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 12, 2014

Critical Health Care for Talibe Children

The infirmary in Maison de la Gare
The infirmary in Maison de la Gare's centre

Medications for Life

An important part of the vision for Maison de la Gare is a medical clinic to support the health of the talibé children. The clinic provides a base from which volunteers and staff can venture into the community to deliver health care to talibé children in their daaras and on the streets, while spreading the word among the talibés that help is available and building local confidence in Maison de la Gare.

Construction of the clinic was made possible by a grant from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives and donation of architectural drawings by the Canadian firm Civitas. International volunteers involved in the medical program often make valuable contributions of medical supplies, and the on-going cost of medical supplies purchased in Senegal is funded by the United Nations anti-slavery fund, the Global Fund for Children, and other international donors.  Critically, many of the essential drugs and medications for the clinic's pharmacy are provided by the Health Partners International Canada, an NGO, and are transported to Senegal on a regular basis by partners travelling from Canada.

Conditions in the daaras where the children are forced to live lead to serious medical issues. Cramped quarters spread disease and parasites. Unsanitary conditions are responsible for frequent infections. Poor hygiene and malnutrition cause multiple disorders. Tooth abscesses are frequent. Nurse Binta Coly explains that the children do not have their health care needs met by their marabouts and they rely on Maison de la Gare to treat common burns, cuts, parasites, infections and disease.

The nurses understand that talibés who come to Maison de la Gare for medical attention spread the word in their communities and daaras. Such word of mouth brings even more children to Maison de la Gare for care. But, not all children are able to come to the centre for help, Binta points out. Sometimes it is too far for the kids to walk, or they are too sick to travel. In these cases, Binta or medical volunteers walk to the daara to deliver treatment. If the child's condition is more serious than can be addressed on site, he will be transported to the hospital. Several children per month, on average, require such hospitalization. In these cases, Maison de la Gare pays the hospital bills to ensure the children receive the care they need.

When a talibé who is regularly involved in Maison de la Gare’s programs, Mamadou Diao, broke his leg badly in two places, the staff took him directly to the hospital for treatment. His leg healed badly and an infection developed, not surprising given the children's living conditions.  Since that time Nurses Binta and Anta have cared for him daily to ensure his successful recovery.

The nurses comment that what often starts as a simple scrape or cut quickly can become infected, given the unsanitary conditions these children return to each night. Furthermore, most of the kids don't have shoes. So, a cut on a foot does not stand a chance of healing cleanly unless treated immediately, with dressings reapplied daily. Many of the cases that the Maison de la Gare nurses see are already infected and need antibiotic treatment. A simple cut for a talibé can lead to loss of limb or even loss of life if left unattended.

Maison de la Gare is fortunate to benefit from the participation of international volunteers in the medical program. Volunteers work at the clinic side by side with Binta and Anta. One of the great benefits of volunteer participation is the possibility to expand medical outreach to visit more children in more daaras.  Even volunteers with medical training can be unfamiliar with some of the medical issues common to the talibes. Before volunteers venture out into the community, nurse Binta Coly instructs them on the common issues encountered in the field and proper uses of medications, and ensures that they are properly equipped.

Some of the older talibés accompany the medical excursion groups, leading them to the daaras of children in need. A few of these older boys have become familiar with the methods of treatment for common talibé ailments, and have begun to participate in health care activities themselves. They are developing a keen interest in health care and are acquiring useful skills as well as providing valuable assistance.

The staff and volunteers alike are sensitive to the fact that talibé children crave recognition and affection. Sometime children present themselves at the clinic or in the daaras without clear health care needs. In these situations, Binta says that it is still important to treat them with respect and affection. She will clean the "pretend wound" knowing that she is treating a wounded spirit, sending away a smiling, satisfied talibé. The talibé children of Saint Louis are coming to know they can rely on Maison de la Gare.

Rowan inventorying medications provided by HPIC
Rowan inventorying medications provided by HPIC
Sonia interviewing Binta and Anta for this report
Sonia interviewing Binta and Anta for this report
Nurse Binta Coly with two adoring patients
Nurse Binta Coly with two adoring patients
Binta cares for Mamadou Diao
Binta cares for Mamadou Diao's leg
Volunteers care for talibe children in a daara
Volunteers care for talibe children in a daara
The nurses keep careful records of talibes treated
The nurses keep careful records of talibes treated
Talibe Arouna cares for other children in a daara
Talibe Arouna cares for other children in a daara
A talibe shows his treated toe, basking in the TLC
A talibe shows his treated toe, basking in the TLC

Links:

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!
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