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...
Oct 16, 2014

Volunteering with Maison de la Gare

Sam teaching a French class, while Issa watches
Sam teaching a French class, while Issa watches

Reflections from Sam Whaley, while volunteering with Maison de la Gare

"Well here I am in Saint-Louis, Senegal, and it sure has been quite the adventure already.

I flew into Dakar a few weeks ago and, from the start, I was impressed by the level of organization that Maison de la Gare displays in terms of getting its volunteers to Saint-Louis.  Just outside the airport, I easily spotted the man holding the sign with my name, who kindly led me to the hotel where I would be staying the night.  The hotel, breakfast, and taxi that took me to Saint-Louis the next morning were all prepaid by Maison de la Gare, and I never felt unsure of what to do or where to go.  In an environment where I was immediately out of my comfort zone, this organization was certainly welcome.

The drive from Dakar to the northern city of Saint-Louis lasted about four hours, and I spent the drive’s entirety staring out the window as we drove through small villages full of mango-vendors, past gorgeous mosques which stood out against the rest of the simpler buildings, and over desert that seemed to stretch on forever.

In Saint Louis, I was taken directly to meet my host family and, as anyone who has stayed with a host family before knows, it is simultaneously the most nerve-wracking and most exciting part of the trip.  I quickly saw, however, that I had no reason to be nervous as the family of six (I think… there seems to always be guests over) welcomed me as one of their own, preparing deliciously spicy food and speaking slowly so that I could understand their accents that drastically differ from the European French accents with which I was familiar.

Every afternoon, I come home and my host sisters bring me my lunch, which is very considerate as the day I arrived was, by coincidence, the first day of Ramadan.  This means that I, as a non-Muslim, am the only person in the family who eats or drinks between sunrise and sunset.  From what I’ve been told, this month of fasting changes the feeling of Saint Louis significantly, as many spend the scorchingly hot afternoons resting so as to conserve the energy they lack from fasting all day and resting little at night.  At around 9 p.m., the entire family gathers around a large, communal dish of what is typically rice and fish for dinner.  This is an awesome time for the family to come together and for me to get to find out a little more about them and Senegalese culture in general.

And now the reason I’m actually here, Maison de la Gare.

I start my Monday through Friday mornings at 10 a.m., heading out into the bright sun and walking the 15ish minutes it takes to get to the center.  I take a break during the hottest part of the day to eat lunch at home and return around 4:30 p.m. and stay until about 7:30 p.m. 

While I signed up to be an education volunteer, I do a wide variety of activities with the talibé children.  For those of you who don’t know, the talibés are a group of boys who attend Koranic school under the direction of a marabout.  They live together in very poor conditions and are often abused, denied education in any other subject, and forced to spend a significant amount of time begging for money for their marabout.

Maison de la Gare's center is a place where the boys have access to education, basic health care, and more of what they miss out on.  The center is comprised of the administrative office, the library where the kids can use their French skills and broaden their vocabulary, a small kitchen where their evening food is prepared, the infirmary where they can get some healthcare, showers, classrooms, and a big open area with a garden where the kids play soccer and spend the majority of the day.

I spend most of my mornings giving one-on-one or one-on-two English lessons, which are primarily aimed at the older boys.  I teach these lessons in a mixture of French and English, helping some talibés with basic vocabulary and the alphabet and others with more difficult grammatical structures and tenses.  In the evening I teach the younger kids French.  This would normally take place under the supervision of the center’s own Senegalese professors, but as they take the month of Ramadan off, I am the sole professor during my stay.  I have had some experience teaching foreign languages, but without a common language to fall back on when things get too complicated, it has proven to be incredibly challenging.  Even given that, I still feel that I’ve made some progress – at the least, they can introduce themselves in French!

When not teaching, I play cards or checkers with the smaller kids with whom I communicate through gestures and expressions.  But even with this limited communication, I am able to see how grateful they are to have somewhere to just be kids, to not have to worry about begging or food or any of the other worries these children should never have to think about.  When I first arrived there was another volunteer from Sweden at the center who was in charge of the infirmary, but she recently headed home, leaving me with that responsibility as well.  When needed, I clean and disinfect the children’s cuts and scrapes, but with the limited supplies and medications, I often feel myself wishing I could do more.  I just keep reminding myself that the little that I provide them is better than the nothing they would otherwise have.

Maison de la Gare’s director, Issa, is an incredibly hardworking man who has had a huge impact on the lives of these children.  Under his and the other staff members' direction, Maison de la Gare has become a haven for these children and continues to become even more incredible.  With the help of GO Campaign, the center will soon be opening a new building that will serve as an emergency shelter for children in crisis as well as a new kitchen.  New volunteers are always coming and going, sharing their ideas for how to continue to make the center a better place for everyone.  While my stay is short at just under a month long, I’ve already seen what great places Saint Louis and Maison de la Gare really are.

My time here has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve come to appreciate the cultural differences and see the beauty of these people who are so content with what is considered so little by American standards.

It’s been an experience I won’t ever forget, and I look forward to the possibility of returning in the future."

 

Thank you to everyone who supports Maison de la Gare so generously to make its work, and Sam's experience, possible.

Sam with his Saint Louis host family
Sam with his Saint Louis host family
With host sister Adja Ngosse overlooking St. Louis
With host sister Adja Ngosse overlooking St. Louis
Sam with talibe children in MDG center in St.Louis
Sam with talibe children in MDG center in St.Louis
Treating an injured talibe child in the infirmary
Treating an injured talibe child in the infirmary
Thumbs up, with talibe children in MDG centre
Thumbs up, with talibe children in MDG centre

Links:

Sep 25, 2014

In Memoriam - Djiby Aliou Sow

Djiby, full of life with his friends (on the left)
Djiby, full of life with his friends (on the left)

Our president Issa Kouyate writes: "Maison de la Gare must announce the sad news of a young child with tetanus who died 18 days after contracting the disease.

It was sad news for the talibé children who knew this child, who came from Dagana in the north of Senegal for treatment in Saint Louis.

The story began with a call from our administrator, Mapaté Bousso, telling me that a young talibé had arrived at emergency at the Regional Hospital of Saint Louis, suffering from tetanus and in very critical condition. We responded immediately, going to the hospital to learn what we could about the child’s condition, and what we could do to support him in recovering his health as quickly as possible.

It's always hard to recover when you are suffering from certain acute diseases. After ten days of waiting in emergency, often on a respirator, we began to have doubts about the recovery of this child who by now had fallen into a deep coma.

His parents came from Dagana to offer their support during these difficult moments, prayers were offered every day, and Maison de la Gare was there to help in every way possible.  However, at the beginning of the third week the disease worsened and, after 18 days, my phone rang at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon with the news of the death of this young man whom we had all hoped would return to life after his long stay in the dark.  We all prayed that he would come back to us, but in vain.

We are determined to learn from this experience, so that it will not happen again.

Prevention is better than cure.

To all those who knew and cared for Djiby, we send our most sincere condolences. "

Mapaté went to the hospital every day to look after the Djiby’s needs, and to local pharmacies to purchase prescribed medicines for him. He writes: "I think we all did our best to save him, but it was not to be. We must learn from his illness and do what is needed to protect other talibé children from this disease. "

Maison de la Gare has made tremendous progress in improving the quality of the lives of the talibé children it works with, through education, health care and deep human caring. However, we are not always successful. We know you share our deep sadness, and this gives us the strength to continue.

Over the course of 18 days, our expenses for Djiby’s care totalled over 400,000 francs, about $800 U.S.  This is an extreme case, but we find ourselves financing emergency hospitalization of talibé children a couple of times each month, on the average.  We have added a donation category to our listing on GlobalGiving, in the hope that some of you will be able to help us with this cost.

Links:

Sep 4, 2014

Precious Connections

Rowan initiating Skype call with Ottawa classmates
Rowan initiating Skype call with Ottawa classmates

International e-mail Connections for the Talibé Children

Rowan Hughes is a grade ten student at Ashbury College in Ottawa, Canada.  She recently returned from her second trip to Maison de la Gare as a volunteer, travelling with her mother Sonia LeRoy and her grandfather Rod LeRoy.  Rowan has been instrumental in establishing e-mail connections for dozens of talibé children with her fellow students in Ottawa.  This is her story:

"Last year when I volunteered in Senegal for the first time, my goal initially had been to deliver books and to help organize Maison de la Gare's new library. However, I recalled that when I was younger I had been pen-pals with some kids in Korea and it was a lot of fun. So, I had the idea to try to set up similar e-mail communications between my French class at Ashbury and the talibé boys I had not yet met in Senegal. I proposed the idea to my French teacher, and he thought it was great. So when it was finally time to go to Senegal in November 2012, I was very excited to get started.

When I arrived for the first time in Senegal, I was shocked by the way the talibé boys lived. I had heard many stories about them over the years from my mother who volunteered many times before. Nevertheless, it was crazy to see these children my age and younger begging on the streets, many in bare feet, most in rags.

When I first introduced the talibés to the idea of e-mail pen-pals, they knew absolutely nothing about the technology or how to send e-mails, but they wanted to have friends in Canada. It was a difficult process to try and teach them how to e-mail. After I set up e-mail addresses, we began by writing out the letters to my classmates on paper.  Then, the kids typed the messages out letter by letter as I would slowly show them where each letter was on the keyboard. I think it took about twenty minutes to type a short sentence. Eventually they hit the "send" button on the computer. That was the start of e-mail communications between completely different worlds.

E-mails were just the beginning.  We also started communicating via Skype and Facebook video calls with my classmates back home. I have seen how this whole experience of on-line communication has really impacted both sides. My friends at school in Ottawa have expanded their international understanding. And, apart from learning useful skills, I think that the "e-mail talibés" at Maison de la Gare now feel less alone. There are other people out there that are friends and think about them.

During my second volunteer trip I was busy setting up more e-mail addresses for more talibés. I hope to convince more kids at my school to join in, since so many more talibés now want to join in the e-mail communications with Canadian students. One day I walked into the library at Maison de la Gare and saw about ten children crowded around three computers; they were on Facebook and sending e-mails! On their own!

As the talibés get more comfortable with e-mail communications and Skype connections, their ties to friends in the outside world grow stronger, and so does their self confidence and desire to keep learning. It is clear that technology offers them opportunities, and so do friendships with kids like themselves in other parts of the world. I look forward to my next volunteering visit to Senegal to help my friends move toward their dreams."

With Kalidou, organizing books in MDG library
With Kalidou, organizing books in MDG library
Registering talibe children with gmail accounts
Registering talibe children with gmail accounts
1st step - writing the message, with Mamadou Diao
1st step - writing the message, with Mamadou Diao
Helping Moussa type his first e-mail message
Helping Moussa type his first e-mail message
Talibe children writing and typing their messages
Talibe children writing and typing their messages
Thrilled with connection with new Canadian friends
Thrilled with connection with new Canadian friends

Links:

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