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...
Jul 28, 2016

"Every Moment is a Gift of Life" - Thich Nhat Hanh

Jerejef logo painted on the wall of MDG
Jerejef logo painted on the wall of MDG's library

Lydie reports on the extraordinary contribution of Asociación Jerejef

They only stayed a week, but what a week!

When Amaia Alonso contacted us to say that she had seen Maison de la Gare's work and that her association would like to support us, we couldn't imagine how this proposal would mark the everyday life of the center and especially of the children.

The association's name, "Jerejef" (thank you in Wolof), could not have been more appropriate as we can't thank them enough for their physical, psychological and emotional support.

They arrived on a Monday morning like a hurricane, renewing the energy level in the center.  After a brief meeting where the volunteers asked a thousand questions about the street children's situation, we defined the plan of work and distributed the tasks.

They got to work and involved everyone.  There were fifteen of them, fifteen Spaniards working in the center; the word "solidarity" has never had more meaning.  It was a bit difficult in the beginning because they were animated by a "toubab" approach but, in Senegal, things are more "nank nank" (gently).  You have to know in Senegal how to pace yourself without getting stressed.  The children got more and more curious as they saw the volunteers dig in and, as they love to feel needed, they were delighted to be able to help.

The infirmary was turned upside down and moved temporary into the entrance hall of the emergency shelter.  Awa, the nurse, was blown away.  Volunteers who treated the children did an extraordinary job; they cared for children from morning to night with tenderness and good humor, without flinching.  The infirmary is one of the hardest places to work in the center; it is in healing their wounds, scabies and other ailments that you can really see the suffering that these children endure.

Most difficult and heart-wrenching for the volunteers was the "night round" they went on with Bathe, looking for runaway children.  They were able to see the enormous work that Maison de la Gare is carrying our finding and taking charge of these children, bringing them to the security of the center's emergency dormitory.  It is a very traumatic experience to see young children choosing to sleep in the streets where they are exposed to great danger, instead of returning to their daara for fear of being beaten.

Teachers Abdou and Aunt Aïda, and especially the children, were delighted to have improved lighting in the classrooms.  I have to say that the volunteers were outstanding do-it-yourselfers!  They repainted three workshop rooms with the children's help.  The children left proud of themselves and a little stained with paint, but very happy.

The center was abuzz.  There were toubabs everywhere hard at work with the children, and many friendships were born.  The carpenter worked tirelessly side by side with one of the volunteers; they learned a lot from each other.

Imam went to Bango every day with two volunteers, to the property where the older talibé children are caring for a garden.  The volunteers taught Imam how to grow the wormwood plant and to appreciate its qualities.  The two women laughed a lot because Imam is a born comic, and I think that he found in them the aunts that all children should have close to them.

And, despite all the work that they did every day, each of the Spanish volunteers found time for children, to play football, to attempt Senegalese wrestling, to dance to the sound of the djembe, or just to talk with them ... although they did not speak the same language, they communicated easily with each other with the language of the heart.

It was an unforgettable week for the volunteers, the children and Maison de la Gare's staff, a week of solidarity, friendship, good humor and sharing.  The day of the celebration organized for the volunteers was one that we will not soon forget.  The children took charge.  There were many of them at the center that day and they wanted to thank their friends for everything they had done, and to say goodbye to them.  Everyone danced in groups to the sounds of the djembes and laughed together; the atmosphere was more than magical.  There are no words to describe this moment.

Each member of the center's staff presented a diploma to the volunteer whom they had worked most closely with during the week.  It was a surprise.  People do not often show their emotions in Senegalese society but, that day, everyone shed a few tears.  Awa came and snuggled in my arms to try to hide her emotion, trembling and weeping warm tears.  She was overjoyed with the renewal of the infirmary, with all the medical supplies that the volunteers had brought, and especially with the new treatment table for the children.

The climactic moment was when the fire eater put on his show.  The children's eyes were literally ready to pop out of their sockets; they could not open them more.  They were stunned and motionless, normally an impossibility for them as anyone who knows them can tell you!  We all had tears in our eyes.  When you know what the lives of these children are like and have the chance to see them happy, if only for a moment, emotion runs very deeply.

No one wanted the evening to end; it was so beautiful and moving.  But the children had to return to their daaras.  Otherwise they would be punished.  The hardest part was bursting the bubble of happiness and making them leave against their wishes.

Children kept talking about the toubabs and asking after them long after they left.  When they look at the Jerejef logo on the wall or at the benches they painted together, there is a smile on their faces.  These children do not forget; they are very grateful ...

Nurse Awa with donated medical supplies
Nurse Awa with donated medical supplies
Volunteers offer health care - temporary infirmary
Volunteers offer health care - temporary infirmary
Restoring one of the center
Restoring one of the center's murals
Volunteers repair the library
Volunteers repair the library's thatched roof
Children gather for thank you celebration
Children gather for thank you celebration
... amazed by the fire-eater
... amazed by the fire-eater
The Jerejef team  -  Mission Accomplished!
The Jerejef team - Mission Accomplished!

Links:

Jul 7, 2016

A New Chapter for the Talibe Children

Deputy Governor Sahite Fall with Issa and Diodio
Deputy Governor Sahite Fall with Issa and Diodio

A major grant from the European Union opens promising possibilities for Maison de la Gare and the talibé children whom we serve

On Thursday, June 2nd, a project for "Improving the lives of talibé children, children living in the streets and vulnerable children" was launched at Hotel Keur Dada in Saint Louis, a four-year project made possible by a grant from the European Union.

Mr. Sahite Fall, Deputy Governor for Development for the Saint Louis region, presided over the ceremony.  It brought together people working in child protection in Saint Louis including representatives of government agencies, Koranic teachers ("marabouts") and women who act as godmothers to the children, along with representatives of the various movements and associations working in this area.  Personnel from Maison de la Gare and from Concept, our partner in the project, were also present.

Diodio Calloga Sané coordinates this initiative for Maison de la Gare and she presented the project.  She highlighted Saint Louis's situation as a renowned centre for Koranic learning, resulting in a concentration of talibé children from remote areas of Senegal and from neighboring countries such as Gambia and Guinea.  One of the first activities under the project was to carry out a census of talibé children in the city.  Close to 15,000 talibés were identified, most of them in difficult situations which call out for appropriate responses to improve their living conditions.

But the new project is not only devoted to the talibés.  It is also concerned with children from poor families or otherwise affected by family breakdown or incapacity.

Maison de la Gare and Concept are collaborating in the project with a network of associated organizations.  These include Action Femmes Enfants - a local association supporting child mothers in difficulty; Terres Rouges - an international NGO committed to the psychological and social support of street children, talibés and other vulnerable children; and Univers de l'enfant - which has worked with Maison de la Gare for years finding and caring for children living in the street.

We are also working closely with government organizations including Action sociale, AEMO (Educational Action in an Open Environments - Ministry of Justice), the regional Community Development Service, the police and the courts.  In addition, local artisans, school principals, marabouts, neighborhood representatives and other associations working in child protection are contributing to achieving the goals that have been established for this project.  All these actors were present at the project launch.

For Maison de la Gare, this new project reinforces the educational, health care and hygiene, artistic, sports and other activities in our center in Saint Louis, with two specific targets: welcoming over one thousand children at the center each year; and obtaining identity papers for 100 children every year.  The latter objective is of paramount importance as many talibé children have no identification papers and this blocks their access to formal schooling, banking activities and in fact to becoming full participants in Senegalese society.

Most important, this new project is making possible major progress on two critical objectives:

Finding, taking charge of and monitoring more than 350 children a year who are living in the streets.  For years, we have carried out "night rounds" to find children sleeping in the streets and to reintegrate them with their families.  However, these efforts have seemed like a drop in the ocean. Now we believe that we will be able to find and appropriately care for effectively all of the children living in the streets of Saint Louis.

Awareness campaigns.  We will organize awareness campaigns once every two months in the main areas of Senegal from where boys are sent to Saint Louis's daaras.  Going door-to-door, meeting with local media, organizing meetings and performing theatrical skits, we aim to make people aware of the violations of rights and freedoms and the abuse that their children are subjected to, and of the urgent need to protect these children.

With these two initiatives, our objective is to reduce the number of begging talibé children in Saint Louis by 25%.  The census that we have just completed will be the reference point for this quantitative objective.

The project provides for apprenticeship opportunities for older children, specifically targeting training of 600 children in sewing, carpentry, metal work, auto mechanics and computer science including 25 talibé children per year committed to Maison de la Gare's agricultural apprenticeship program in Bango.

In addition, the project will improve the living conditions of 300 vulnerable children or victims of violence, and support 1,000 vulnerable children enrolled in formal schooling.  Programs are also planned to strengthen the knowledge of prevention and protection mechanisms for thousands of children.

This project marks a new chapter, a watershed in the protection of vulnerable children in Saint Louis.  It is the opportunity for Maison de la Gare, Concept and everyone involved to make a major breakthrough in building a better future for these children.

A note to our precious supporters ... This new European Union grant provides a proportional contribution to the project costs.  It is your donations that are the base of the pyramid.  It is your support that is making it possible to change children's lives. 

Our EU application  -  an enormous team effort
Our EU application - an enormous team effort
Deputy Governor Fall presides over the ceremony
Deputy Governor Fall presides over the ceremony
Diodio presents the project ...
Diodio presents the project ...
... while the assembly listens attentively
... while the assembly listens attentively
Maison de la Gare
Maison de la Gare's team was there
Concept
Concept's president Amadou Dione takes the podium
Diodio interviewed by the media, after the event
Diodio interviewed by the media, after the event

Links:

Jun 15, 2016

My Name is Arouna

Arouna in September 2012, already a mentor
Arouna in September 2012, already a mentor

A talibé shares his experience of life, and the role played by Maison de la Gare

My name is Arouna.  I am a talibé and Administrative Assistant at Maison de la Gare.  I grew up in Kolda in Casamance in the south of Senegal.  I was sent to a daara in Saint Louis in 2006 when I was nine years old, to pursue my study of the Koran.  I left behind my parents and three younger sisters, who are always in my thoughts.  And, while I've been in Saint Louis, both my father and mother died and I became an orphan.

When I arrived in Saint Louis, I saw children all around the city with begging bowls in hand, wandering barefoot with torn and filthy clothes and having no way to wash or get medical treatment.  I thought in my head: "What kind of a world is this?  What's the point?  Why be alive when there is no possibility to be yourself?"

I was sad from sunrise to sunset, wandering with my hands in my pants pockets.  At such moments, my thoughts always turned to my family.  Ah!!!  With my family I could have discussed things; I would have been able to express my opinions.  But, in the marabouts' world I was, like all the other children, a slave.

After three years of living this ordeal, I came upon an association called Maison de la Gare.  I was introduced by one of my comrades who had been going to Maison de la Gare's center every day.

Maison de la Gare is a non-profit organization, non-political and secular, that was founded in 2007 by a group of Senegalese driven by a desire to improve the living conditions of talibé children in their country, Senegal.  Maison de la Gare's objective is to help the talibés to integrate into Senegalese society, both socially and professionally, by providing them with access to education, sports and artistic activities and apprenticeship opportunities.

From my early days at the center, I saw many children in the courtyard.  Others were in the classrooms, in the infirmary, in the library or showering.  It was unimaginable for me to see all the talibés at home in the center as though they were with their families.  After a week, I started attending basic literacy classes with Bouri Cherif Mbodj, one of the center's French teachers.  I would go to the center in the mornings to wash and sometimes to get treatment for ailments or injuries.  And I would return every evening on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays for Math, French, History and Geography classes.  On Thursdays and Fridays, we organized soccer games with other children from around the city of Saint Louis.  Sports make a great contribution to children's development, helping them to better prepare their future.

I mastered basic French grammar in just three years. Finally I announced to Issa Kouyaté, Maison de la Gare's president, that I wanted to go to school.  He asked me "Arouna! Are you afraid to speak out in class?"  I said "No".  Then he asked me "Arouna!  Are you afraid to play with your classmates?"  Again, I answered "No".  He enrolled me in a public institution named CEM Amadou Fara Mbodj, a school located in the north of Saint Louis.

By the age of only sixteen, I had gained enough knowledge to become a leader and an example for the other talibés.  I devoted myself to my studies and often missed the football games or other activities as a result.  At times, I studied and did my homework in my daara until midnight by the light of the moon.  Despite my experience of the street, no one forced me to beg.  I always devoted time to obtaining a small quota of money for my marabout.  To do this, I sold fish in the local market that I had found on the banks of the Senegal River, discarded by fishermen.  Still, I always had time to look after the young talibés.  I was also available to help with the many chores required for the smooth running of the center.

Even beyond questions about life for children in the daaras, I asked myself about their lives after the daara: what can they do in life if they don't speak French (the official language in Senegal) and have no professional skills?  The best of them become themselves marabouts or Arabic teachers, but what about the rest?  Throughout my entire childhood, the age when a child learns about life in society, I was marginalized from everything ... because of my smell, my clothing and the fears of the other children's parents.  I also lacked any of the skills necessary to find a job, even a most rudimentary one!

People say that today's youth are the society of tomorrow.  What type of society can we build if our children are treated like this?  Let's not delude ourselves; a Muslim education is fine but we must also have technical skills.  The truth is that if I find myself as an adult without skills or employment, I will be lost to society and will swell the ranks of those outside the law.

Maison de la Gare has become my family.  I am also encouraged by my contacts with my correspondents in Canada via the Internet, and by volunteers at Maison de la Gare who know my qualities and my potential.

Myself and so many other children like me, we are the future of Senegal.

Today, Wednesday June 15th, is a perfect time to renew your support for the begging talibé street children.  It is Bonus Day at GlobalGiving and GlobalGiving UK and, after 9 a.m. EST, your donation will earn up to a 50% matching contribution.   It is your generous donations that makes possible Arouna's story, and so many like it.

Sept. 2014 - Reunited with his sisters after 8 yrs
Sept. 2014 - Reunited with his sisters after 8 yrs
Jan. 2012 - with Issa in Maison de la Gare center
Jan. 2012 - with Issa in Maison de la Gare center
Apr. 2013 - with young talibes at door to center
Apr. 2013 - with young talibes at door to center
Nov/13 - Talibe sleeping quarters, Arouna
Nov/13 - Talibe sleeping quarters, Arouna's daara
Mar. 2014 - Exchange with astronaut Chris Hadfield
Mar. 2014 - Exchange with astronaut Chris Hadfield
New Year 2015, with Kalidou at Maison des esclaves
New Year 2015, with Kalidou at Maison des esclaves
Mar. 2016 - a leader at Maison de la Gare
Mar. 2016 - a leader at Maison de la Gare

Links:

 
   

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