Maison de la Gare's Heath Care and Hygiene Program
The inharmonious mumbling hum and smell of dirt and poor hygiene have become familiar to my senses. As we set foot into each daara, the next resembles the last. This became my reality over my three months volunteering with Maison de la Gare.
I was certain that my experience in Senegal would provide me with a unique viewpoint, but the scene unfolding before my eyes was surreal. It may have taken a few days, but soon I was reassured that I was in the right place. My initial feelings of fear and uncertainty quickly changed. Instead I was spurred into action. It became a necessity to help these young boys as much as I was able.
I have been skeptical about the value of international aid, which is often tied to the interests of the donor country. However, in volunteering with Maison de la Gare I witnessed the positive effects that international financial support can have. I came to realize that no political strings were attached to the funding that this organization receives from international NGOs and other donors. This allows Maison de la Gare to work effectively without fear of governmental influence.
Maison de la Gare is making great efforts to stop the inhuman treatment of the begging talibé street children. With only a small staff and global volunteers, its impact on the community is immense. The organization works towards integrating talibé children into formal education and into the community while providing physical and emotional support. Issa Kouyaté, the founder and president of Maison de la Gare who quickly became one of my greatest role models, is totally committed to improving the lives of the talibés. I was inspired by his work, consistently embodying the hope and passion he wants to spread.
Maison de la Gare has established an environment where health care, sanitation, emotional support and opportunities are made possible for these young boys. Their center has a library, garden, health center, classrooms, showers, and workshops. Bright hibiscus flowers crawl up the side of buildings that have been vibrantly painted. Intricate and beautiful child-focussed murals surround the walls.
My days would begin with assembling first aid kits with sufficient materials to provide children with basic health care. Common injuries include foot wounds due to lack of proper footwear, and infected head wounds. Most could be treated with our first aid supplies. Our small team of staff members and volunteers would walk or take taxis to nearby daaras, visiting two or three each day.
Around five in the evening, talibé children would begin trickling into Maison de la Gare’s center. Maison de la Gare continues to emphasize the importance of basic hygiene. For most, the center's facilities provide their only opportunity to bathe their bodies. Many talibés can go weeks without bathing, causing easily preventable skin irritations and infections. Once showered, the boys are able to participate in activities such as playing soccer and other games, creating arts and crafts, reading books, and watering the garden. Beginner and intermediate French classes are offered. Once each child has washed their hands they are given a nutritious baguette, which may be their only dinner.
In one of my experiences, a large cluster of talibés sat before us as we treated an extremely contagious case of eye infection that had spread to 30 to 40 boys. Unfortunately, we had only treated roughly half our patients when suddenly the remaining boys dispersed. Their marabout had ordered them to return to the streets to resume begging.
Throughout my experience with Maison de la Gare, the talibé children amazed me each and every day. Despite the conditions they were are living in, the children still found the ability to smile and be happy.
In the United States, nothing is celebrated more than freedom. But freedom is not a right; it is a responsibility. Everyone on this planet should have an equal opportunity to achieve a quality of life including good healthcare, adequate housing, proper nutrition and emotional support. We all must share in this responsibility. I fully support the work of Issa Kouyaté and Maison de la Gare, but for the future my hope is that such organizations will no longer be needed.
Former Maison de la Gare volunteer Dan Lawson and his friends Xan Wood, Tom Nelson and Ben Palmer have just completed an incredible trek from Bodiam Castle in southern England to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, raising £1,126 ($1,800 U.S.) for Maison de la Gare as part of the famed Mongol Rally.
They successfully completed the 16,000 km challenge in 41 days and 2 hours, including 4 days crossing Mongolia. Their route took them through 19 countries crossing a third of the world's land mass, three deserts and five mountain ranges.
Dan, Xan, Tom and Ben bought a trusty 1-litre-engine Skoda for this journey and, for the most part, and it never really failed them. They had to have the car serviced on four occasions, each lasting about five hours of battling thoughts of failure. The damage report: nine spark plugs, two fuel injectors, one tyre, and one window (which they smashed themselves with a rock to get the keys that were locked inside).
Their route took them through Europe to Istanbul, and then facing the Skoda's first real challenges in the mountains of northern Turkey. On across Georgia and the Caspian Sea to the "Gates of Hell" gas craters in Turkmenistan, and the wonders of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan. They finally made it to Mongolia after a difficult nine hour border crossing from Kazakhstan into Russia. This was their favorite part of the trip, with wild horses, camels, sleeping in a yurt, and frantically pushing the Skoda out of a wild river.
But their battle wagon made it!
"Why did we do it? To put it simply we knew it would be a lot of fun, and it was. If you can raise some money for a good cause on your travels then that’s a huge bonus as well! Maison de la Gare is a really impressive charity and they use donations effectively, directly benefiting the kids by dramatically altering their life chances in every respect.”
This amazing journey joins two other memorable fundraisers by English supporters of Maison de la Gare and the talibé children, in the span of little over a year:
Please consider joining these exceptional contributors in making a donation in support of Maison de la Gare's work.
Census campaign led by Gwen Gueguen, volunteer from France
Maison de la Gare has undertaken a census of the talibé children of Saint Louis and its surrounding region. Contact is made with the marabout of each daara where the talibé children live, and a comprehensive list of the children is prepared. Then each child is questioned and photographed .
We have created a database containing all the information necessary for identification of the children: their name, year of birth (approximate because children do not usually know their age), village or region of origin, and their date of arrival in the daara. We also collect information about the marabout (name, identity card number, telephone number) and the daara (GPS coordinates) .
All this information helps to:
- identify children who run away, and find them more easily thanks to their photograph.
- allow the talibés to have improved access to health care through reductions in hospital costs offered on presentation of census records created for each daara and validated by the social services of Saint Louis.
- identify the children coming to the center, to be able to better monitor each of them (frequency of participation, grade, class attendance, behavior, ... ).
- allow some children to be registered in formal government schooling.
- to create a map of Koranic schools (daaras) in Saint Louis .
As an example, we were able to trace the recent history of one little boy, Ibrahim Diallo , aged 6. He is from Guinea, and was sent away to Saint Louis by his family when he was only five years old. Ibrahim now lives in a daara where he studies the Koran. He spends a lot of time each day on the streets to beg for food and for money for his marabout . Every day Ibrahim comes to Maison de la Gare's centre. He works hard in class, knows his alphabet, can write a few syllables and can count. Most of the time, he has a smile on his lips !
Who are these children? They come from daaras around Saint Louis . They come to Maison de la Gare's center to regain their sense of childhood. In general, their origins and their families are far, far away .
This is why Maison de la Gare works to learn about the children's origins, and to help the children themselves to understand so that they can keep alive the dream of one day returning home and reuniting with their families. It is vital that every talibé child feel completely at home in the centre, to learn and enjoy reading, writing, creative activities , gardening and even playing sports or going on excursions. We encourage the children by posting their photos and identity information in the centre, and letting them post it in their daaras where they live, so that they can themselves follow their development.
We strive at Maison de la Gare to open places for all of these talibé children in our lives, by accommodating and welcoming them as our own children and brothers.
Tommaso Arosio's experiences as a volunteer with Maison de la Gare
I came as a stranger.
I’ve never thought of being a brave person, a good person. It’s not even easy to put down in words what I’m feeling, while thinking of my experience in Senegal.
First of all, I’d like to thank all the people who suggested and encouraged me to leave for Africa. To take some time to reflect on my life’s errors. To replan my future.
But I couldn’t do it in Africa. I couldn’t reflect, I mean. And I couldn’t replan anything. From the first day I learned to live the present. I definitely forgot past and future. Even if sometimes someone told me I had my “head in the clouds”, actually I never really found the concentration needed to leave the present time.
In Italy I had read carefully about the organization and activities of Maison de la Gare, the association for which I would work from April to June 2013. I mentally excluded medical assistance and French teaching because I thought that I wasn't skilled enough to fulfill these roles properly. And probably I wasn’t, to be honest. However, they were the two activities on which I spent most of my time.
The first time I entered a daara, one of the volunteers asked me what I thought; what were my first impressions after that first encounter with the talibé’s world? I answered that I would never judge anything; I was there to help and to work, not to judge. And I kept my word.
I was treated like a friend from the first day because I put myself in a very clear position: I treated everybody in the same way. I was friendly with all the people around me, trying to smile always, to find the time to joke with everyone (especially with the kids, of course), even when I was suffering from homesickness or was upset about something. I (almost) never let myself blend European sadness with African happiness. Sometimes it was tough. The people closest to me noticed this conflict, but the children didn’t and this was the aim.
Africa, Senegal and, in general, this experience helped me to rediscover the self-confidence I had lost before I came. I worked with commitment, I learned a lot of new things. I met people from all around the world (I even achieved a pretty good mastery of French, considering that I had barely studied it before).
This experience really made me aware of the fact that I’m a privileged person. A privileged person doesn’t deserve to be privileged more than an underprivileged one. It’s just fate that makes him lucky. A lucky person can’t get away with not having a conscience. Because he has more, he has to give a bit more to the people who don't even know the difference between privilege and underprivilege.
I met a lot of young talibé boys who are great human beings, despite the fact they don’t know anything about the life that a boy of their age lives in Europe. And they smile all the time, even if they don’t know what childhood is. I believe this is the message I tried to pass. Return childhood to its owners, the children. I’m proud of having met such beautiful young men. I’m proud they called me “friend”. I don’t know if they’ll remember me; I will remember them!
I have to say a few words to my Senegalese host family: Aladji, Ama, Babs and Siberou. Just thank you. I won’t forget you, either. Never.
And thank you, Issa. Thank you for your example. I couldn’t ever do what you do. I think only a few people in the world could; I would call them “good people”. I’m lucky to have met one of them.
I left as a man.
Since its beginnings in 2008, Maison de la Gare has seen many talibé children return to their families, while many others stay with their marabouts. Trying to understand this phenomenon, we have studied the situations of children whom we have seen grow up on the streets, in their daaras and in Maison de la Gare's center. These children in search of a better life have entrusted themselves to us in their quest for improved health and hygiene, the assurance of being respected in the community, and the hope of a positive future.
Some of these children in our care have touched us deeply, becoming responsible young adults in their daily lives and in the Maison de la Gare center. These talibé children started from nothing, but with confidence that their heath and lives would be cared for as they worked within the center's educational and development programs.
Among these children one name stands out, of a child who has made enormous efforts to satisfy his marabout while taking full advantage of what Maison de la Gare has to offer. This child attended the first literacy classes offered in the old railway station in 2008, and he is still attending classes in the new center. He is one of the talibés who have succeeded in building a successful life blending the obligations of his daara with education at the center, including recently computer skills and communication with Canadian pen pals. He is also one of the children whom Maison de la Gare is assisting with developing small business opportunities to generate some revenue. This boy is in regular contact with his family in Casamance in the south of Senegal, calling them every Friday with news of his life in the daara and the center.
Volunteers who have taught this child in French or computer classes have felt strongly that he should be in formal schooling, with Maison de la Gare's support. To arrange this, as we have for so many others, we discuss with the child's marabout and his family. However, the final decision is always taken by the child himself ... this youth has declined the opportunity out of fear of losing his new place in life in the center and in society. In this situation, Maison de la Gare will support this child until he can be a successful independent contributor in society. In spite of his lack of formal schooling, we have no fears for the future of this exceptional young man, who is enormously appreciated by the staff, volunteers and other talibés at Maison de la Gare. His name is Kalidou Baldé.
Maison de la Gare is very happy to have been able to serve as a caring family for so many talibé children like Kalidou, over many years.
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