The next step towards a better life - Maison de la Gare has long been a welcoming haven for the talibé boys of Saint Louis who are far from home and family and forced to beg for many hours each day by the marabouts who control their lives. This mission has recently been enhanced.
Maison de la Gare's welcome centre has grown over the years to include classrooms, toilets and showers, a medical clinic, a library, apprenticeship training areas, and a beautiful and productive garden. But, from the beginning, Issa Kouyaté always hoped to one day be able to provide the talibés with even more ... a home of their own that, even if temporarily, would provide refuge during crises and times of transition. This residence could help the children off the streets to safety, or provide a secure base while they transition to independent lives. An unused corner of the Maison de la Gare site has waited behind the classrooms, unused, waiting for the right moment.
That right moment recently arrived thanks to generous donations from GO Campaign, from GlobalGiving donors and from many other international contributors, together with the donation of architectural plans by Civitas Architecture of Ottawa, Canada.
Plans were finalized during the spring of 2014, a contractor was hired, and ground was broken. By October, the dream was a reality. The new building is a jewel for Saint Louis and for the talibé children of this city. Talibés of all ages are excited to be offered one more proof that their efforts and their hopes for a better future are being supported by people who care.
The new building serves distinct needs: an emergency shelter for runaway talibés rescued from the streets; a transitional residence for older talibés able to leave their daaras but still working to complete their schooling or prepare for independent lives; and, a kitchen to cook nutritious meals for the hundreds of children served by Maison de la Gare.
The emergency shelter will serve talibé children who are in the most difficult and serious situations ... runaways. Talibés typically run away from their daaras due to severe physical abuse. Failure to obtain the full daily begging quota can cause a child to decide to run in order to avoid the expected punishment. At least weekly, Issa ventures out past midnight in search of runaway talibés. When he finds children, asleep in groups in well lit corners or all alone tucked away under cars or trucks to avoid trouble, he gently wakes them and coaxes them home with him. There are often as many as ten such children under Maison de la Gare’s care. These are the desperate children who will live and be cared for in the new emergency shelter, until complaints against their marabouts are resolved with the police or the children are escorted home.
Maison de la Gare provides baguette-based snacks to hundreds of children each day. However, the scope of the food offered has been limited, due to lack of space or a means of cooking. The new building includes a well equipped kitchen which will make it possible to provide nutritious meals to all of the talibés who find their way to Maison de la Gare, as well as the children living in the emergency shelter and the transitional residence. And, now there is a means of effectively storing and preparing the bounty of Maison de la Gare’s productive garden. As soon as the kitchen opened, the teachers thought of another use and were soon making fruit drinks to offer the young talibés to entice more into their classrooms.
The new building will also be a home to older talibé boys who are, happily, reaching the end of their time of domination by their marabout in the daara. Unfortunately, sometimes children feel forced to remain in a daara past the time they could otherwise leave, because they have no home to return to or because they simply have no idea how to live independently other than by continuing to beg or do hard labour. And others, who have been making good progress in school or apprenticeship programs, would be forced to cut that education short before they are ready. These children will find a home in the new transitional residence, a secure base from which they can complete their journeys to independence.
It is these older talibés who are most excited about the new building. Several took immediate responsibility for its care, offering to organize furniture, make beds, and clean. Most of these children do not remember ever having slept in a bed. There was much discussion about how, exactly, to use one. Does one lie on top, or under the sheets? Why are there two sheets? And, there was some excited confusion about the purpose of bath towels. Maison de la Gare’s staff will help them figure it out and feel at home, and will ensure that this next step for them is one more on a path to true independence and a successful life.
It was your support that made possible this amazing new resource for the talibé children. And, it is your continued support that will let us realize its full potential. Thank you!!
Learning from Others - Issa Kouyaté's experience in New York through a Ford fellowship
I had the chance to participate in an exchange program and training offered by the 92nd Street Y ("92Y") and Columbia University in New York in June 2014, thanks to a fellowship from the Ford Motor Company Fund. This opportunity brought together stakeholders working in social development from around the world, representing ten different countries including Senegal. In all, 23 development workers were present around the table to discuss and present their work and their programs, but also to share their experience, knowledge and especially their commitment to projects that lead to sustainable development in their communities.
This program, created by Alison Gardy of 92Y, has been active around the world for fourteen years and targets vulnerable populations. 92Y is supported by the Ford Motor Company Fund, which supports national and international organizations and promotes the work of community leaders. 92Y is one of many projects that Ford supports worldwide to develop local initiatives.
What I have gained from my participation in this fellowship is invaluable; in such a short time, I learned what would normally take at least a year. I first realized the value of showcasing Maison de la Gare, and talking about the talibés children and the diversity of Senegal. I was inspired by other participants concerned about the development of their organizations and looking for strong support in their quest to enhance the success of their commitments to social welfare. And that's exactly what we were all able to find, thanks to the supportive group, the teachers and the leaders.
Before the program began, e-mail contact was followed by a lengthy telephone conversation to discuss what we do in our own organization, what are our expectations, what emergencies must we respond to, and how we see the future. A few months later, documents detailing the purpose of the fellowship and the scope of the program were sent to help us prepare. This material was carefully adapted to respect the real-life situations and challenges of the participants. We had to read and write, but also to understand and integrate the information. This preliminary training gave me an idea of the nature of the work to come, and of the commitments that would unite the fellowship leaders and participants. These documents would become the base for applying to our respective organisations the techniques that we learned.
Vision and Strategy - Once in New York, participants were treated to an in-depth tour of the city, showing us the many different facets of a developed country with its shortcomings and weaknesses as well as achievements and strengths. New York is an important development model, especially in terms of the evolution and diversity of infrastructure. Local people are proud to show off their buildings, statues, monuments, and even languages. So we visited an emerging country that is working to secure its successes. New York is also a city with a very special atmosphere that speaks for itself. In addition to being a renowned center for sustainable development issues, it is a city filled with joy and fun that followed us throughout our training.
Columbia University was our place of learning, where we were taught by exceptional professors. In addition to being motivated and experienced, these professors took the diversity within the group into careful consideration. As participants we all felt included, although representing many different languages and religions. This diversity was the starting point of the program, with all the countries represented being invited to share the social importance of their work, values that united us all in respect and recognition of each other. Participants were also asked to identify the most pressing needs of their organizations, and then we worked together to find ways of responding to these needs in a spirit of sustainable development. The teachers worked to share their knowledge and to ensure the best learning conditions, leaving nothing to chance, with intensive and positive learning sessions. Knowledge was on offer, and we were all aware of the commitment required to acquire the knowledge and experience that we needed to support our own projects and to bring about the changes necessary for them to flourish.
However, without the guidance given and the commitment of the participants who applied themselves body and soul, nothing could have moved forward. We were protected as children with their parents and felt that we were very valued, beyond a simple working relationship. The leaders wanted each of us to feel at home, and that was the case. After the program, I felt confident, sure of myself, ready to make decisions without hesitation. They really made us work!! And the experience will always remain engraved in my memory, in our memories. I wanted to leave earlier than planned to avoid forgetting certain ideas, certain possibilities, but the program gave us the means to retain all that we had learned.
This experience reinforced for me that you have to love what you do!! To live happily, it is best to share life with people who are acting with the same values. Although the work we are doing is difficult, it is only necessary to love the work in order to succeed.
In short, the program was a great success, thanks to the leaders' commitment to creating good learning conditions, the opportunity to attend invaluable classes, and the interest and involvement of all of the participants in wanting again and again to help one another with their projects. Moreover, I believe that we had the best teachers in the world, sources of inspiration who pushed me to put into practice what I had learned. I understood through this program that there is much underdevelopment in sustainable development, but it is possible for committed social activists who love what they do and are dedicated to it to achieve their development goals.
Thank you to Alison Gardy, to Mayola Charles and to all the teachers, guides, educators, donors and host families, not to mention the participants and all the others who made possible the success of this Fellowship 2014.
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.
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.
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.
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