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...
Jan 8, 2015

An Evening with Runaway Talibe Children

Awaking runaway talibes, as Sonia and Rowan watch
Awaking runaway talibes, as Sonia and Rowan watch

Sonia and Rowan share an extraordinary experience 

I have had the good fortune to travel to Senegal on many occasions to support the work of Maison de la Gare in aid of talibé street children.  My teenage daughter, Rowan, has accompanied me in this work three times, becoming personally committed to the cause of ending forced begging and supporting Maison de la Gare in bringing hope to the talibés of Saint Louis.  On a previous visit, we accompanied Issa Kouyaté on one of his regular midnight "Rondes de nuit" in search of runaway talibé children.  And, on our most recent visit, we spent an evening with the runaway boys currently in the care of Maison de la Gare.

Rowan writes:  "I volunteered for the first time with Maison de la Gare in 2012.  I had an amazing experience delivering books, organizing the library, and setting up e-mail accounts for some of the talibé children.  It wasn't until my second trip that I went out onto the streets and into some daaras.  I was shocked and very emotional at the conditions I saw in the daaras where my friends had to live.  But the most powerful part for me was going out on what are called night rounds.  

On night rounds Issa, and in this case me, my mother, my grandfather and a man who helps Issa find runaways, went out in search of talibé boys who have left their daaras and are living on the streets.  Issa talks with them and convinces them to go back to his home where they can stay until authorities give the go-ahead for Maison de la Gare to take them back to their villages or, in some cases, return them to their daaras.  We headed out at one in the morning when it was pitch black.

The usually chaotic streets of Saint Louis were dead quiet, and after a day of about 35 degrees (95 F), it was suddenly cold.  We met Issa and then took a taxi to a place where an informant had told him that there may be kids sleeping.  The first place we checked was a parking lot for buses and taxis.  It was explained to me that runaways will often sleep under cars to stay hidden from pedophiles or others who could hurt them.  

We were leaving the lot and heading back into the streets when we saw them.  Four young boys in a lighted corner huddled together.  They used their tee-shirts to cover their whole bodies by pulling them over their heads and tucking in arms, legs and feet.  Issa gently woke them one by one, talking to them in Wolof, and convinced them to come with us.  I couldn't help but wonder what they might be thinking.  Imagine some strangers waking you up in the middle of the night and asking you to go with them.  Issa pointed out that one of the little boys named Gora had likely been sexually assaulted.  He couldn't have been older than 7.  My heart almost broke.  There he was shivering in the corner, looking at me.  I wasn't sure what to do; all I wanted to do was give him a hug and tell him everything would be okay.  But of course I can't speak Wolof, so I gave him my sweater.  

We took the four boys back to Issa's apartment in taxis and got them settled down with blankets.  The next morning we went to the centre and the boys from the night before were there.  Despite the heat, I saw Gora was still wearing my sweater, and I swear I saw him smile at me just once."

During our most recent trip, Maison de la Gare was caring for four other runaway talibés in Issa's small apartment.  Rowan and I brought a take-out meal and colouring supplies and settled in for the evening while Issa had to be out of the house for a meeting.  Each child has his own story.  But what they have in common is that they are all children denied their basic human rights.  And they are denied what all children need, attention and affection.

Mohammed is a fifteen year old boy.  He is from Dakar, and he came to Saint Louis to work.  He seems even younger than his age, and was soon being exploited.  He loves to draw.  Mohammed drew pictures of a marabout whipping a crying child, and of crying children holding insufficient coins for their quotas in their hands.

Ousman, about age 8, and Mousanger, age 12, were picked up by the local police for stealing.  Talibé children who are desperate to meet their quotas will resort to stealing to avoid feared consequences.  The police had entrusted the children to Issa.  Both boys thoroughly enjoyed their meals and the company.  They both drew picture after picture of the food we ate that night, offering some of the drawings to us as gifts.

The most heartbreaking case was Pape, a child of only five years.  He had severe injuries on his ankles where his marabout had kept him chained for days.  His situation is considered severe and the police have called his marabout to present himself for questioning.  The marabout, however, has made himself scarce.  Perhaps the marabout will reappear once the wounds have had a chance to heal and he considers the evidence erased.  Issa's photo record will be waiting.  Pape was shy and quiet. He drew many pictures of his village and clearly indicated his desire to go home.  He climbed quietly into my arms and settled in for a snuggle too long denied him.  He stayed with me, leaning close for hours, and was disappointed to be gently laid on his mat when it was time for Rowan and I to leave.

Rowan gave friendship bracelets to each of the boys to remember us by.  They wore them proudly.  We will think of them as they navigate their challenging lives in the days and years to come.  At least we are comforted by the knowledge that Maison de la Gare, at least, watches out for children such as these, and will do all they can to guide them on their way.

The 4 runaway talibes next morning at MDG
The 4 runaway talibes next morning at MDG's center
Mohammed drawing, and enjoying some cake
Mohammed drawing, and enjoying some cake
Ousman, Mousanger draw to express their feelings
Ousman, Mousanger draw to express their feelings
Pape enjoys some food ...
Pape enjoys some food ...
... and finds comfort and nurture in Sonia
... and finds comfort and nurture in Sonia's arms

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Dec 18, 2014

Talibe Youth Assume Responsibility

Mamadou, Arouna, Ablaye and Soulayemane
Mamadou, Arouna, Ablaye and Soulayemane

Transition to an independent life - The talibé children served by Maison de la Gare are boys, often as young as age four, who live in horrific conditions in daaras and are forced to beg or work for monetary quotas as well as their own needs.  Maison de la Gare offers hope to these children by providing an oasis of safety and caring, as well the key to a better life through education.  Some talibés, despite a life dominated by discrimination and forced begging, attend Maison de la Gare’s classes and programs for years, achieving a level of literacy and skill that will enable them to lead a successful independent life, be enrolled in the formal school system, and realistically aspire to higher education.

Some talibés who have long been involved with Maison de la Gare’s programs have taken the initiative to provide guidance and support for younger talibés and to involve themselves in the operation of the centre, while developing an admirable commitment to Maison de la Gare’s objectives.  Some are still tied to their daaras with forced begging commitments, while others are old enough to be released by their marabouts but have no place else to live. Despite their developing competencies, these boys are not ready for full independence due to on-going education, not yet having fully gained the necessary tools, and lack of any family support.

Several of these particularly competent senior talibés of long association with Maison de la Gare are being involved formally in the operation of the centre and its programs.

Arouna Kandé serves as Assistant to the Administrator.  From the Kolda region of Senegal, Arouna has attended classes and participated in Maison de la Gare’s programs for many years. Arouna's perseverance and recognition of the importance of education as the key to a better life has led him to successfully navigate formal public schooling. He has struggled with discrimination at school, the death of both parents, and living conditions which have made studying near impossible, and yet he persists. And, thanks to Maison de la Gare, Arouna is currently registered in the fourth level of secondary school. He is determined at any price to complete his education.   Arouna is well known and admired among the talibés, and continues to be a shining example for them.  He is always on the lookout for talibés in difficulty and has long been willing to lend a helping hand wherever needed.

Mamadou Kandé is working as Site Manager of Maison de la Gare’s centre. An older talibé, also from the Kolda region, he was neglected by his family and has been in Saint Louis for many years. In 2012 a friend in Mamadou's daara suggested he visit Maison de la Gare. He began attending classes daily and has been making progress in learning French.  He took a particular interest in the garden and it soon became apparent that he has a natural affinity with plants and horticulture.  He has become known as "Mamadou du jardin".  Mamadou has a very gentle and supportive manner with the younger talibés.  Due to his reliable nature, Maison de la Gare's team had been entrusting him with increasing responsibilities at the centre, leading to him taking on this new role.

Souleymane Ndiaye assists Maison de la Gare’s medical staff with health care and hygiene.  He was introduced to Maison de la Gare in 2012 when he needed to be hospitalized for anemia.   Maison de la Gare paid for his treatment and followed his progress when his marabout left him on his own.  Souleymane has lived in a daara for many years, but has found the time to attend Maison de la Gare’s literacy classes regularly.  Souleymane’s medical history has led him to take an interest in the health care and hygiene programs at the centre, and he has assumed leadership of a tooth brushing program for the younger talibés. He works in collaboration with the nurses to improve the children's oral hygiene, and otherwise in support of the healthcare programs.

Ablaye Mballo is Maison de la Gare’s Maintenance Manager.  He is one of the centre's pioneers, and has been involved with Maison de la Gare since its beginnings in the former train station in 2008.  There, he attended French classes and participated in other activities such as sport and wrestling.  Ablaye has become a quiet but constant presence at Maison de la Gare. He has a strong mechanical aptitude, and has assisted Mamadou for several years in the development and care of the garden, helping to make it the oasis it is today.

 

Your donation can support these senior talibés as they settle into their roles in Maison de la Gare’s leadership team.  Inviting older talibés to take responsibility in this way is a natural next step in realizing our hopes for them. After all, what better example could be set for young talibés grasping for hope and meaning?  And, who could have a better appreciation for Maison de la Gare’s objectives or a more fastidious commitment to achieving those objectives than the very people this centre was created to help?

Arouna Kande, Assistant to the Administrator
Arouna Kande, Assistant to the Administrator
Mamadou Kande, Site Manager
Mamadou Kande, Site Manager
Souleymane Ndiaye, Health Care and Hygiene Aide
Souleymane Ndiaye, Health Care and Hygiene Aide
Ablaye Mballo, Maintenance Manager
Ablaye Mballo, Maintenance Manager

Links:

Nov 27, 2014

A Jewel for the Talibe Children of Saint Louis

From dream to reality, in six months
From dream to reality, in six months

The next step towards a better life - Maison de la Gare has long been a welcoming haven for the talibé boys of Saint Louis who are far from home and family and forced to beg for many hours each day by the marabouts who control their lives. This mission has recently been enhanced.

Maison de la Gare's welcome centre has grown over the years to include classrooms, toilets and showers, a medical clinic, a library, apprenticeship training areas, and a beautiful and productive garden. But, from the beginning, Issa Kouyaté always hoped to one day be able to provide the talibés with even more ... a home of their own that, even if temporarily, would provide refuge during crises and times of transition. This residence could help the children off the streets to safety, or provide a secure base while they transition to independent lives.  An unused corner of the Maison de la Gare site has waited behind the classrooms, unused, waiting for the right moment.

That right moment recently arrived thanks to generous donations from GO Campaign, from GlobalGiving donors and from many other international contributors, together with the donation of architectural plans by Civitas Architecture of Ottawa, Canada.

Plans were finalized during the spring of 2014, a contractor was hired, and ground was broken. By October, the dream was a reality. The new building is a jewel for Saint Louis and for the talibé children of this city.  Talibés of all ages are excited to be offered one more proof that their efforts and their hopes for a better future are being supported by people who care.

The new building serves distinct needs: an emergency shelter for runaway talibés rescued from the streets; a transitional residence for older talibés able to leave their daaras but still working to complete their schooling or prepare for independent lives; and, a kitchen to cook nutritious meals for the hundreds of children served by Maison de la Gare.

The emergency shelter will serve talibé children who are in the most difficult and serious situations ... runaways. Talibés typically run away from their daaras due to severe physical abuse.   Failure to obtain the full daily begging quota can cause a child to decide to run in order to avoid the expected punishment.  At least weekly, Issa ventures out past midnight in search of runaway talibés.  When he finds children, asleep in groups in well lit corners or all alone tucked away under cars or trucks to avoid trouble, he gently wakes them and coaxes them home with him.  There are often as many as ten such children under Maison de la Gare’s care.  These are the desperate children who will live and be cared for in the new emergency shelter, until complaints against their marabouts are resolved with the police or the children are escorted home.

Maison de la Gare provides baguette-based snacks to hundreds of children each day. However, the scope of the food offered has been limited, due to lack of space or a means of cooking.   The new building includes a well equipped kitchen which will make it possible to provide nutritious meals to all of the talibés who find their way to Maison de la Gare, as well as the children living in the emergency shelter and the transitional residence.  And, now there is a means of effectively storing and preparing the bounty of Maison de la Gare’s productive garden.  As soon as the kitchen opened, the teachers thought of another use and were soon making fruit drinks to offer the young talibés to entice more into their classrooms.

The new building will also be a home to older talibé boys who are, happily, reaching the end of their time of domination by their marabout in the daara. Unfortunately, sometimes children feel forced to remain in a daara past the time they could otherwise leave, because they have no home to return to or because they simply have no idea how to live independently other than by continuing to beg or do hard labour. And others, who have been making good progress in school or apprenticeship programs, would be forced to cut that education short before they are ready.  These children will find a home in the new transitional residence, a secure base from which they can complete their journeys to independence.

It is these older talibés who are most excited about the new building. Several took immediate responsibility for its care, offering to organize furniture, make beds, and clean.  Most of these children do not remember ever having slept in a bed. There was much discussion about how, exactly, to use one.  Does one lie on top, or under the sheets?  Why are there two sheets?   And, there was some excited confusion about the purpose of bath towels.  Maison de la Gare’s staff will help them figure it out and feel at home, and will ensure that this next step for them is one more on a path to true independence and a successful life.

It was your support that made possible this amazing new resource for the talibé children.  And, it is your continued support that will let us realize its full potential.  Thank you!!

The site, waiting- Issa & Mapate meet a contractor
The site, waiting- Issa & Mapate meet a contractor
Issa with Mamadou, in front of MDG
Issa with Mamadou, in front of MDG's new "jewel"
Issa climbs to 2nd floor, Mamadou to the rooftop
Issa climbs to 2nd floor, Mamadou to the rooftop
Runaway talibes, the raison d
Runaway talibes, the raison d'etre of the shelter
Mamadou admires one of the three new washrooms
Mamadou admires one of the three new washrooms
Teachers Aida, Bouri prepare juice in new kitchen
Teachers Aida, Bouri prepare juice in new kitchen
Talibes Ablaye and Mamadou hang out in new shelter
Talibes Ablaye and Mamadou hang out in new shelter

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