During the afternoon of April 9, 2013, a delegation from UNICEF in New York visited the village of Keur Mor Ndiaye, Senegal, a dynamic village participating in Tostan’s Reinforcement of Parental Practices module, a recent addition to the Community Empowerment Program (CEP). The delegation was greeted by woman and children singing, dancing, and shaking the guests’ hands, followed by a presentation showcasing how knowledge learned through the Tostan program has changed life in the community.
One of the first people to speak was the coordinator of the Community Management Committee, a 17-member democratically-elected group who leads development projects within the community. The coordinator spoke about where they see themselves in ten years’ time. She explained the community’s need for a hospital, an ambulance, medications, a fence around the existing school, and a preschool. She also stressed the importance of increased interaction between parents and children in the community, especially at a young age.
The Reinforcement of Parental Practices module, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, emphasizes how interaction between parents and children is especially important to a child’s healthy development—the most crucial phase for a child’s learning is aged between 0 and 2. Tostan class members showed the UNICEF delegation images representing what they are learning about parent and child interaction. One image showed the metaphor of a brain as an empty bookshelf, waiting to be filled; another image showed that the brain of a child is the same as that of a parent or even a grandparent.
The class members then performed a skit for the delegation. In the skit, a mother talking to her child was confronted by another community member who asked why she would waste her time talking to someone who could not understand her. This led to an explanation of the importance of talking to your child, even before response is possible, to encourage mental development.
The skit continued to show how a difference in the amount of positive interaction a child has with their parents can have an impact on school performance. In the skit, interaction was measured by the amount of words spoken to a child and then compared to how well each child did in school. The child who was spoken to the most went on to achieve the highest score in school.
Penda Mbaye, Program Coordinator for the Reinforcement of Parental Practices module, spoke after the actors had finished their performance. She gave further details on the theory behind the module and stressed its emphasis on child rights. Penda also explained how Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program prepares communities to participate in the Reinforcement of Parental Practices module by familiarizing participants with what human rights are, why they are important, and how they can be applied in everyday life. Ending her speech, Penda noted the RPP module’s two main goals: to encourage the community to better interact with their children and to engage the community to protect and promote children’s rights.
The visit ended with the leader of the UNICEF delegation thanking the community for their time and work – leaving just enough time for the delegation members to take part in a last couple of minutes of music and dancing before being escorted to their bus by community members.
Photographs taken by Kaela McConnon, Tostan.