LISA REAGAN: Welcome to Kindred Media and Community, an alternative media and educational initiative of the American nonprofit Families for Conscious Living. This is Lisa Reagan, and today I am joined by Teresa Graham Brett, creator of the Parent Liberation Project and Alliance and author of the book Parenting for Social Change. Teresa is calling from Tucson, Arizona but we are also here today with Dieudonne Allo, creator and founder of the Alliance for Parenting Education in Africa or APEA, and he is calling and talking to us from the Eastern Cape in South Africa. So, welcome Teresa and Allo.
TERESA GRAHAM BRETT: Thank you, Lisa.
DIEUDONNE ALLO: Thank you, Lisa.
LISA REAGAN: Well, it is a question of where to begin because this is such an exciting opportunity to talk to both of you about the partnership between the Parent Liberation Alliance and APEA, and I think I would just love to hear from Allo. How did you find Teresa and what was your vision?
DIEUDONNE ALLO: Thank you, Lisa. Teresa and I started…it is last year I think around July during a process of my search for information on parenting. This started when my colleagues and I were reflecting on ways of changing society from the way it is through parenting. We got this vision first through my own brief experiences as a young person growing up in Africa and undergoing traumatic experiences caused by the way I was raised and the kind of practice that I experienced as a student and also as a teacher, you know interacting with students and parents and seeing that parents really are failing the children, teachers are also failing the students in terms of the way they raise their children in terms of the way they discipline their children.
I know that I am what I am partly because of the way I am raised and whatever we do to the children will contribute to the way…to what they are in society tomorrow. So, it has been a long journey. I met Teresa when I came across her book Parenting for Social Change, and when I went through this book I felt like, oh this is someone sharing the same thoughts that I had and I quickly sent her an email requesting her to be my mentor and partner in what we are planning to do, which she willingly accepted. Since then we have been working together. We have designed many projects together. We have together done the manual for the Iziko for our study cycle.
LISA REAGAN: Right, so there have been facilitator trainings in both South African and Botswana, and I…I know we had a really good discussion before we started calling, but I would love for you to just take a moment and tell us again what is it like culturally there where you are and why are parents interested in Parenting for Social Change as Teresa’s book but just the ideas behind peaceful parenting.
DIEUDONNE ALLO: First of all…the culture here is really the Eastern Cape which is a reflection of what is happening in the broader Africa is such that we feel that it is fine, what we are doing is okay to say to say seeking…people seeking for peaceful ways of parenting, it is not exactly like that because you have a few people who are educated and who know what the South African government’s position is on parenting and the abolition of corporal punishment, but on the other hand the greater majority of the people stick to cultural norms that really promote the abuse of children. So, here I think it is…it is very important for people as a member of APEA to understand that children growing up facing the kind of difficult punishment that we give them end up really being a problem to society because this is going to come back to haunt us, as we are experiencing. So, we need to develop leaders who are going to, you know, to…to be involved directly with the communities to assist them to understand this.
LISA REAGAN: So, Teresa tell me, you have created a program that you say, you know, is a cross-cultural experience. How is that possible? It is…I know the Parent Liberation Project is available here in the United States, but…it is available to international countries, and how is it you are able to take your work and translate or does it need to be translated to parents for example in South Africa or anywhere else. How is that done?
TERESA GRAHAM BRETT: Well, I think one of the critical pieces that Allo and I both had in common that really was a foundation for how we created the Iziko and the manual for parents was that we really believed that the process of being parents was one that was not a traditional top down hierarchical teaching model, that though we may have information to share around, you know, scientific bases for child development and needs of children and brain development that what was really critical for us in creating the programs that we have and the trainings is that we truly value what everyone brings to that circle, and so part of our…a critical part of our values within APEA is about ensuring that our facilitators model the same kinds of equal partnerships that we want parents to create with children, and so we did not reinforce, you know, values of autocratic or power over others through our Iziko and our circles, and even in our manual but we really wanted to value that each person, each parent that comes to the experience brings knowledge and experience and wisdom and the ability to reflect on what the broader cultural norms are in order to expand all of our frames of reference and thoughts about how it is we can create different relationships with children that then we result in greater social change to achieve ultimately what we all want in the world, which is a place where there is greater trust and peace and opportunity for everyone to participate and to be valued in society. So that has, you know, that common ground that Allo and I found between us has just been such a critical part of our partnership and the ways in which we have approached all of the work that we have done, and in that sense the cross-cultural nature from, I think, my perspective I think really is about honoring and respecting the experiences that we all bring to this process.
LISA REAGAN: Which is a multigenerational process. I always need to put that in there because I know parents in the United States are…they have a lot of pressure on them to perform and the guilt is always just sitting there waiting. With Kindred, one of our missions is to show this big picture story of how we learn to parent and where does this come from? Allo how is the program being received and how are the facilitators doing?
DIEUDONNE ALLO: Well, we have a few programs. One in the…KwaZulu-Natal in Cato Manor just around Durban. We have another one in Botswana in the school in Gaorone, and then we have one here in Umtata. The facilitators are doing their best.
First of all, let me just speak about this word Iziko. Listeners will be wondering what this is all about. Iziko is a Zulu name for a fireside. Most Africans in the whole continent actually socialized originally by sitting around the fire, telling stories and learning by sharing. There is hardly any person who went to school to learn how to cook, but just by sitting around the fire and observing your parents cook you learn. Just by telling stories about how to, you know, behave amongst others and the consequences of doing certain things you learn. That is how as Africans we socialized; to this is the concept APEA is bringing back. Sitting around a circle and discussing about sharing experiences in parenting and discussing ways by which we can improve our relationship with our children and eventually lead to peaceful relationships.
So, this is the vision that APEA put together when we talk about Iziko. So, we did train a few facilitators in Durban and amongst them there was a person who was coordinating a program of about 18 participants, and that Iziko actually went successfully, and the participants themselves are very inspired and they are trying to reach the others in the field and forming groups. We are short of funds actually to expand on that project, but what is interesting is that as…during the reflection at the end participants came up with a lot of ideas. We always want to make our activities community based, and one of the things this…there are some parents who we feel are more vulnerable than others.
We have parents who are teenagers. We have migrant parents who may be refugees or they are simply displaced, and it is not just the education and the sharing that is important but also looking into their situation, into their conditions because poverty sometimes can cause stresses that will actually, you know, impact the way you raise your own child. So looking into that we decided to focus on that group of parents. So we have another project which is called the Vulnerable Parent Project which gives vulnerable parents an opportunity to not only share their experiences but also give them an opportunity to relieve some of the stress they go through. So we identify some of them, like teen mothers and some mothers who are young but are teen mothers because in the Eastern Cape a certain culture which in some rural parts young women are forced into marriage, and they go there having dropped from school and all what they do is to give better children and become domestic workers; let me put it like that.
So, we either find this kind of parents, while we assist them to understand how to look after a baby, how to build good relationships with the baby, we also assist them to get some of the resources that they need to pull themselves out of the situation in which they are, in most cases poverty and lack of knowledge. And we also prepare them to return to school, as there is a high rate of school dropout here in the Eastern Cape because of pregnancy and in most cases when they drop out of school and become parents, it is the end of life. They keep going after other men who see they do not have enough support and then they become pregnant again or they become infected with HIV; so those are the things that we are trying to solve.
When we come to…when we talk about the Young Parent Lifeline project, so we are here in the Eastern Cape particularly, and then in Botswana we trained a number of facilitators who are cutting out what is called Leisong. Leisong is the equivalent of Iziko in Botswana, in the Botswana language. So, Leisong is carried out mostly in schools. We have a partnership with one of the schools there, Regent Hill, and at Regent Hill we have trained some teachers to become facilitators, and these teachers have regular meetings with the parents of the children they teach to share experiences on the discipline so that we try to harmonize the way we see children both at home and at school and build, you know, a positive way of looking at the children.
So it is a very exciting…Leisong is a very exciting program, and there are many other schools that are buying this idea and we have had some programs in Botswana that are really attracting interest. So far, that is what we are doing in the field. There is so much that we are still putting in place, but due to the limited resources we have we cannot really achieve much.
LISA REAGAN: Yes, and I would like to say anyone that would like to support APEA please do go to the parentliberationalliance.org site right now (See donation button above) and you can make a donation there, and you can earmark your donation to go directly to APEA. I am so very, very blown away by the work that you are doing, Allo, I really am, it is just tremendous and I am wondering if you could tell us about being on the radio show in Botswana and the mixed reception you had from the callers there. You were telling me about that earlier.
DIEUDONNE ALLO: Okay, so David Metler from the United States who is also part of APEA, he is one of the connections that we have in the United States visited in July and we have this radio. We have many programs in Botswana, and one of them was on the radio program and Duma FM which is a national radio. So we had this discussion on positive parenting and positive discipline and we had quite a lot of reactions the listeners. So a lot of people called in and the general trend was really that many people showed resistance to the way people’s children should be disciplined at school. People still see corporal punishment as the best way to go, but also we have a lot of people who are already very positive in the way they build their relationship with their children, and it was very fascinating to see or to listen to some of the callers, you know, identify with us and say these people what they are saying is true.
I have been raising my child without ever hitting my child and I think it is the best child I know, and others say, you know, our culture says we should beat the children and that is our culture and we have to stick to that. And so the interesting thing is that at the end of the show we did receive a message from the station manager requesting us to have a permanent slot on that radio station, which we could not because I am here in South Africa and David is in the United States. We have the principal of origin here who is based in Botswana who is trying to work that out, so from time to time when I visit Botswana I always make time to appear on the show and talk about it. Here in the Eastern Cape in Umtata we also have a radio program which is being coordinated by one of our members, the members of APEA, so every Friday she has a slot to talk about positive parenting and there is a lot of interest in really what we are doing around, but it is also a mixed basket as I said because you get different reactions from people. You might even at one stage feel people are not ready for positive parenting, especially in this area of South Africa, but really a lot of people are looking for solutions. There is an example I was telling you of, right, about the parents, you know, beating the children when they are young and when they are about 18 years old they can no longer beat them and I think these children, you know, they have become impossible. The parents realize they do not have any power. They are physically stronger now and the same punishment that a parent was using for them cannot work, yet they are looking for ways to control that, so I think control is actually one of the things, control and domination, one of the things that we are fighting against because it actually produces just the kind of reactions that we do not want for our society.
LISA REAGAN: Yes, and you know the culture that you are describing is similar where I am in the South of the United States. And we were talking about this before the call, not…certainly not to the extreme but the culture of accepting hitting children and it is necessary to hit children and it is for the sake of their well-being that they are hit because they will grow up to be good people if they are spanked regularly, and really what we know is that this is the parent’s frustration coming out and the parent gets a momentary relief from their frustration. Some parents even have structured spanking for children, which is unbelievable but true, but I am wondering, Teresa, if you could just speak to what is empowering about your program and the work there for parents? Where do you go into this very long continuum of behavior and frustration that is just being passed on? Where do you even begin to give parents any tools to help them?
TERESA GRAHAM BRETT: You know, Allo chime in as well because I know that you and I have talked about this, but you have also talked with the parents that were in the Iziko in Cato Manor, but I, you know, I think initially that what I see as empowering about the process that we co-created and that we co-create with the parents in the circles is that it is really in some ways the first opportunity that parents have to even come together to get support for that role of being a parent. And, Allo, I think there was a phrase that you use that described the parents as being hungry for this opportunity to come together. Is that the…am I using the right phrase?
DIEUDONNE ALLO: That is right. That is right.
TERESA GRAHAM BRETT: Yeah, and that really it is about when we take a little time in, you know, what our…for everyone really….often intense lives where we are trying to provide for our families, working, looking for jobs, all of those things that we are trying to do in our daily lives no matter where we are at; the critical needs that we are trying to meet for ourselves and our families we often take very little time to come together to share space, to as Allo described be around the fireside to talk about what we struggle with, and I think when parents come together to do that what we find is that we are all struggling with so many of the same things, whether it is in Cato Manor or here in Arizona when I talk with parents.
You know, certainly there are different degrees of need and maybe vulnerability among the different populations of parents that we are working with but that we struggle with how it is that we can best fulfill our role as parents and deal with the frustrations that come with the stresses that we are experiencing in our individual lives that are really common for all parents across the world. And part of that is to also not only have parents reflect on their experiences but to get more information that is borne out by the science of the brain and attachment science about really in the end what best serves a child’s development into a more full human being, the kinds of human beings that we want to be with and be around as well as how we can create that same kind of empowerment for ourselves if we did not get that same treatment in our own past experiences as children.
And in some ways a lot of the work around the brain and the things that we have been, you know, working with are both about helping parents to use those reflective skills to be more mindful of what is going on within them internally so that we can create that different kind of experience for the children that are in our lives right now. And, so it becomes an empowering process for both the parent to heal from what has happened in the past as well as to create a different experience for children in their families, and there is even a lot of research out there and a movement that is around how it is children and families become that impetus for creating change in communities and societies, and that is really exciting well…as well, so I feel like we are really on the forefront of that empowerment process and in looking at how children and families become that place for really strong social…positive social change.
LISA REAGAN: I think it is so fascinating that you said when parents come together and they share their stories and form some sort of community. I mean, this is how Families for Conscious Living was formed. Parents in Virginia wanted to do peaceful parenting, and we also wanted to do healthy choices for living, but we got together in public parks and just that piece…and I have written about this extensively over the last 17 years, the importance for me personally. If I did not have a community I do not…I do not think I could have done peaceful parenting at all. It was definitely my community that made it possible. It was too hard in isolation. It was too frustrating, so, Allo what is going to happen now?
DIEUDONNE ALLO: I think for now we are focusing on trying to build the…the vulnerable parents program here in the Eastern Cape. We are working with some communities in the informal settlements around Umtata here, and we have identified a number of young parents, teenagers between the ages of 15 to 19 who…some are pregnant, some already…some have children, and there are in need of information and material and also resources, and we are working together to see…we are trying to raise the funds to see what we can do, but at the moment we do not have funding so many things are just not working as smoothly as we would love them to do, so we are hoping that in a few months ahead when we get funding we are going to roll out the program. We plan to have a concept soon here in the community hall in Umtata for the teen mothers, so there will be a group performing from the university of…the university and this group is going to perform in the town hall. We have yet to confirm the dates, and the aim will be to raise funds for our program. So we have other ways that we are trying to raise funds, and hopefully we will get the funds that we need and keep the program.
LISA REAGAN: Yes, well I will mention again parentliberationalliance.org You can go there and you can read more about Teresa and APEA relations and Allo’s story.
TERESA GRAHAM BRETT: Oh, you are right it is both.
LISA REAGAN: Is it? Okay, good.
TERESA GRAHAM BRETT: Sorry about that.
LISA REAGAN: No, that is good. That is fine because there is also the Parent Liberation Project that is there, and you take Teresa’s project here in the United States through that online course and again sign up for the newsletter so that you can keep in touch with Allo and Teresa and follow what is going to happen next, and I am so grateful to both of you for everything that you are doing and the vision that you are carrying; it is tremendous. I am so honored to talk to you both.
TERESA GRAHAM BRETT: Thank you so much, Lisa.
DIEUDONNE ALLO: Thank you. Thank you, Lisa.
LISA REAGAN: Is there anything else that we should let our listeners go before we go?
DIEUDONNE ALLO: There is just one thing which I just wanted to emphasize on as Teresa said. We are creating a platform for parents to share their experiences and also share resources with them when we have the Iziko. It is not actually a forum for teaching parents how to raise their children, it is just a way of sharing. I am saying this because we are going to have a lot of programs where we interact with people with different frames of references. We…we have an inter-religious program also where we go to church, and you know, form groups in church as well. So, every parent has the right to raise their child or their children the way they want but APEA is there just to provide the…just to provide the forum for them to…to exchange their experiences, share their experiences but also expose them to the wealth of resources that we have on development, on the science of development…of child development.
LISA REAGAN: Right, but…I think that piece is so very critically important. I know it was for me 18 years ago to just know that something else was possible and then to go out there…well, I did not know that, I was hoping that was true, and then when I began to search and find people that had occupied the space and pointed the way to peaceful parenting then I was just grateful that they existed and that there were models, and there were people just holding the space and a lot of those people are still around in one form or another but nobody got rich and famous yet, so we have a lot of work to do with conscious parenting. Thank you both so much for coming on and talking tonight.
TERESA GRAHAM BRETT: Thank you, Lisa, for the opportunity to share the work that we are doing across the world and for creating this space for us.
Teresa Graham Brett, author of Parenting for Social Change, and Lisa Reagan, editor of Kindred Media, talk with Dieundonne Allo, founder of the Alliance for Parent Education in Africa, about his experiences introducing South African parents and professionals to the possibilities of parenting for peace. As Allo shares in this interview, the reception of APEA's programs is welcome, as "people are looking for solutions and alternatives to traditional dominator and abusive parenting practices and beliefs." Read the transcript from the interview below.
Conscious Parenting In Africa: