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 17, 2014

Discovering the Talibes

Talibes intrigued by view through Jack
Talibes intrigued by view through Jack's camera

A photo-essay by Jack Wang

I travelled to Africa on a short vacation, planning to spend one week in Senegal and the other in the Gambia.  A chance meeting with Thaddaeus Lister on the flight changed all that!  Thad had worked as a volunteer with a children's organization in Senegal, and was coming for a return visit.  I was enthralled by his passionate tales of the begging talibé street children and of the work that the organization that he had worked with, Maison de la Gare, is doing with these children in Saint Louis.  Caught up in his tale, I threw my plans to the wind and joined Thad on the five hour drive from Dakar to Saint Louis.

Through Thad, I got to meet the founder of "Maison de la Gare", Issa Kouyaté.  I followed Issa closely to document his daily routine, share his struggle over the lack of funding to build and supply a better centre for the talibés kids, and witness his kindness in providing his own home as a safe shelter for talibé children who had run away from their daaras.  As a result after spending ten days with him, I have dedicated my "Talibés" photo-album to Issa Kouyaté, an honourable man who dedicates his life selflessly and relentlessly in pursuit of a better quality of living for the talibés and those around him.

Maison de la Gare is a non-governmental 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.  Getting to know these children has been an eye-opening and heartbreaking experience for me.  This is not a show-case orphanage such as I have seen in eastern Africa!  The talibé children live in daaras, "schools" where the marabout teaches them the Koran.  Often, poor families send their sons to a daara to study the Koran.  Being a "talibé" is a life-long title, and it is considered a mark of honour.  Normally, a daara is named after its marabout.  In a photo below, Marabout Seck is instructing one of his students in Daara Serigne Seck, as the student works at his many-year task of memorizing the Koran.  It is estimated that there are over 50,000 begging talibé children in Senegal, over 7,000 in Saint Louis alone.

One child in particular touched my heart.  He was always the first kid to arrive at Maison de la Gare's centre.  I can't speak Wolof, which is the most widely spoken language in Senegal.  We have never really talked to each other, but there was a rapport between us that required no language.   He liked to grab my arm to put around his shoulder.  He was said to have mental problems; however, all I could see was an innocent young boy with hope in his piercing eyes.

It is too easy to photograph the talibé children as a cliché - photographing them with broken limbs, begging on the street, or with a close-up of an unhappy face.  This might not be far from the truth.  However, there are also happy faces behind that hardship.

I hope that my photographs have portrayed these children in a more intimate light that is both dignified and honest.


MDG founder Issa Kouyate entering a daara
MDG founder Issa Kouyate entering a daara
Talibe children in a Saint Louis daara
Talibe children in a Saint Louis daara
Marabout Seck instructing a child
Marabout Seck instructing a child
A child who touched Jack
A child who touched Jack's heart
Facing a difficult life with dignity and spirit
Facing a difficult life with dignity and spirit
Talibes at play - Soccer matches organized by MDG
Talibes at play - Soccer matches organized by MDG
Talibe children of Saint Louis
Talibe children of Saint Louis

Links:

Dec 27, 2013

French Volunteers Tackle Educating Talibe children

Jenny and Jerome teaching in MDG
Jenny and Jerome teaching in MDG's classrooms

Education program

Maison de la Gare Saint Louis is a refuge. This was our first impression on entering this place, full of color and greenery, located in the heart of the city but away from its trials. Passing through its doors, the talibé become kids again. They feel safe enough there to dare to set aside for a few hours their begging bowl of rice for their Marabout and to let go to play and laugh, before having to rejoin the hard life of the daaras.

In fact, we quickly realized that Maison de la Gare is more than a refuge, aspiring also to be a place of education. How to bring some education to children whose lives are so different from ours? We tried to find the answer to this question during our stay and, for us, this answer takes many forms and remains open.

We started with the most obvious form of education: what we provide in class. Like other volunteers before us, we taught the children mathematics and French. However, we learned that the most difficult and most important task is not teaching the material, but it is to give the children the desire to come back to class the next day, to be diligent and, for the older talibés, to understand the link between coming to class and their future lives as adults.

Respect for their environment and others seemed to us to be an essential starting point. For this, we tried to establish several rules such as picking up litter on the ground, not fighting, and respecting the schedules which we posted around the center. Our aim was to provide benchmarks and teach them some rules of life in society. However, it was difficult to impose constraints as these were often misunderstood initially by children whose religious education and life are already so difficult, compounded by the language barrier.

Our idea about the role of a volunteer at Maison de la Gare was in part to provide an opening for the children - particularly the older ones - to the world beyond Saint Louis and Senegal, to help them to come to believe in the possibility of a future other than becoming Marabouts themselves.

Very quickly, we realized that it was also important to take time to teach the children the basics: washing themselves. This may seem obvious, but we came to understand that washing and knowing why we wash are not innate in children, much less so when these children live on the streets left to themselves without educational models. We organized showering for them, especially younger ones, and taught them how to use soap and to lather the body properly.

Through our little time in the daaras where the children live, we discovered their living conditions beyond Maison de la Gare and the streets of the city. In fact, only some of Saint Louis' talibé children come regularly to Maison de la Gare; these are the ones who manage "least badly " in the situation. Many other talibé children fend for themselves on the streets of Saint Louis with only occasional exposure to staff and volunteers from Maison de la Gare providing first aid in their daaras. This time in the daaras was difficult for us to handle emotionally.  This is where the magnitude of the task the Maison de la Gare is trying to accomplish really hits you. Another thing struck us forcefully here ... many of these children have totally lost their identity. They can't remember either their family name or the name of their village. The support that we were able to provide as volunteers for a short period seems very meagre in face of how much work needs to be done. We were left with two mixed feelings: refusing to be discouraged, and regretting that we couldn't do more.

Being in contact with these children gave us a great deal, even if we had to keep a certain distance in order to best help them. A look, a smile from them, and we're off again. They are amazing, so brave ... this rich experience brings us back to reality with a glaring reminder of the many privileges we enjoy at home.

Finally, we have had a glimpse of Senegalese Africa, its culture and its people that we have discovered for the first time. We met children, men and women, appreciated and enjoyed many of them and especially admired one of them, Issa, the president of Maison de la Gare who devotes himself body and soul to the talibé street children, with courage and humility. However, a single man no matter how strong or willing cannot bear alone the burden imposed on these Senegalese children.

We are happy to have been able to contribute in this struggle but so much remains to be done, and we end with a loud plea for anyone who would be willing to come and give their support in turn.

Jerome playing with children in their daara
Jerome playing with children in their daara
Jenny with tallibe children in MDG
Jenny with tallibe children in MDG's center
Jerome with a Maison de la Gare soccer team
Jerome with a Maison de la Gare soccer team
Jenny animates an obstacle course in MDG center
Jenny animates an obstacle course in MDG center
Jerome and Jenny with special friends
Jerome and Jenny with special friends

Links:

Dec 6, 2013

A Home for Talibe Children in Transition

Older talibes leaving their daara, needing a home
Older talibes leaving their daara, needing a home

Maison de la Gare's newest project - Please support us

Since Maison de la Gare's welcome center in Saint Louis opened its doors to the talibé children in late 2010, and addition of the infirmary in 2011, the center has become a second home to hundreds of children and a beacon of hope to 1000s more.  Our needs have evolved, and we now seek to complete the center with a new building that will help us to address three continuing problems:

  • Supporting integration of talibés who have become too old for the daaras - Kalidou, Abdoulaye, Mamadou and Arouna in the above photo are examples of talibé children who have grown up in Maison de la Gare's programs and are now ready to move on from their daaras.  We need to find a way to accommodate them while they complete their schooling or become established with small businesses or other employment.
  • Transitional accommodation for talibés in crisis - We regularly take charge of talibé children whom we have found sleeping on the streets at night, on the run from their daaras.  Working with the local office of the Ministry of Justice, we care for these children while arrangements are made for reintegrating them in their daaras, returning them to their home villages, or otherwise.  We need a place where they can be safely sheltered for a period of several days to several weeks.
  • Kitchen for food preparation - We need a food preparation space with a sink, an oven and counters to help us feed the talibé children whom we serve every day, with better nutrition and hygiene.  Our food is currently prepared in our office or a workshop, locations which are clearly not suited to this purpose.

To resolve these problems, we propose to use the west end of our centre next to the classrooms, which is now undeveloped.  Our vision is to build there a two-story building with a kitchen, apartments for older talibés and a dormitory for talibés in crisis.  We will define this project in detail, with full costing, over the coming months.  We are seeking financial support from every possible source to make it possible.

We have added two new donation categories for this project, and hope that you will consider helping to make it possible with your donations.


Arouna in school, and where he sleeps in his daara
Arouna in school, and where he sleeps in his daara
Run-away talibes found in "night runs"
Run-away talibes found in "night runs"
Preparing food on the floor of the center
Preparing food on the floor of the center's office
The project site within Maison de la Gare
The project site within Maison de la Gare's center

Links:

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