Maison de la Gare

Maison de la Gare's mission is to achieve integration of the begging talibe street children into formal schooling and productive participation in Senegalese society. Tens of thousands of talibe children beg on the streets of Senegal for 6 to 10 hours each day for their food and for money to give the "teacher" or Marabout who controls them. They live in unconscionable conditions in "daaras", without access to running water, rudimentary hygiene or nurture, often without shelter and subject to severe abuse. Human Rights Watch published a widely distributed description of this situation in 2010, "Off the Backs of the Children". Maison de la Gare is acting wi...
Dec 10, 2015

"Creativity is Contagious; Pass It On" - Einstein

Proud of their colorful alphabet
Proud of their colorful alphabet

Our Catalan partner Lydie shares her sense of wonder at the creativity of the talibé children

One day follows another at Maison de la Gare, but no two are alike thanks to the children who make every day different. They love to learn and are constantly pushing us to find new ways of teaching to motivate them even more.

If you pay attention to them and follow their moods, their capacity for concentration, for learning and creativity will astonish you. Maison de la Gare offers workshops which give them opportunities to create with their hands.

Paco, a Saint Louis artist, was introduced to Maison de la Gare by Terres Rouges, a Belgian non-governmental organization. He started to teach the children how to make use of the incredible assortment of diverse objects that they collect every day on the streets. The children are relaxed and attentive during Paco's workshops. Working either alone or in groups of three or four with an adult to guide them, they follow Paco's explanations for making statues from bits of iron and objects that they have found.

The children plunge right into the activity; they twist and cut the iron wire until it takes the shape that they want. They pierce the plastic and cut the fabric scraps, watching from the corner of their eye what their neighbor is doing and, when they see an idea they like, they copy it or try to improve on it. They bang in the nails, cut cans and tissues and, little by little, they see the results of what they imagined taking shape and are impatient to see their finished creation.

They get angry with adults who are helping them when they see them having as much fun as they are. The children want to do it themselves; this activity is for them and, to hear them laughing and chatting, they really enjoy themselves. As soon as they are finished, they proudly raise their statue and parade around the garden showing it to everyone, seeking approval from the adults. They all want a photo taken of their masterpiece. They are surprised to see what they have been able to create using only their imaginations and the garbage that they collect and carry around with them throughout the day, which otherwise would just have ended up back on the ground.

Seeing the creativity, concentration and imagination of the children, and especially hearing their laughter, we immediately decided to repeat the activity. Issa Kouyaté, Maison de la Gare's president, summarized what had happened this way: "Art gives the children a chance to reflect as they must take the time to think about their subject. This activity brought out hidden talents in these children, whom society does not judge to be worthy of respect ... The real reason for this recycling activity is to allow the children to find a spiritual foundation, to help them fill the void which their marabout has created in their spirits. We are ready to direct them in whatever direction the spirit takes them, but the starting point must be to recognize them as human beings full of potential who can exceed our expectations."

It was watching the children coloring in the letters of the alphabet on cards, asking us to call out the names of the letters, that gave us the idea for another activity.

No sooner said than done. That day, Anna and Annette had come to help us. We set up the desks from the classrooms in the garden and grouped the children by age and ability. We all recited the alphabet while writing the letters on cardboard poster boards. The children were very attentive and eager to know what was going to happen with these letters. Diodio explained to the children that they had to fill in the letters by cutting pieces of fabric that were spread around on the tables and then pasting these inside the letters. At first we had to insist on some order because the children naturally wanted to cut and paste everything together. However, they soon realized that if they worked as a team they would have more have fun than by squabbling. If at first they hesitated a little and wondered how to do it, they surprised us all once they realized we had complete confidence in them.

Very focused, they cut the fabric scraps, chose where to put them before gluing them and made sure that the glue did not run elsewhere. We really had fun. Each letter was recited aloud as they finished it, and we were very surprised by their capacity for concentration. They were the ones who saw that we had made a mistake ... after the "q" on one of the poster boards we had written "s" instead of "r"; we burst out laughing as they corrected us.

This morning was one of those magical moments that these children give us, seeing them so relaxed, confident and happy realizing what they are capable of achieving.

The most surprising and spontaneous activity took place the day that we brought seashells to the center. In Senegal, these are perfect for all kinds of crafts as they are already full of holes. Anna and Annette were there again that day, along with Cara and, as always, Diodio serving as an intermediary with the children, explaining how we were going to make mobiles with the shells. We carefully distributed the same number of shells to each group as, like children everywhere, the talibés always check that their neighbor does not have one more than they do. This time there was no argument over who would get the scissors, because we pre-cut the wire to be used in threading the shells to make mobiles.

We were again amazed by the children's creativity in making these mobiles; some of them were truly beautiful. And, when the activity was finished, they continued, making necklaces. All of a sudden Malick began making music with his necklace as though it was a maraca, and we all followed. Everyone grabbed an object or used the tables as djembes, turning the seashell activity turned into a musical jam session, surprising everyone and attracting many curious onlookers who wanted to see what was happening in the classroom.

The colorful letters of the alphabet and the mobiles were used to decorate one of the classrooms, and woe be to anyone who made the mistake of damaging them; he would be accountable to the artists, who were very proud of their work.

Since I have come to know these children, I know that angels exist because, despite their extreme living conditions, they are able to give the very best of themselves.

Far too much talent is lost with these children, in spite of Maison de la Gare's efforts to reintegrate them into society.

Peace Corp volunteer Tim supports intense artists
Peace Corp volunteer Tim supports intense artists
Talibe artists bursting with pride
Talibe artists bursting with pride
Art gallery on the infirmary porch
Art gallery on the infirmary porch
Creating beautiful letters
Creating beautiful letters
Seashells into mobiles and necklaces
Seashells into mobiles and necklaces
Lydie and Diodio surrounded by happy artists
Lydie and Diodio surrounded by happy artists

Links:

Nov 23, 2015

Meeting the Talibes in the Daaras Where They Live

The marabout says "Thank you" in a Pikine daara
The marabout says "Thank you" in a Pikine daara

"Davis Projects for Peace" volunteers throw light on this hidden world, while making it a bit better

Four students at the University of Rochester in New York conceived and led a remarkable mobilization of Senegalese university students during the summer of 2015, in support of Maison de la Gare's work for the begging talibé street children … A New Beginning for the Talibé Children.

With its long experience in this struggle, Maison de la Gare was able to help Rose Mbaye, Eyram Adedze, Ben Ouattara and Mame Coumba to understand the situation that had led to establishment of its welcome center in Saint Louis.  And, to help them to take action towards eradicating the so-called education system maintained by false Quranic teachers, and to appreciate the challenges that must be overcome.

In its 2010 report "Off the Backs of the Children", Human Rights Watch described the lives of the talibé children in their daaras in this way:

“Morning to night, the landscape of Senegal’s cities is dotted with the sight of the boys - the vast majority under 12 years old and many as young as four - shuffling in small groups through the streets; weaving in and out of traffic; and waiting outside shopping centers, marketplaces, banks, and restaurants.  Dressed in filthy, torn, and oversized shirts, and often barefoot, they hold out a small plastic bowl or empty can hoping for alms. On the street they are exposed to disease, the risk of injury or death from car accidents, and physical and sometimes sexual abuse by adults.

Daily life for these children is one of extreme deprivation.  Despite bringing money and rice to the daara, the children are forced to beg for their meals on the street.  Some steal or dig through trash in order to find something to eat.  The majority suffer from constant hunger and mild to severe malnutrition.  When a child falls ill, which happens often with long hours on the street and poor sanitary conditions in the daara, the teacher seldom offers healthcare assistance.  The children are forced to spend even longer begging to purchase medicines to treat the stomach parasites, malaria, and skin diseases that run rampant through the daaras.  Most of the urban daaras are situated in abandoned, partially constructed structures or makeshift thatched compounds.  The children routinely sleep 30 to a small room, crammed so tight that, particularly during the hot season, they choose to brave the elements outside.  During Senegal’s four-month winter, the talibés suffer the cold with little or no cover, and, in some cases, even a mat to sleep on.”

The Senegalese university students were able to see with their own eyes the children’s living conditions in Saint Louis daaras, and to appreciate the difference between a good and a bad daara.  They visited seven of the daaras where the children live In the course of the project, donating sleeping mats, soap, shoes, clothing and first aid supplies.  They also undertook a major clean-up of these daaras, sweeping and removing refuse, and they donated brooms and waste bins and installed mosquito nets, all to allow the children to live in slightly better conditions.  In daara Serigne Abdoulaye Bâ in Pikine the volunteers washed the young talibé children’s clothing, providing an example for others to follow.

These visits also gave the students the opportunity to express directly to the Quranic teachers, the marabouts of the daaras, their lack of support for the philosophy responsible for the children’s situation.  From these discussions, the idea emerged of carrying out some renovations in order to make a real difference for the children.  Many of the daaras have no means of providing health care and no provision for basic hygiene.  As an example, in daara Serigne Alioune Sow in the Darou area, the volunteers installed showers and built a new toilet facility.

By the end of this project, a network of new friends had developed among the university student volunteers.  Together they had come to understand that the condition of the children living in these daaras is a Senegalese problem that must be resolved by the Senegalese themselves.  The project transformed the volunteers’ perceptions of the situation of these very vulnerable children.  And it gave the children themselves new hope that there are Senegalese men and women who are aware of their situation and are committed to giving them the chance to have a better life.

Toilet for 50 boys in daara Serigne Yoro Ba
Toilet for 50 boys in daara Serigne Yoro Ba
With children after installing mats, mosquito nets
With children after installing mats, mosquito nets
Cleaning daara Serigne Ousmane Barry in Cite Niakh
Cleaning daara Serigne Ousmane Barry in Cite Niakh
Installing mosquito nets in daara in Darou
Installing mosquito nets in daara in Darou
Cleaning in daara Serigne Abdoulaye Ba in Pikine
Cleaning in daara Serigne Abdoulaye Ba in Pikine
Volunteers washing laundry for talibe children
Volunteers washing laundry for talibe children
Issa and volunteers dig septic sump for new toilet
Issa and volunteers dig septic sump for new toilet
Happy volunteers, justly proud of their efforts
Happy volunteers, justly proud of their efforts

Links:

Oct 29, 2015

"A New Beginning for the Talibe Children"

Issa with (l to r) Ben, Rose, Eyram, Mame Coumba
Issa with (l to r) Ben, Rose, Eyram, Mame Coumba

Fostering Understanding and Stopping Abuse - Davis Projects for Peace fellows make a difference

Four African students at the University of Rochester, New York were selected in early 2015 to receive the Davis Prize for Peace. Rose Mbaye had witnessed first-hand in her hometown of Dakar the extreme physical abuse and social marginalization of the begging talibé street children. She shared her determination to do something about this problem with her teammates at Rochester U., Mame Coumba Mbodji from Senegal, Zanga Ben Ouattara from Burkina Faso and Eyram Adedze from Ghana and, together, they received this prestigious award.

 Rose reports that the group contacted several Senegalese organizations working with the talibé street children, seeking both to understand the issues better and to identify a partner whom they could work with to effect change in a short-term project. They selected Issa Kouyaté and Maison de la Gare. From Issa's point of view, "We had discussions about the feasibility of this project over three long months. I shared the experience and ideas that have made Maison de la Gare what it is, working in close collaboration with our partners and with the world around us. And I expressed my conviction that, to succeed in this work, Maison de la Gare must work hand in hand with civil society and all of the organizations that work for the protection of children."

The main goals of the project were to promote awareness of the exploitation, abuse and stigmatization of the talibé children, and to collaborate with different local stakeholders to improve the conditions of material, educational and psychological deprivation in which these children live. The aim was not only to promote empathy but also to engage the children themselves, parents, spiritual leaders, youth service organizations, educators, public officials and ordinary citizens to take action for the betterment both of the children them and of society at large.

The project lasted from July 31 to August 26, 2015, and the team was assisted by 45 Senegalese volunteers, mostly university students, who had been recruited a few weeks earlier.

The activities planned during the four weeks included visits and clean-up of seven of the daaras where the boys live, renovation of three of those daaras, providing 18 vocational training workshops in gardening, pottery and artistic recycling, organizing eight collections of clothes, shoes, soaps, etc. in different locations around Saint Louis, and organizing awareness campaigns in three different communities. The volunteers also led French, English and basic computing classes as well as other educational and sports activities in Maison de la Gare's center. Volunteers were organized into four groups, and each of these worked in turn on each of the activities. This provided all of the volunteers with the opportunity to have an all-round experience of the project, and this contributed to maintaining their interest and commitment so that over 90% of them stayed for the full four weeks.

The activities were all a great success, and their completion was even more satisfying. Rose, Ben, Mame Coumba and Eyram received positive feedback about the project from marabouts, parents, the local media and other organizers. Over 500 talibé children were touched by the programs at Maison de la Gare's center and in their daaras. And the awareness campaign sensitized over 300 other stakeholders to the phenomenon of forced child begging, child abuse and the associated stigmatization.

On their return to university, Eyram, Rose, Mame Coumba and Ben summarized what they had learned:

"Through the conversations that we have had with different classes of Senegalese people on the issue of the talibés, it has become clear that it is human nature to refuse to take responsibility for social injustice. Fingers are always pointed at the government as the agent to rectify this issue. These conversations pushed us to think about our complicity in this system; we can't help but wonder how much responsibility we have refused to take on different issues in our lives and the lives of people around us.

This project reminded us that it is essential to take charge of the challenges we face in our lives. It takes a dedicated mind and heart to tackle a problem as complex as the exploitation and abuse of child beggars in Senegal. However, we believe that an idea, no matter how small, can make a significant impact if properly empowered. We must never underestimate the power of collaboration for a noble collective purpose, as the satisfaction one gets from addressing social injustice is worth more than a thousand words."

As for Issa, he summarized the project this way: "This project gelled quickly around all of the people involved ... Maison de la Gare, university students, talibé children, Quranic teachers and the authorities. Thus was born 'A New Beginning for the Talibé Children.'"

Project logo
Project logo
Planning the opening ceremony with Issa
Planning the opening ceremony with Issa
Opening ceremony in Maison de la Gare
Opening ceremony in Maison de la Gare's center
What it
What it's all about
Senegalese volunteers, ready to go
Senegalese volunteers, ready to go
An event in the population awareness campaign
An event in the population awareness campaign
Issa and Rose present award at closing ceremony
Issa and Rose present award at closing ceremony
Where it all began - winners of Davis fellowship
Where it all began - winners of Davis fellowship

Links:

donate now:

An anonymous donor will match all new monthly recurring donations, but only if 75% of donors upgrade to a recurring donation today.
Terms and conditions apply.
Make a monthly recurring donation on your credit card. You can cancel at any time.
Make a donation in honor or memory of:
What kind of card would you like to send?
How much would you like to donate?
  • $25
    give
  • $45
    give
  • $60
    give
  • $75
    give
  • $85
    give
  • $100
    give
  • $25
    each month
    give
  • $45
    each month
    give
  • $60
    each month
    give
  • $75
    each month
    give
  • $85
    each month
    give
  • $100
    each month
    give
  • $
    give
gift Make this donation a gift, in honor of, or in memory of someone?