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...
Mar 14, 2014

A Swiss Volunteer's Unique Contribution

Francesca painting new mural on MDG entrance
Francesca painting new mural on MDG entrance

Maison de la Gare Arts Program

I lived a wonderful month of exchange and discovery in Saint Louis.

When I left home, I didn't know exactly where I'd be going, and I especially had no idea of how precious these children were that I would encounter, the talibés. Gradually, as they say there nank nank, I discovered who they are, the difficult conditions in which they live, and how much Maison de la Gare helps them every day.

Following the night in their daaras, the children came early in the mornings to Maison de la Gare's center to take a shower and clean their clothes. There, I began to help them a little bit, especially the smaller ones who were less skilled. After that, it was time for the infirmary. Playing and walking without shoes in the streets, the children often hurt themselves, in particular because their skin is delicate because of their poor hygiene. After a few days Lydie, another volunteer, taught me how to treat the most common injuries. This allowed me to get to know the children better. I admired their courage when they allowed severe injuries to be treated without complaining. And I loved responding to the smaller children's requests for bandages on wounds that had already healed, an excuse for them to experience a little bit of affection.

For the rest of the time before the teachers started teaching French and math lessons in the afternoon, I worked with the children doing drawings with different techniques and making colourful bracelets. It was often not easy to keep their attention because they are very active. However the attention that they committed to this activity was rewarded each time with wonderful pieces of art and a great sense of satisfaction. With the children and other Maison de la Gare staff and volunteers, Abdoul, Lydie, Aladji and Mapaté, we decorated the exterior wall of the center with an enormous, colourful mural. In fact this was a lot of work, but to see the result was pure joy!

My stay in Senegal was great thanks to all the people whom I met there. My host family welcomed me as if I were in my own home, and they introduced me to much of their culture. Maison de la Gare's staff and Issa, the director, were always available to support me. They are really a good and efficient team working with great dedication to improve the situation of the talibé children. And of course there were children, with their vivacity (and dances!). When I was with them, I wasn't aware of time passing and I found the strong bonds among them to be thrilling. It makes me wonder even more how society can ignore these children.

When I arrived, I intended to stay at Maison de la Gare for just three weeks, and then to use my last week to discover another city. However, I ended spending the entire time there, feeling that this was the minimum needed to fully appreciate this experience.

 _______

This report is dedicated to the memory of Mbaye Kâ, a perfect child to my eyes with a deep voice and a beautiful smile missing two teeth. He had a sweet and wild character with wise eyes so wonderful and true that it’s difficult to explain in words. Although he was small, he almost always won when wrestling with his friends. This little 7 year old boy died of malaria in December 2013. May his beauty still be with us and may the earth be light for him.

Francesca with her art students
Francesca with her art students
Caring for a talibe in MDG infirmary
Caring for a talibe in MDG infirmary
Animating art activities in the library
Animating art activities in the library
Amadou Diao making a bracelet in Francesca
Amadou Diao making a bracelet in Francesca's class
Mbaye Ka, a talibe child precious to Francesca
Mbaye Ka, a talibe child precious to Francesca
Finished mural, welcoming children to the center
Finished mural, welcoming children to the center

Links:

Feb 21, 2014

Excursion to Bango

Bouri explains importance of water, source of life
Bouri explains importance of water, source of life

A step towards a balanced and healthy life

Maison de la Gare works to give the talibé children a better understanding of their environment and of the world beyond their lives in their daaras and on the streets.  Thanks to the support of Maison de la Gare's international partners, excursions are included in the curriculum of the children who come to the organization's center in Saint Louis, and this allows them to feel involved in the broader Senegalese community.  Such excursions are particularly valuable for these children who live in very difficult circumstances and are not able to take charge of their own learning.

In this context Bouri MBodj, a teacher in Maison de la Gare's center, organized a field trip to Bango on the banks of the Senegal River so that the children could experience the amazing diversity of this place that is only a few tens of kilometers from Saint Louis.

For many of these children, this was the first time that they had had such an experience.  Bango is one of the extensions of the Saint Louis region, stretching northward on the right bank of the Senegal River.   The area has been populated over time by the Peulh community, but it is also important for all Senegalese.  The largest military training center in Senegal is in Bango, and half of the country's fruit crop comes from this region.  The Bango region is particularly notable for its biodiversity, reflecting both the close proximity of the Senegal River and the open spaces which have been preserved for natural vegetation and animals such as monkeys, warthogs and hippopotamuses.  Mangrove trees are found along the river, together with the great variety of aquatic species which they harbour.

After completing our visit, we spent time with the children to help them to understand and retain what they had learned about this area and its environment.  They learned the meaning and significance of words and concepts including mangroves, fish nests, riverbed, and degradation of arable areas.  The correct answers which the children gave to Bouri and to Bineta Coly, MDG's nurse who had accompanied them, showed that they had learned well from this experience.

And after the explanations, we took action!  We illustrated the value of nature during a session on tooth brushing - information for example on the type of wood to be used.  There are species around us that can heal the body without a lot of expense, such as the "kad" fruit tree that produces tamarind and of which the wood bleeds a fluid that hardens the enamel of teeth.  Many children took advantage of twigs from this tree to brush their teeth.

At the end of the day, we celebrated with a well-earned lunch break, and all of the children returned to Saint Louis with some positive ideas and a better understanding of the environment that they live in.

It was a wonderful day for children and young people of Maison de la Gare's center!  Please help us with your donations to make more such excursions possible.

A change of scenery to see the mangroves
A change of scenery to see the mangroves
Questions, answers!  What nature can provide.
Questions, answers! What nature can provide.
Time for action in a tooth-brushing session!
Time for action in a tooth-brushing session!
Answering questions from Bineta Coly, MDG nurse
Answering questions from Bineta Coly, MDG nurse
Talibe Kalidou Balde helps prepare the meal
Talibe Kalidou Balde helps prepare the meal
We appreciate our lunch break on the river bank
We appreciate our lunch break on the river bank

Links:

Feb 3, 2014

American Ambassador at Maison de la Gare

Ambassador Lukens touring the MDG center
Ambassador Lukens touring the MDG center

Visit to MDG of the Ambassador of the United States, Lewis Lukens

On Thursday, January 23, 2014, Maison de la Gare was honored to receive the visit of Mr. Lewis Lukens, Ambassador of the United States to Senegal.  Upon his arrival in Senegal, Mr. Lukens was shocked by the situation of begging talibé street children.  To combat this scourge, Mr. Lukens invited other foreign ambassadors to Senegal to discuss this problem with him, and to act.  He subsequently organized a round table with local organizations working for children, including Maison de la Gare, to find with them practical avenues for improving the situation.  Thus, Ambassador Lukens has given himself a second mission in Senegal in addition to his diplomatic role ... to help to improve the lives of the talibé street children.  In this context, he travelled to Saint Louis to visit Maison de la Gare and to see and experience this organization's struggle on behalf of the talibé children.

It was around 5:30 in the afternoon that Mr. Lukens entered the gates of Maison de la Gare's Saint Louis center, accompanied by Ms. Elisabeth El Khodary, his economic, commercial and policy attaché.  He was warmly welcomed to the center by MDG's president, Issa Kouyaté.  The talibé children in the center were amazed to see such an important personage coming to enquire into their lives and situation.  Seeing the intense involvement of the children in their activities, Ambassador Lukens took time to observe them, and then to congratulate them and to chat with  several of them.

Issa then took the ambassador on a tour of the entire center, visiting the administration office, the library, the infirmary, the garden, and the classrooms.  They also visited the location where Maison de la Gare plans to build a transitional residence for talibé children in crisis, where Issa explained this vision for this new initiative. 

After the tour, Mr. Lukens and Issa met and discussed in the center's office, together with Ms. El Khodary, the center's administrator, and two U.S. Peace Corps volunteers stationed in Saint Louis.  The discussions focused on Maison de la Gare's work, its achievements and the challenges which it faces.  The Ambassador reassured us that, despite the limited time remaining to him in his posting in Senegal, he will use his influence at the policy level to change things so that the talibé street children can look forward to a better tomorrow.

Our appreciation to Saint Louis web news journal Ndarinfo for permission to use two of their excellent photographs of the event.

Issa Kouyate in discussion with Ambassador Lukens
Issa Kouyate in discussion with Ambassador Lukens
Talibe children waiting to meet the ambassador
Talibe children waiting to meet the ambassador
Issa presenting his vision for a new crisis center
Issa presenting his vision for a new crisis center
Ambassador Lukens visiting an MDG classroom
Ambassador Lukens visiting an MDG classroom

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