A photo-essay by Jack Wang
In a previous article, Jack recounted his serendipitous encounter with Maison de la Gare following a chance meeting with Thaddaeus Lister, a former volunteer, on the plane to Africa. In this earlier article, Jack celebrated “Discovering the Talibés” with an album of moving photographs. The photos here provide a glimpse of Maison de la Gare during a typical day.
“Maison de la Gare” is the place that largely defined my Senegalese experience. I worked closely with the founder Issa Kouyaté to photo-document his daily activities to promote his work and the MDG centre. Maison de la Gare, founded in Saint Louis in 2007, is a non-governmental and not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping the talibés. The word “talibé” describes students, always boys, who are studying the Koran and begging for a living.
Maison de la Gare’s garden grows its own vegetables, aiming to help some of the talibé become self-sufficient. The centre opens to talibé children from 10 a.m. each day, and the children come to play in the courtyard, receive medical treatment, have a shower and take classes in the evening. Volunteers regularly check the boy’s clothing; not surprisingly fleas are often found, sometimes with 100s of eggs. The infected clothes are treated with bleach that kills the eggs, and soapy water that kills the fleas.
I met one teenage boy who came to the centre with a broken lip after having been beaten by his marabout ... not an uncommon occurrence. He received medical treatment immediately from a volunteer.
On one day, I followed a team of volunteers as they installed mosquito nets that had been donated by UNICEF in the daaras where the boys live. I also attended a meeting where Issa met with representatives of the local government and other organizations to plan together actions to help the talibés.
Issa regularly received phone calls from local authorities or the police asking him to collect runaway talibés. In one case I witnessed, Issa subsequently contacted a relative of one of these boys to come to collect him. Often the children stay in Issa’s apartment until he can find a suitable placement for them. In the picture here, the child’s father came from Dakar the next afternoon to take him home. Often, however, the placement is more difficult and takes much longer.
Thursday is the kid’s favourite day, because it is sports day when the centre organizes football matches.
The centre offers classes every evening to educate the talibé children. Volunteers prepare a simple meal for them. Lots of talibé children have practically not eaten the whole day. Thus, they are particularly excited to receive clean, fresh baguette snacks from the centre so they don’t need to beg for this food on the streets.
It is a humble centre with a big heart. Maison de la Gare has deeply inspired me.
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