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 meets two of Maison de la Gare's first volunteers in Canada
"During the summer of 2008 in the early days of Maison de la Gare, I met two young people who were very committed to social justice. They worked with me in a centre for the begging talibé street children in Saint Louis, meeting the children's needs for education, health care, arts and sport activities, and food. This was at the time of the first steps of a project that would expand over the years to become a model for protection of vulnerable children in Saint Louis.
I recently met Lisa LeRoy and Zoë Richard-Fortier again six years later in Canada, their home country, and was able to thank them for the work that they had done in Saint Louis.
My meeting with these two young Canadians had a great impact on me, reinforcing my commitment to join those fighting for the rights of children and human rights in general. Maison de la Gare was created by a group of young Senegalese who committed themselves body and soul to changing the fate of talibé children and to fighting against the exploitation and abuse that these children suffer.
Since the early days when Zoë and Lisa marked Maison de la Gare with their commitment and dedication, they have never stopped holding our work in their hearts. Thanks to a trip that I made to participate in a fellowship program in New York, I was able to visit Canada to reconnect with these two people, and with many others who have supported our efforts over the years. These meetings made me realize more than ever that real friends are for life, and that they continue to support us and our work with their persistent efforts in their own countries.
Zoë and Lisa, with their families, friends and people around the country, have organized events and support that generate substantial funds to allow us to respect our commitments to the talibé children. Reinforcing their personal commitments to children in vulnerable situations, I'll share with you that Lisa has become a lawyer advocating for the rights of children, and Zoë a psychologist serving children affected by family breakdown and other challenges.
In Canada I made presentations at two churches, in Montreal and Ottawa. Many people came to listen and to understand the situation of the talibé children. They asked many questions and also suggested ideas about how to meet the needs of these children. At Cedar Park United Church in Montreal, the community that has given so much support to Maison de la Gare over the years was warmly welcoming. And, I finally got the chance to meet the Hornby/Desrochers family who have supported our initiatives for years and have inspired me with their unwavering commitment.
Two people touched me deeply with their emotional presentations, from their hearts, of the situation of the talibé street children. At their church in Ottawa, Sonia LeRoy and Rowan Hughes spoke of their determination to never stop supporting our efforts until these children are no longer begging in the streets. With her wisdom, Rowan affirmed that the place of the children is with their families. She said that she had been lucky to have two parents who love her and care for her, but that she could just as easily been born into the situation of the talibés. Her words touched the hearts of everyone in the church.
Zoë and Lisa were pioneers among the generations of volunteers who have come to Senegal and have made an enormous difference in the lives and prospects of the talibé street children. They both are planning to return, to share their skills and knowledge with us.
Thank you with all my heart, all our friends in Canada, for opening your doors to me and giving me strength and encouragement to continue this work!"
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."
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.
Medications for Life
An important part of the vision for Maison de la Gare is a medical clinic to support the health of the talibé children. The clinic provides a base from which volunteers and staff can venture into the community to deliver health care to talibé children in their daaras and on the streets, while spreading the word among the talibés that help is available and building local confidence in Maison de la Gare.
Construction of the clinic was made possible by a grant from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives and donation of architectural drawings by the Canadian firm Civitas. International volunteers involved in the medical program often make valuable contributions of medical supplies, and the on-going cost of medical supplies purchased in Senegal is funded by the United Nations anti-slavery fund, the Global Fund for Children, and other international donors. Critically, many of the essential drugs and medications for the clinic's pharmacy are provided by the Health Partners International Canada, an NGO, and are transported to Senegal on a regular basis by partners travelling from Canada.
Conditions in the daaras where the children are forced to live lead to serious medical issues. Cramped quarters spread disease and parasites. Unsanitary conditions are responsible for frequent infections. Poor hygiene and malnutrition cause multiple disorders. Tooth abscesses are frequent. Nurse Binta Coly explains that the children do not have their health care needs met by their marabouts and they rely on Maison de la Gare to treat common burns, cuts, parasites, infections and disease.
The nurses understand that talibés who come to Maison de la Gare for medical attention spread the word in their communities and daaras. Such word of mouth brings even more children to Maison de la Gare for care. But, not all children are able to come to the centre for help, Binta points out. Sometimes it is too far for the kids to walk, or they are too sick to travel. In these cases, Binta or medical volunteers walk to the daara to deliver treatment. If the child's condition is more serious than can be addressed on site, he will be transported to the hospital. Several children per month, on average, require such hospitalization. In these cases, Maison de la Gare pays the hospital bills to ensure the children receive the care they need.
When a talibé who is regularly involved in Maison de la Gare’s programs, Mamadou Diao, broke his leg badly in two places, the staff took him directly to the hospital for treatment. His leg healed badly and an infection developed, not surprising given the children's living conditions. Since that time Nurses Binta and Anta have cared for him daily to ensure his successful recovery.
The nurses comment that what often starts as a simple scrape or cut quickly can become infected, given the unsanitary conditions these children return to each night. Furthermore, most of the kids don't have shoes. So, a cut on a foot does not stand a chance of healing cleanly unless treated immediately, with dressings reapplied daily. Many of the cases that the Maison de la Gare nurses see are already infected and need antibiotic treatment. A simple cut for a talibé can lead to loss of limb or even loss of life if left unattended.
Maison de la Gare is fortunate to benefit from the participation of international volunteers in the medical program. Volunteers work at the clinic side by side with Binta and Anta. One of the great benefits of volunteer participation is the possibility to expand medical outreach to visit more children in more daaras. Even volunteers with medical training can be unfamiliar with some of the medical issues common to the talibes. Before volunteers venture out into the community, nurse Binta Coly instructs them on the common issues encountered in the field and proper uses of medications, and ensures that they are properly equipped.
Some of the older talibés accompany the medical excursion groups, leading them to the daaras of children in need. A few of these older boys have become familiar with the methods of treatment for common talibé ailments, and have begun to participate in health care activities themselves. They are developing a keen interest in health care and are acquiring useful skills as well as providing valuable assistance.
The staff and volunteers alike are sensitive to the fact that talibé children crave recognition and affection. Sometime children present themselves at the clinic or in the daaras without clear health care needs. In these situations, Binta says that it is still important to treat them with respect and affection. She will clean the "pretend wound" knowing that she is treating a wounded spirit, sending away a smiling, satisfied talibé. The talibé children of Saint Louis are coming to know they can rely on Maison de la Gare.
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