On November 18 and 19, Tostan’s Reinforcement of Parental Practices (RPP) team gathered religious leaders from each of the 66 Mandinka villages participating in the RPP module in the Casamance region of southern Senegal for a workshop on early childhood development and the teachings of Islam.

The RPP module helps parents to learn about the importance of early childhood brain development and the best practices that parents can use to stimulate their children’s learning capacities. This workshop was organized to actively involve local religious leaders, who play a major role in shaping the way their community raises their children, in order to ensure the acceptance and sustainability of knowledge gained during the RPP module.

Along with the 66 imams, the event assembled local officials including the governor, mayor, prefect and representative of the Regional Council of Ziguinchor, the chief of the Regional Office for Community Development, as well as representatives from the Regional Office for Social Action, the general secretary of the Association of Imams of Casamance, representatives from the Academy of Ziguinchor, and staff from Tostan’s international, national, and regional offices.

At the pedagogical level, the workshop aimed to give more information to religious leaders on critical topics related to children’s early development, such as cognitive stimulations and brain development, as well as share how communities are improving parental practices that support this development after participating in Tostan’s RPP module. Another aim of the workshop was to establish that there is no contradiction between the teachings of the RPP and what the teachings of the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) say about parenting. The final goal of the workshop was to engage the religious leaders in the movement to abandon all forms of violence against children in their community and extended social network.

The two-day workshop hosted a series of speakers as well as two working group sessions. Siraba Traoré, Tostan Regional Coordinator for the RPP in Ziguinchor, presented a lecture on early childhood brain development, emphasizing parents’ role in encouraging healthy development. Tostan’s regional religious consultant Yaya Touré then presented teachings about early childhood education based on the Koran and the Sunnah, the ways of life prescribed for Muslims according to the teachings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Ibrahima Giroux, Tostan Head of Programs, consolidated these two presentations in order to demonstrate the strength of the relationship between the Koranic traditions and the teachings from the RPP. He made ​​the link between fetal development and some verses of the Koran to draw the religious leaders’ attention to the idea that Tostan’s vision and theirs are one and the same.

Between the presentations, the imams were split into groups to discuss and present their perspectives on  issues such as how the Prophet (PBUH) raised his children, what a religious leader can do to ensure a better education for the children in their community, and how religious leaders can work with Tostan on child protection and early childhood development.

These discussions helped to build a resolution signed at the end of the workshop, which attested to the importance that the Prophet (PBUH) accorded to his children before their birth and during the most critical stage of their development, from age 0 to 3 years old, as well as his use of nonviolent forms of education for his children. The resolution recognized the vision of a society based on dignity for all shared by those in attendance, and it represented the beginning of increased efforts to promote best practices that support early childhood development and the abandonment of all forms of violence against children.

The workshop ended full of energy and excitement as each imam signed both a French and Arabic version of the resolution. All of the imams expressed their gratitude for the successful organization of such an event and their appreciation that Tostan valued their perspective. The event was concluded by the distribution of gifts for each imam to take back to their community — a pack of ten children’s books written in Mandinka, developed by the RPP team.