between the RPP and the Koran. “The RPP explains that violence has a dysfunctional impact on the brain, and the Koran states that beating a child will turn him into a dangerous person because he or she will think that everything should be resolved through violence,” he said. “Everything that the RPP teaches is supported by the Koran.”

Presentations by Tostan’s regional Islamic religious consultants reinforce this link by presenting how the Prophet educated his own children in a non-violent manner. Discussion topics include ways religious leaders can help ensure a better education for the children in their community, and how religious leaders can partner with Tostan on child protection and early childhood development. Many of these religious leaders have in turn gone on to introduce these topics during their own weekly sermons at the community mosques.

“With each event, religious leaders and local authorities in Senegal are becoming increasingly engaged in promoting the wellbeing of children,” said Charlotte Greenbaum, a Tostan volunteer working with the RPP program, which is funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. “The RPP module has helped them make their voices heard and allowed them to speak out against certain practices that inhibit healthy childhood development.”