In partnership with Tostan over the past year, religious leaders in Senegal have worked together to discuss and spread new knowledge that will improve the wellbeing and development of children. Religious leaders can play a key role in the development of their communities as they engage others around new information and traditions.

In November 2013, Tostan’s Reinforcement of Parental Practices (RPP) team organized a workshop with Islamic religious leaders from 66 Mandinka communities in southern Senegal to share best practices concerning early childhood development. During this workshop, participants concluded that no contradictions exist between the way in which the Prophet (Peace be upon him) educated his children without violence and the parental practices reinforced during Tostan’s RPP module. At the end of the workshop, Tostan and the religious leaders put in place an agreement to collaborate on the dissemination of knowledge about positive parental practices in order to initiate a movement towards the abandonment of violence against children.

Shortly after, in December 2013, a “March of the Kangaroos” was organized by Tostan’s regional coordination in Ziguinchor, southern Senegal at the request of the religious leader of Mahmouda Chérif, a village in the region. This march gave religious leaders the opportunity to demonstrate their support for new parental practices learned during the RPP module, specifically the importance of carrying babies strapped to one’s front to promote better parent-child interaction. They themselves strapped their babies to the front of their bodies, thus breaking through two traditions, that only women should carry their babies, and, that babies should be carried on one’s back.

In January 2014, a second workshop took place in Thiès, Senegal involving religious leaders from 71 Wolof villages participating in the RPP module in the Kaolack and Thiès regions. The two-day workshop hosted a series of speakers as well as two working group sessions. Yandé Astine, Tostan Regional Coordinator for the RPP in Kaolack, presented a lecture on early childhood brain development, emphasizing parents’ role in encouraging healthy development.

Tostan’s Regional Religious Consultant Mohammed Kane presented teachings about early childhood education based on quotes from the Koran and the Sunnah (the tradition of the Prophet) on the way in which he educated his own children. Ibrahima Giroux, Head of Tostan’s RPP Program, strengthened the link between the two presentations by sharing evidence from the Sunnah and the Koran in order to deepen the participants’ understanding that the religious texts and RPP module are promoting the same goals. At the end of the workshop, all participants signed a resolution to further share the teachings of the RPP module.

With each passing event, religious leaders in Senegal are becoming increasingly engaged in promoting the wellbeing of children. Additionally, these religious leaders have also found a way through the implementation of the RPP module to make their voices heard, permitting them to speak out against certain practices that inhibit healthy development.