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...
May 23, 2014

A Day in the Life of Maison de la Gare

Entrance to Maison de la Gare
Entrance to Maison de la Gare's Saint Louis center

A photo-essay by Jack Wang

In a previous article, Jack recounted his serendipitous encounter with Maison de la Gare following a chance meeting with Thaddaeus Lister, a former volunteer, on the plane to Africa.   In this earlier article, Jack celebrated “Discovering the Talibés” with an album of moving photographs.  The photos here provide a glimpse of Maison de la Gare during a typical day.

“Maison de la Gare” is the place that largely defined my Senegalese experience.  I worked closely with the founder Issa Kouyaté to photo-document his daily activities to promote his work and the MDG centre.  Maison de la Gare, founded in Saint Louis in 2007, is a non-governmental and not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping the talibés.  The word “talibé” describes students, always boys, who are studying the Koran and begging for a living.

Maison de la Gare’s garden grows its own vegetables, aiming to help some of the talibé become self-sufficient.  The centre opens to talibé children from 10 a.m. each day, and the children come to play in the courtyard, receive medical treatment, have a shower and take classes in the evening.  Volunteers regularly check the boy’s clothing; not surprisingly fleas are often found, sometimes with 100s of eggs.  The infected clothes are treated with bleach that kills the eggs, and soapy water that kills the fleas. 

I met one teenage boy who came to the centre with a broken lip after having been beaten by his marabout ... not an uncommon occurrence.  He received medical treatment immediately from a volunteer.

On one day, I followed a team of volunteers as they installed mosquito nets that had been donated by UNICEF in the daaras where the boys live.  I also attended a meeting where Issa met with representatives of the local government and other organizations to plan together actions to help the talibés.

Issa regularly received phone calls from local authorities or the police asking him to collect runaway talibés.  In one case I witnessed, Issa subsequently contacted a relative of one of these boys to come to collect him.  Often the children stay in Issa’s apartment until he can find a suitable placement for them.  In the picture here, the child’s father came from Dakar the next afternoon to take him home.  Often, however, the placement is more difficult and takes much longer.

Thursday is the kid’s favourite day, because it is sports day when the centre organizes football matches.

The centre offers classes every evening to educate the talibé children.  Volunteers prepare a simple meal for them.  Lots of talibé children have practically not eaten the whole day.  Thus, they are particularly excited to receive clean, fresh baguette snacks from the centre so they don’t need to beg for this food on the streets.

It is a humble centre with a big heart.  Maison de la Gare has deeply inspired me.

Hadiel disinfecting clothing of talibe children
Hadiel disinfecting clothing of talibe children
Issa organizing mosquito net installation in daara
Issa organizing mosquito net installation in daara
Planning common action for the talibe children
Planning common action for the talibe children
Runaway talibes in MDG care, returned to families
Runaway talibes in MDG care, returned to families
Happy talibes in a football match
Happy talibes in a football match
MDG teacher Aida with her class of talibe children
MDG teacher Aida with her class of talibe children
Nutritious snack frees children from some begging
Nutritious snack frees children from some begging
"A humble center ... that has deeply inspired me"
"A humble center ... that has deeply inspired me"

Links:

Apr 30, 2014

GlobalGiving meets the stars of Maison de la Gare!

Some of the boys playing before class
Some of the boys playing before class

Paige is GlobalGiving's Champion for Customer Bliss in our office in Washington, DC. During a trip to Senegal, she had the chance to visit some of GlobalGiving's projects. Here is her postcard from the field. 

I had been in Senegal for 2 weeks and everywhere I went, not matter the size of the city, I met Talibe boys. It breaks your heart to see the kids begging, but even more so how natural it is to miss them. Talibe are part of the Senegalese scenery.

Upon my arrival in Saint Louis, Issa, the charismatic, superhero leader of this project, greeted me and led me to the beautiful haven that is Maison de la Gare. It was just around the time the boys start streaming in from the street, and the home was slowly filling with wrestling, cleaning, and giggling adolescent boys. And that’s when it hits you! These are the same boys tugging on your dress and sleeves around the country. Now, in the Maison, they’re no longer part of the scenery.

Like any good superhero, Issa has an origin story. Upon moving to Saint Louis, he started making food for the people in his community. One day a woman came to him and said “what you’re doing is great, but I have a better idea. You should make food for the talibe boys in the city.” He decided, why not try it, and went to the old ferry building to bring the kids food. A day later there were over 100 kids waiting for the sandwich. And after that hundreds more. “Clearly this was a problem,” Issa tells me, and frankly, the rest is history! Years and a whole new location later, the program has expanded into not only a nutrition program, but now a healthcare, education, urban farming, computer literacy, hygiene, and advocacy program.

Most importantly the boys have a voice here. For example, they’re looking at building a new craft/workshop building because the boys want to be able to sell the wonderful crafts they’ve learned to make, helping them to have an income outside of begging.

When a boy wants to devote more time to school, Issa negotiates with their Marabout to allow it. I met at least three boys who were either in school now, or on their way to it. One of them helps Issa with the younger boys in the evenings after coming back from class. 

Everywhere were loud, smiling kids. One of them turned to me “What is your name?” “Paige” “You need a Senegalese name!” “Can you give me one?” He thought for a moment, “Penda!”

Hi my name is Penda and I believe Maison de la Gare is making a huge difference in the life of Talibe boys. 

The boys learn how to use computers (and facebook)
The boys learn how to use computers (and facebook)
All kids love to pose for the camera!
All kids love to pose for the camera!
Issa shows me where the new building will be built
Issa shows me where the new building will be built
The afternoon drum circle!
The afternoon drum circle!
Apr 25, 2014

From the International Space Station to MDG

Chris Hadfield responding to Arouna
Chris Hadfield responding to Arouna's questions

A magical connection for the talibé children

In April 2013 astronaut Chris Hadfield was commander of the International Space Station.  As Chris Hadfield was tweeting his amazing “postcards from space”, photos of our planet taken from his vantage point on the ISS, volunteer Sonia LeRoy was showing them to the talibé children, who were amazed.  They particularly loved the photos of Dakar at night and the Sahara, taken from space.  When Chris Hadfield learned of the talibés and their interest in his photos, he was excited to meet the kids.

Chris Hadfield is a great proponent of advance preparation and contingency planning.  It is in that spirit that there was not only a plan for the call, but also a back up plan, and a back up for the back-up plan.  As it turned out, all that planning was needed.

After viewing Youtube videos of Chris Hadfield’s December 2012 Soyuz launch, footage of his spacewalks and more photos from space, the talibés considered questions that they wanted to ask him.  He received the written list of these questions in advance via email.

The day of the call, the internet at Maison de la Gare’s centre was not working.  Half an hour before the planned Skype connection, fourteen talibés eager to connect with Chris Hadfield packed into taxis for the trip to a local hotel that had a WiFi connection.

The children gathered round the computer in anticipation.  They viewed the space ship launch one more time, and reviewed their questions.  At the designated time, the Skype call from Chris Hadfield began.  Rowan Hughes, a Canadian volunteer who had done much to organize the call, asked the first question to encourage the talibés to follow suit.

Talibé Arouna Kandé, clearly nervous and excited, asked his question (in French): “What made you think you could do something that so few people have ever done?”  Chris Hadfield addressed Arouna directly by name as he replied that, as a nine year old boy, he knew his dream of going to space was likely impossible.  Yet, he nevertheless kept hold of that dream by focusing on the things in his life he could control that would bring him closer to his goal, and not the impossible.  He said “Shape your daily decisions toward your dream.  Turn yourself into your dream one small decision at a time.  And, celebrate the progress of every small change within yourself.”

After Arouna’s question was answered, Skype failed several times.  Fortunately, thanks to advance preparations and Chris Hadfield’s patience and familiarity with unreliable communications when making calls from the International Space Station, the call continued via Skype chat.

Chris Hadfield answered each of the talibé’s questions, emailed earlier, in sequence.  The manner in which he responded to the questions was amazingly relevant to the talibé’s own lives.  One child asked: “When you are afraid, how do you get over it?”  Chris Hadfield replied: “I look to the very core of what I fear.  Not the general fear, but the real root of it.  And then I work to understand that root fear, the real basis of what I fear.  And, I practice how to avoid that fear, and how to best react if I do encounter that fear.  I practice it over and over.  Then, when it really happens, I am not so scared and I respond better.”

The children soaked up Chris Hadfield’s advice, recognizing its significance for them.  His parting advice is excellent for us all: “Practice and learn to make good decisions in your life. After all, we are the result of our decisions.” 

Talibes mesmerized by photos from space in 2013
Talibes mesmerized by photos from space in 2013
Rowan and talibes head to a hotel for the call
Rowan and talibes head to a hotel for the call
Watching Hadfield
Watching Hadfield's launch, waiting for the call
Rowan makes the Skype call to Chris Hadfield
Rowan makes the Skype call to Chris Hadfield
Chris Hadfield on Skype
Chris Hadfield on Skype

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