Maison de la Gare

Maison de la Gare's mission is to achieve integration of the begging talibe street children into formal schooling and productive participation in Senegalese society. Tens of thousands of talibe children beg on the streets of Senegal for 6 to 10 hours each day for their food and for money to give the "teacher" or Marabout who controls them. They live in unconscionable conditions in "daaras", without access to running water, rudimentary hygiene or nurture, often without shelter and subject to severe abuse. Human Rights Watch published a widely distributed description of this situation in 2010, "Off the Backs of the Children". Maison de la Gare is acting with t...
Jun 25, 2015

Soccer - a Magical Outlet for the Talibe Children

An MDG soccer team, newly outfitted by Ottawa Fury
An MDG soccer team, newly outfitted by Ottawa Fury

A motivating gift to the talibés from Ottawa Fury FC

The Ottawa Fury FC soccer team of Ottawa, Canada recently advanced to the North American Soccer League (NASL).  To celebrate they updated their logo and, as a result, had to find a home for much of their older uniforms and equipment.  When team members learned about the talibé children's passionate love of soccer from their equipment manager and former player Adrian LeRoy, they decided to donate all of their surplus equipment to these children.  In April 2015, bags loaded with over 125 kilos of jerseys, team vests, goalie gloves and deflated soccer balls were delivered to Saint Louis, Senegal.  This is a report of the first outing of some of this equipment.  

Maison de la Gare's sports animator Kalidou, who is himself a talibé, organizes soccer tournaments one or two mornings a week.  This is a highlight for the talibé children who spend much of their lives begging on the street and have very little space in their lives to simply be children.  They adore soccer, and forget everything else while they are playing.

Thursday mornings, the children know that there is a good chance of a soccer match, and they drift into Maison de la Gare's welcoming center between 9 and about 10:30 in the morning.  On this occasion Kalidou organized the teams and, with the help of staff members Abdou, Bathe and Noël, distributed coloured vests to the different team members.  The children were thrilled with this linkage to a professional soccer team, and very proud to be dressed in team colours.  The designated goalies were very happy with their professional goalie gloves, and displayed these proudly.

Over 100 children left the center at around 10:30 a.m. parading through the streets to a nearby sandy lot, many of them still carrying their begging bowls.  Once there, Kalidou and Abdou organized the younger children into four teams, each with 11 players and four to ten replacements.  Two teams, red and blue, were in the junior category, with the boys typically between 4 and 8 years old.  Few of the boys know their age or birthday exactly, so these groupings always involve a bit of guesswork.  The boys 9 to 12 years old were organized into green and blue teams.  Older boys age 13 and above played in the full-size pitch at the other end of the lot.

The play is marvelous to see.  In bare feet, the children commit themselves totally to the game, playing with energy and skill that you would expect of much older youth.  There are many exciting and even passionate moments but, under Kalidou's watchful eye, the rules of the game are pretty well respected.  In the junior category, it was a clear win for blue over red, with a score of 1 to 0.  In the intermediate category, however, regular time ended in a tie, and the winner was settled in a best of five shoot-out.  The result was a blue victory over yellow, 4 to 3.

The reality of these boys' cruel lives is indicated by the prizes.  The winning team in each of the junior and intermediate categories receives a prize of 10,000 CFA francs to distribute among the 20 or so team members.  To put this in perspective, these boys are typically required to pay their marabout 500 francs each a day (about $1), money that they must obtain by begging.  When they play soccer, they have to take several hours from begging and the resulting shortfall can earn them severe beatings.  The incentive allows many of them to have a slight respite from begging, helping to open more and more of them to some of the possibilities of a normal childhood.

Thank you to Ottawa Fury FC for your contribution, and to everyone whose support makes possible Maison de la Gare's programs for these children.

Adrian with jersey signed by Fury players for MDG
Adrian with jersey signed by Fury players for MDG
Kalidou organizing distribution of jerseys
Kalidou organizing distribution of jerseys
Noel registering children of one of the teams
Noel registering children of one of the teams
Kalidou and Abdou positioning red and blue teams
Kalidou and Abdou positioning red and blue teams
... proud to wear Ottawa Fury FC colors
... proud to wear Ottawa Fury FC colors
Red versus blue, passionately into the game
Red versus blue, passionately into the game
Some talibe spectators find a great viewpoint
Some talibe spectators find a great viewpoint
Blue vs green, middle group, equally passionate
Blue vs green, middle group, equally passionate
A shoot-out determines the victor
A shoot-out determines the victor

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Jun 4, 2015

A Friday Morning at Maison de la Gare's Center

Talibe children washing their clothes
Talibe children washing their clothes

Heartwarming observations of a "fly on the wall"
This is an accidental report.  On a recent visit to Saint Louis, I was amazed on my first morning at Maison de la Gare's centre to see 124 talibé children arrive over the course of a few hours.  They washed their clothes, took showers, watered the garden, got various cuts, bruises and other medical concerns looked after, read books in the library, and in general just hung out.  Later in the morning, many got ready for their thrice weekly karate classes.  It all seemed so normal, a safe refuge from their days of begging, a place where they can be cared for, take care of themselves and, for many of them, discover possibilities for a richer life.

I started taking photos, and soon realized that this peaceful scene is itself a story that needs to be told.  Maison de la Gare's signature programs, in particular literacy and math classes, take place in the afternoons when the three teachers are present to teach up to 50 children each.  However, more and more children are coming to the center in the mornings, taking a break from begging to feel cared for and safe for a few hours. 

On that Friday morning I saw children drifting in one at a time, stopping to give Noël or Abdou their name and daara.  Somehow, this recording of the children's presence is a very reassuring thing for them, recognizing and respecting their importance as individuals.

After arriving, many children migrate quickly to the showers and toilets, and to the large basin where they can wash their clothes.  Others just find a comfortable place to hang out.  Bathe, the activities manager, keeps an eye on everyone and helps out where he can.  Binta, one of the center's nurses, is always available in the mornings in the infirmary to care for the many children who line up seeking medical attention.  I couldn't help smiling as a couple of the younger talibés energetically supported her by sweeping away the day's dust and sand.

Other young talibé children found a role helping Bathe in the garden, watering the new pepper plant seedlings.  Many other children filled the library, exploring books and connecting on the internet.  At around 11, the children involved in karate training began to get ready in their gi, their white karate outfits, and soon about 30 of them were going diligently through their katas under the supervision of a junior sensei while many other children watched.

Children came and went throughout the morning, begging bowls in hand, clearly comfortable in this refuge from their hard lives on the streets.  Maison de la Gare adds a rich new dimension to their difficult lives, and a light of hope for a better future.

It is you, our faithful donors, who make this possible.  We are grateful for your continued support; it changes lives!

Noel registering children as they arrive
Noel registering children as they arrive
Awaiting their turn in the shower ...
Awaiting their turn in the shower ...
Burning lice-infested clothes, replaced with new
Burning lice-infested clothes, replaced with new
Sweeping the infirmary while Binta treats inside
Sweeping the infirmary while Binta treats inside
Watering the young pepper plants
Watering the young pepper plants
Arouna arrives home from school, to his MDG family
Arouna arrives home from school, to his MDG family
Organizing to begin the morning karate class
Organizing to begin the morning karate class

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May 14, 2015

Is There Hope for Talibes Dream of an Education?

Bouri
Bouri's students, ready to seize their last chance

The children are ready, and Maison de la Gare is working to remove the obstacles

One of Maison de la Gare's objectives is to educate the begging talibé street children of Saint Louis, Senegal.  Founder and president Issa Kouyaté has always believed that education is the key for these children.  It is the key to hope for a better life in the future for themselves.  And, educated talibés can also be a key factor in the fight to end forced begging in Senegal.  The informed are less willing to suffer exploitation, of themselves or in society in general.

Arouna Kandé is a shining example of this. Despite experiencing the exploitation of forced begging since early childhood until just last year, Arouna has studied for years.  He was first taught by Maison de la Gare teachers, and later enrolled in the public school system, sponsored by Maison de la Gare.  He is far older than the other children in his grade who were never forced to deliver a daily quota of money to a corrupt marabout.  But this does not discourage Arouna.  He hopes to advance to high school next year and, later, to university.  His career hope is to become a writer.  He is determined to inform the people of Senegal and the broader world about forced begging and the talibé system, and to help bring this exploitative system to an end.

Bouri M'Bodj Diop has been a teacher at Maison de la Gare since 2011, instructing talibé students who already had learned some basic French language skills.  Bouri is currently working to prepare a group of nineteen talibé boys for the formal education system.  It was not difficult for her to identify potential candidates. Many children, conscious of Arouna's shining example, are excited to have a similar opportunity for a formal education.  To encourage her candidates to take their opportunity for education seriously, Bouri has given each student a backpack, pencils, and a notebook.  This sets them apart from the other Maison de la Gare students and provides some extra motivation.  As each child arrives for class, ready to work, their backpacks are proudly displayed.

Preparation for school, and enrollment, is neither easy nor straightforward.  Many of the children are of an age to be high school students, and yet they will have years of formal education ahead of them before high school becomes an option.  And, they will likely be the only talibés in their school, as Arouna was.  This could mean discrimination and ridicule.  But, they know that Arouna did it.  And, they know they will have his support and the encouragement of Maison de la Gare.  So, they are keen to begin despite the challenges ahead.

Enrolling the children in school requires not just the educational preparation, but also organization of documents and acquiring necessary permissions.  Most talibé children do not have documents of any kind.  Birth certificates or other identity documents will be needed, and the permission of the marabout - who is legally recognized as a guardian in many cases - must be obtained.  And, in the cases where parents are known in far off villages, their permission must be obtained.  Often the parents and marabouts may not read or write themselves, let alone think school is a good idea.  

If there is to be hope for enrollment of these children in September, Bouri and Issa must begin now, months ahead, to discuss with the marabouts the possibility of granting permission as well as a reduction in begging quotas for school days.  The objective is always to avoid putting the child in conflict with his marabout.  If there seems to be hope with the marabout, then the search for or creation of documents and photographs must begin.  Visits to home villages may have to be made.  Bouri thinks that more than half of her current charges will be ready for school this year.  But, how many will have the opportunity to begin on time, given the challenges of enrollment?

Some of the talibés in the current preparatory class are ready to be freed from their marabouts.  But this also presents complications.  Sometimes being freed is automatic after a certain number of years of forced begging, ten for example.  In other cases, at age 18.  However, in most cases marabouts are reluctant to give up their sources of income or the "prestige" of having authority over a child, and they demand exorbitant bribes from the children in the form of a large final payment. Or, they will release them after age 18 but only if they return to their original villages, even if they have no families to return to.  Unfortunately, despite the illegality of forced begging in Senegal, the authorities seem reluctant to intervene in these matters.

Another challenge for the talibés is that, once they are "freed" from forced begging and leave their daara, where will they live?  Not yet having obtained the means to live an independent life, many children with the potential to be free remain in their daaras with their exploitative marabouts.  The new Foyer de Transition in Maison de la Gare's centre is a solution for some of these boys.  But, will the marabouts permit them to move in?  If a child moves into the Maison de la Gare Foyer de Transition against the will of his marabout, all talibés from that daara will likely lose permission to attend Maison de la Gare programs at all.  

Souleymane is ready for school, and excited to start.  He is also "freed" from his marabout.  However, he will likely have to return to the Gambia temporarily to officially end his marabout's authority over him.  This trip will have its own dangers and complications for Souleymane.  Will he be back to begin his formal education?  As a trafficked talibé brought by his marabout from another country, will enrollment in Senegal's school system even be possible for him?  If not, does he have any hope of for an education in his home town?  

Maison de la Gare is helping the children navigate these challenges, to bring education to the talibés of Saint Louis.

 

Author Sonia with Arouna at his school
Author Sonia with Arouna at his school
Author Bouri with her class in MDG center
Author Bouri with her class in MDG center
An 18 year old
An 18 year old's work, learning to write
Students concentrating intently in Bouri
Students concentrating intently in Bouri's class
Souleymane, seeking freedom to attend school
Souleymane, seeking freedom to attend school
Many more candidates in Aida
Many more candidates in Aida's intermediate class

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