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...
Jul 12, 2013

A Garden Oasis for the Talibes

Talibe children checking out the flowers
Talibe children checking out the flowers

Even before the walls of Maison de la Gare's center were first raised in 2010, founder Issa Kouyate had a clear vision of a green, productive garden sanctuary to welcome and inspire the talibés of Saint Louis.  He intended that the garden be planted and nurtured by the talibés themselves, so that they could feel a true sense of ownership of something beautiful.

Today, the garden is an oasis from the hot and dusty world of forced begging.  It contributes welcome shade, colour, and a feeling of peacefulness to Maison de la Gare’s centre. Banana, date, lime, mango, mandarin and Nebedaye trees grow taller and stronger with every season.  Papaya and coconut trees will soon also take hold, contributing to the bounty of the garden.  An iron trellis trains grape vines over a patio.  And the talibés coax regular harvests of sweet potato, tomatoes, hot peppers, carrots, mint, melons and beans.

An older talibé, Mamadou, is the primary guardian of the Maison de la Gare garden.  He arrives early each day to water thirsty plants and tend young seedlings.  Ablaye also enjoys working in the garden, helping it to thrive.  Both boys attend Maison de la Gare classes regularly and have email relationships with students in Canada.  Mamadou is too old to have a realistic hope of being registered in the public school system, even though his French language skills are improving.  However, he is developing valuable skills as a gardener which should help him integrate successfully into Senegalese society later on.

Mamadou is looking forward to the maturation of his melon crop.  He will be able to use the proceeds from selling part of the crop to pay his daily begging quota of money to his marabout so he can spend more time at Maison de la Gare and may no longer be forced to beg on the streets of Saint Louis.

All of the talibés who visit Maison de la Gare's centre enjoy the garden's beauty and its bounty.  The mandarin tree's delicious fruit was recently enjoyed by many hungry children.  And, all feel welcome to shelter there.  Occasionally a misdirected soccer ball or high winds and rain may take out a young sapling or wipe out a tender crop.  Not a concern; another will soon be planted in its place as the children who nurture this garden tend to the continuing cycle of life here.

Mamadou watering mint, lovingly tending the garden
Mamadou watering mint, lovingly tending the garden
Issa framed by thriving grape vines
Issa framed by thriving grape vines
Ablaye is a faithful garden helper
Ablaye is a faithful garden helper
Garden highlights: Nebedaye, citronelle, lime, ...
Garden highlights: Nebedaye, citronelle, lime, ...
Jun 21, 2013

Talibe Day

Let the Games Begin - Talibe Day at MDG
Let the Games Begin - Talibe Day at MDG's Centre

May 2nd will be engraved in the memories of the talibé children of Saint Louis for many years.  The talibés face daily challenges no child ever should and live in unimaginable conditions which violate all of the provisions of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of The Child.  Yet, children they are, with a love of play and fun.  Talibé Day, organized by the volunteers and staff of Maison de la Gare, was all about the fun!

Designed to be a day off from begging and the daily challenges simply to live, Talibé Day was for the kids.  Many children arrived early to help tidy up the centre and convert the classrooms into play places.  There was an awareness that something special was about to unfold.  Activities began around 11 a.m., with around 100 talibés arriving along with Maison de la Gare’s international volunteers, representatives of other associations and some marabouts.

Volunteers organized hours of games the kids had never played before - sac races, water balloon, blind man's bluff, tag games and wheelbarrow races. There was also soccer, of course, and table tennis (without the table). The games were enjoyed enormously by all, big and small.  The little ones, in particular, loved dancing to the music of a live D.J., and did they have the moves!

Two classrooms were full to overflowing with children colouring and finger painting.  It was apparent that this was the first time doing so for many of the boys, who have missed out on a normal childhood. Some older teenage boys were as intent on colouring dinosaurs inside the lines in their colouring books as were the young ones.  It was enough to break one's heart and make it leap for joy all at once.

Massive quantities of Senegalese roasted rice with chicken, bags of water and orange juice were presented just in time to revive the exhausted children.  This was a feast far beyond the normal experience of the talibé children, and every last scrap of it was enjoyed.  After the meal, new clothes and shoes (a first pair for many) were distributed to the children.

After hours upon hours of games and fun the volunteers were exhausted, but the children clearly did not want the day or the opportunity to truly experience childhood, if only for a day, to end.  The children danced, sang, played and coloured until the long, wonderful day drew to a close.

Talibes line up to have Madison paint their faces
Talibes line up to have Madison paint their faces
Community women prepare a feast for the children
Community women prepare a feast for the children
... and the children enjoy every morsel!
... and the children enjoy every morsel!
Anta organizes children to receive new clothes
Anta organizes children to receive new clothes
Michael & Madison treat dozens of talibe children
Michael & Madison treat dozens of talibe children
Talibes children color intently - a new experience
Talibes children color intently - a new experience
Older talibes relax playing djembe
Older talibes relax playing djembe
Jun 7, 2013

Arouna - A Success Story in the Making

Arouna surrounded by his high school classmates
Arouna surrounded by his high school classmates

Maison de la Gare's primary tool to offer hope of a better life for the talibé children of Saint Louis is education.  Regular instruction in French language skills and math in Maison de la Gare’s classrooms can sometimes lead to children being registered in the regular public system.  Attending classes in a public school not only promises an independent future for the boys, but can lead to improved living conditions.  Sometimes the boys' marabouts, who control so many aspects of their lives, agree to waive or reduce the begging requirement on school days.  Also, interaction with classmates can lead to a feeling of experiencing a somewhat normal childhood, at least during school hours.  Of course, unlike the talibés, non-talibé classmates are well nourished and clothed, supported by a family, and have a home and a bed to return to each night, not to mention light by which to study and complete homework.

Arouna Kandé is a special case among the 30 or so talibé children whom Maison de la Gare has registered in the public school system.  Arouna was taken from his home in Kolda in the south of Senegal to live in a Saint Louis daara in 2006.  He is orphaned, and had to leave behind three younger sisters who are always in his thoughts.  Arouna dreams of being a teacher, and of someday being able to support his sisters.  History is his favourite subject.

Just 16 years old, Arouna is a leader and an example among the talibés.  He is dedicated to his studies and will often give up the opportunity to participate in soccer games or extracurricular school activities in favour of studying and homework.  He does whatever it takes to complete his work and remain in the top half of his class of 43 students, occasionally working in his daara by the light of the moon until after midnight.  Despite his somewhat alleviated begging requirement, he still needs to dedicate time to providing a small quota of money for his marabout.  In order to do this, Arouna sells fish in the local market, fish that he finds by the Senegal River after they have been discarded by fishermen.  Yet, he always has time for and watches out for younger talibés, and he is also available as a responsible helping hand around Maison de la Gare’s centre.

Maison de la Gare provides Arouna with a family-like support system.  Staff member Aladji Gaye is a mentor and provides brotherly support, while Mapaté Bousso helps with math homework when help is required.  Arouna is also encouraged to persevere by email pen-pals in Canada, Maison de la Gare volunteers who recognize his special qualities and potential, and his French teacher at École Amadou Fara Mbodj who considers Arouna to be an excellent student with the potential to achieve his goals.  Arouna is more than a Maison de la Gare success story in the making; he and others like him are Senegal's future.

Arouna with Issa Kouyate at MDG centre in 2011
Arouna with Issa Kouyate at MDG centre in 2011
Arouna in front of his school with Sonia LeRoy
Arouna in front of his school with Sonia LeRoy
Arouna with his school friends in his classroom
Arouna with his school friends in his classroom
Arouna showing home area of Kolda in south Senegal
Arouna showing home area of Kolda in south Senegal
Mapate, MDG administrator, helps Arouna with math
Mapate, MDG administrator, helps Arouna with math
Arouna is a role model for the younger talibes
Arouna is a role model for the younger talibes

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