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.
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