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...
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:

Aug 14, 2014

Cultivating a Garden and a New Life

The produce of Maison de la Gare
The produce of Maison de la Gare's garden

Mamadou Kandé’s Road to Freedom

Talibé children are forced to beg by their marabouts, and rarely have the opportunity to be educated or to learn any practical skills which could eventually allow them to transition to an independent life. The garden at Maison de la Gare is changing that bleak future for several talibé children, including Mamadou Kandé.

Mamadou became a talibé later in life than is usual, as a young adult. He is from Kolda in the south of Senegal. Mamadou's family did not provide him with an education. When his father died, Mamadou's mother sent him to a daara in Saint Louis to learn the Koran. Unfortunately, his marabout in Saint Louis sent him out to beg instead of offering a Koranic education. Thus, Mamadou found himself working in the market hauling merchandise or in the harbour unloading fish to earn the required daily quota of money. And, his goal of learning the Koran or anything else remained elusive.

In 2012 a talibé at his daara convinced Mamadou to visit Maison de la Gare in the afternoons, after his quota had been earned, to learn some basic French and mathematics. Mamadou immediately saw Maison de la Gare for the opportunity it is: a chance for the education he sought, a place of friendship and encouragement, and a source of helping hands to support him in navigating his difficult life. Since his introduction to Maison de la Gare, Mamadou has diligently attended classes every day, and is making good progress.

Mamadou has a quiet and gentle spirit. Yet, he is fiercely loyal to Maison de la Gare. Mamadou also has keen interest in the garden. He spent all the time he could watching and learning the gardening techniques used, participating whenever the opportunity arose. It soon became apparent that Mamadou's love for the garden is underpinned by a natural affinity and true talent caring for plants and managing a garden.

Mamadou has the opportunity at Maison de la Gare to develop his horticulture skill and micro-gardening ability to the point of self-sufficiency. Once Mamadou's French language skill is better developed, Maison de la Gare hopes to find the funds to enrol him in a higher education course of horticulture to help him achieve his goals.

Mamadou intends to become one of the first to leave his daara and his marabout's influence and move into the new "Foyer de Transition" for talibés in transition to independence, planned for construction this year at Maison de la Gare. As he steps closer to a successful and productive life, he plans to continue to contribute his talents to Maison de la Gare and the young talibé children whom it serves.

Mamadou's path to independence needs support outside of Maison de la Gare. A donation through GlobalGiving can contribute to his continuing higher horticultural education or to the construction fund for the "Foyer de Transition".

Mamadou has already earned the primary responsibility for the care of the Maison de la Gare garden. And, he has the right to sell part of his harvest in the market, a far better way to earn his marabout's daily quota that develops his business skill even as he frees himself from the life of a beggar or heavy labourer. Mamadou takes his role in the garden very seriously. He knows it is his key to a better life. Mamadou can daily be found quietly watering, pruning, reorganizing beds, planting and harvesting the garden's bounty. He watches anxiously as the young talibes enjoy a game of football or wrestle closer than they should to his garden. But, he understands the children need to play. So, when a tender shoot's life is cut short by a soccer ball, or running feet, Mamadou does not admonish or complain. He simply replants. And, life in the garden carries on.

Sonia interviewing Mamadou for this article
Sonia interviewing Mamadou for this article
Mamadou listens intently in an MDG French class
Mamadou listens intently in an MDG French class
Mamadou removes the cover to show off his bananas
Mamadou removes the cover to show off his bananas
Watering the mint crop
Watering the mint crop
Mamadou connects with e-mail friend in Canada
Mamadou connects with e-mail friend in Canada
Preparing the soil for a new planting of beans
Preparing the soil for a new planting of beans

Links:

Jul 24, 2014

Night Time Struggle to Save the Talibes

Issa with a child found sleeping in the street
Issa with a child found sleeping in the street

Maison de la Gare needs your help to complete its new emergency shelter

"When they can no longer tolerate their lives as talibés, brutally exploited and subjected to forced labour, they flee their daaras and end up in the street.  There, they are exposed to all the dangers of life on the street...  To protect these children, activist Issa Kouyaté patrols the streets of this centuries old city, determined to offer them a better future.

They take advantage of the veil of darkness to escape the rigors of their daaras and to find quiet places where they can be at peace...  In Saint Louis, many talibés run to such stinking and dangerous places to escape the heavy hand of their marabout...  The brutal punishments that they are subjected to when they fall short on their begging or other duties drive them to abandon the marabout and his daara and to invent for themselves an alternative destiny, one which can be just as cruel as the one they escape from.

Unable to withstand the abuse and misery in their daaras or simply preferring abandoned alleyways, they run away and take shelter near the fishing district, Guet Ndar, in Saint Louis.  But here they are still at risk of being exploited and abused...  In this hostile environment, they are totally disconnected from their families and any support system.  

However, these children in crisis can count on a powerful ally.

Issa Kouyaté dedicates his life to this struggle.  He tries to keep the children away from the streets and offers a listening ear, an overnight shelter, and support for their lives.  He patrols the dark streets of Saint Louis himself, to wrest them from hostile environments.  Sometimes he finds them sleeping on fishing nets, and sometimes just on the sidewalk.

... Maison de la Gare offers these children psychological and medical support, access to good hygiene and clothing, food, and shelter for rest and warmth.  Here, they meet with friends to forget the harsh life on the streets for a few moments.  In this center, they do their laundry and take care of their oral hygiene by brushing with new toothbrushes offered by Issa Kouyaté.  This is the good life.  We see them laughing and running in the courtyard of the center.  They play football and djembe."

                                                         

These words are taken from a report published by journalist Ingrid Hägele in the Dakar-based newspaper Le Quotidien.  This picture that she paints was the driving force behind the decision Maison de la Gare took a few months ago, the decision to build inside its center in Saint Louis an emergency shelter for these children.  This decision was made possible by the generosity of the organization GO Campaign in the United States, GlobalGiving donors worldwide, and friends of Maison de la Gare in Canada through the Rev. C.F. Johnston Foundation.  We are profoundly grateful to everyone who has made this transformative project possible.

But we need your help to complete the job.  The total cost including furnishings will be $53,500, and we are about $10,000 short.  Will you help us to complete this project and meet this urgent need?  It is you who makes it all possible!  Thank you for your support.

Issa gently wakes 1 of 4 talilbes found by road
Issa gently wakes 1 of 4 talilbes found by road
Plans for new residence, from Civitas of Ottawa
Plans for new residence, from Civitas of Ottawa
May 2014 - the work begins
May 2014 - the work begins
Week 2 - the walls start to rise
Week 2 - the walls start to rise
Week 4 - the second floor takes shape
Week 4 - the second floor takes shape

Links:

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