A 16-year-old Canadian high school student from Montreal, Ann Pille, spent a week with Maison de la Gare in September of 2012 with her aunt Karen Hornby, a registered nurse. Ann has prepared a moving report on her experiences, her understanding of the situation of the talibé street children of Senegal, and Maison de la Gare's work to improve their lives. Her full report is attached. Here are three excepts:
Maison de la Gare: A Ray of Hope - "Maison de La Gare is a non-profit organization, a political and secular, founded in 2007 by ten Senegalese to help the talibés of St-Louis. They provide medical care, food, education, clothes, emotional help, lessons on hygiene, access to showers and hope to the boys living in this terrible situation. They help boys who have run away return to their families and investigate claims of child abuse. The most important thing that they do is provide a safe place for the talibés to come and just be kids for a while. They give them hope for a better future where their life is not spent begging for the person who is supposed to protect them."
A Story of Hope - "Now I have a message to pass on. It is a message from one of the marabouts that we met. It is a message of good will. Not all marabouts are the same, however they get painted with the same brush. This particular marabout did not choose this profession to make money. It was handed down to him by his father. He does not make his boys beg for money and he does not beat them. In fact, all he asks that they do is go to their “maraines” houses to get the food that they leave out. He is always calm and willing to ask for help in order to improve the boys’ lives. He is letting his boys be enrolled in school and has taught them about the importance of good hygiene. He is really doing his best considering the situation. He has said that if the government were able to give him enough money to move all of the boys, then he would go back to the country. This would mean that the boys would be able to live with their families and only come to him for classes. I think that this message is important because it shows that in some cases the marabouts are also victims of the system."
Something Truly Amazing - "There is one thing that I noticed on this trip that will stick with me, no matter where I go. This thing is the amazing spirit of the boys. They live in a situation that we cannot even imagine. Every day they face beatings, lack of food, injuries and diseases. In this situation many of us would give up hope, but they are the complete opposite of hopeless. They are filled with curiosity and a genuine willingness to learn. They are incredibly smart and creative. They find a way to be happy, which I found incredible considering that those of us who are fortunate enough to live in industrialized countries are so unhappy with everything. These boys gave me a gift, even if they didn’t know it. I went to Senegal with the goal of discovering how I could help them, but I think that they helped me more then I was able to help them. They showed me that if they can be happy with so little, than I should be happy with everything I have. They showed me that it’s not what you have that makes you happy but rather who you’re with and your attitude towards the world. I will always be thankful for that. This experience has definitely changed for the better the way that I look at my life."
Maison de la Gare is delighted to announce that a new member has joined its project team in Saint Louis, Mapaté Bousso. As Maison de la Gare has grown, so has the urgent need for a member of the team to take charge of the myriad administrative details that need attention every day.
Mapaté holds a Master’s degree in Commerce and International Business Management from the Faculty of Economic Science and Management of Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar. He takes his new role with Maison de la Gare very much to heart. In his words in his letter of motivation:
“I am deeply moved by what I have read and seen of Maison de la Gare’s work, and feel very proud of how you have struggled on behalf of these children. I agree with you on the question of talibé begging. It is a public calamity which corrodes Senegalese society at its core. All human beings must struggle for its eradication, whatever their social class, race or religion. Aren’t these individuals born free and equal? It would be a grave injustice – even a crime – to not take action in the face of the intolerable situation of the talibés. These children, left to themselves and deprived of their most fundamental rights (food, clothing, medical care, education and happiness), deserve our full attention. Wouldn’t it be a happy thing to fan the flame of hope that has been extinguished in them since they were labelled ‘talibés’? Thus, I can only embark with great enthusiasm on such a noble mission.”
Mapaté is assuming responsibility for all administrative and financial aspects of Maison de la Gare’s operations, working closely with Issa Kouyaté and other members of the team. He will administer Maison de la Gare’s web site (www.mdgsl.com), set up and maintain records of the talibé children participating in the association’s various programs, prepare monthly reports following the development of Maison de la Gare and of the children whom it serves and, with Issa, take charge of financial reporting and financing efforts.
A very warm welcome to our team, Mapaté. We are counting on you!!
Sports are pretty well the most popular activity for talibé children, contributing to both their physical and emotional development. They also support development of bonds of comradeship with other talibés and provide them with rare and precious moments of relaxation.
For these reasons, Maison de la Gare organizes soccer tournaments each week on Thursday and Friday for talibé children from the different daaras that it works with. Besides being valued very highly by the children, these tournaments serve to reinforce their linkages with the Maison de la Gare’s centre and its other programs.
In this tradition, Maison de la Gare organized a tournament on Thursday, November 22nd and Friday the 23rd. The showdown took place in the mythical Wembley stadium located in the Diawlingua area of Sor in Saint Louis. Six daaras participated: Daara Serigne Diamanka, Daara Serigne Arona Kandé, Daara Serigne Arona Baldé, Daara Serigne Ousmane Sow, Daara Serigne Mansour Baldé and Daara Serigne Mamadou Baldé. In total, close to two hundred talibé children were involved, divided into twelve teams with each of them representing a daara.
The teams competed in two categories:
- The junior category for younger ages, typically 10 to 14, representing six daaras in Balacoss, Diawlingua and Darou. After the elimination rounds, the daaras of Serigne Ousmane Sow (Diawlingua) and Serigne Mansour Baldé (Balacoss) qualified for the final. Serigne Ousmane Sow was victorious, winning by a score of 5 to 4 in a final shoot-out.
- In the senior category, typically 15 years and older, six daaras again competed. Only Serigne Ousmane Sow (Diawlingua) and Serigne Arona Baldé (Balacoss) reached the finals. It was again Serigne Ousmane Sow that took the championship, by a score of 2 to 0.
Each of the finalist teams was recognized with a small prize, to help them meet their obligations to their daaras for the day and also to reinforce their enormous sense of satisfaction in enjoying their favorite sport.
Maison de la Gare is working to establish more and more activities of this sort to occupy the talibé children so that they have less time and incentive to return to the streets.
A grade 9 student volunteer has been successful in establishing one-on-one e-mail linkages between talibé children involved in Maison de la Gare’s programs and students in her high school, Ashbury College in Ottawa, Canada.
The student, Rowan Hughes, guided 12 talibé boys and their teachers in each establishing a personal gmail account, and then helped them to compose and send their first ever emails to their correspondents in Canada - also students of French as a second language - and to their teachers who were waiting to receive these messages and reply in kind. The email exchanges were followed up with a Facebook video chat, in which the pairs of correspondents were able to introduce themselves to one another in person. The younger class of talibé students was also invited to Skype video chat with a class of students of similar ages from Manor Park Public School in Ottawa.
All of the talibés who participated in these exchanges were astonished and very excited to be able to see and speak with students in Canada who were clearly interested in getting to know them. As the conversations progressed, the confidence of the talibés soared. A Canadian student asked his talibé friend if he understood English. The talibé replied, with a brilliant smile and a laugh, “No. Do you understand Wolof?” And, a sense of happiness and wonder spread among the Maison de la Gare boys as it became apparent that they had interests in common with their new Canadian friends, and that both groups of students were similarly challenged and yet undaunted by learning the French language.
The exchanges were a great success. The experience was all the Maison de la Gare boys talked about afterward. Being involved in such a way with Canadian students via computer captured their interest and instilled a sense of pride and awe. As word about the computer exchanges spreads among the talibés, more are becoming keen to visit the centre regularly to attend classes and eventually advance to become “email talibés” as well. Email exchanges among the talibés and Canadian students will continue, opening a window on a much wider world to the talibé and Canadian students alike, and enriching the lives of all involved.
* The title of this report is taken from a comment by a visitor to Maison de la Gare’s Facebook page, commenting on a photo and description of this initiative: “Un petit pas pour la technologie, un bond de géant pour les talibés”, an allusion to Neil Armstrong’s words as he took his first steps on the moon.
Maison de la Gare has received donations totalling more than $8,000 (or £5,000) from over 180 donors since joining GlobalGiving and GlobalGiving UK in the spring of this year (2012). A very gratifying recent spurt of donations from the UK in response to Janek Seevaratnam’s sacrifice of his magnificent and much-admired dreadlocks has brought total givings close to our current objective of $10,000 (£6,375). This has stimulated us to reevaluate our suggested donation amounts and the overall financial objective.
Our many donors have responded generously to some proposed contributions, and less to others. Our redesigned donation suggestions reflect this, while at the same time representing five of Maison de la Gare’s major strategic thrusts. The five proposed donations are:
- Nutritious baguettes for talibé students, an essential requirement to make it possible for children to be able to attend classes or sporting and other activities for a few hours instead of begging for their food on the street.
- Clothing, including a shirt, shorts and simple shoes, to replace or upgrade the single outfit of heavily worn clothes that each boy has.
- Medical care for malaria, skin diseases, eye infections and much more, from which so many talibé children suffer. This includes resources for supply of mosquito nets, compresses, bandages, cotton, alcohol, betadine soap, sutures and much more.
- Funding of soccer tournaments for up to 200 talibé boys, a unique opportunity to bring some fun and healthy physical activity to their very difficult lives. The funds cover the costs of water, photos and prizes.
- Registration of talibé children in formal schooling, including the cost of school fees, notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, books and school bags.
Your donations through GlobalGiving are making a very important contribution to financing Maison de la Gare’s activities. However, the project is on-going, and we will have to increase the financial objective from time to time as donations are received. At this time, we are increasing our objective to a total of $12,500 or approximately £7,900.
We are enormously grateful for your generous response to this opportunity to make life better for the talibé street children, and hope that we can count on your continued support.
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