May 31, 2021

"The talibes of today are the Men of tomorrow"

This photo demands our attention on several levels
This photo demands our attention on several levels

Emmanuelle reflects on Maison de la Gare’s motto, stimulated by her experience in a daara

Maison de la Gare is drilling wells to provide clean water in several of the worst daaras in Saint Louis. That's a story for another report. Here, Emmanuelle shares her feelings as she watches the work in progress.

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"When I know that most of them instinctively answer without thinking that they would like to become a marabout when they grow up, I struggle to understand how new role models can support them and guide them on a path to more dignity and self-respect.

Today, I am working on producing a video about Maison de la Gare’s installation of drinking water wells in a very precarious location. I have spent a lot of time over the past several days with the team that is carrying out this project.

Making this video is particularly complicated for me because the work is technical and I have taken hundreds of photos and made numerous videos; the sorting is very time-consuming, working with each shot, and organizing them so that I can turn them into a coherent story about this project.

But today, while sorting through the photos, I saw one in particular that I wanted to share with you, because it represents perfectly my understanding of the people whom I have met since my arrival here.

There are those who are in the foreground in this photo, so few in number. These few are humble, committed, willing and available, and they work actively to achieve real change. Here, it is Abdoulaye (who lives in the room next to mine, who’s from Casamance and came to work for this project) and Souleymane (a former talibé who was born in Gambia and grew up in a daara in Saint Louis) who are starting the work on construction of a well in a daara where hygiene conditions are worse than questionable. The existing well is open to the air, filthy, and a breeding ground for bacteria and other contaminants.

I am so in awe of who they are, what they do, and the hope they represent. I'm really happy to have met them because being surrounded by people like them is precious, even more so here.

Behind, in the background, you can see some of the talibé children from this daara. These talibés, everyone agrees, are the Men of tomorrow, who here in this daara do not go to school, sleep with more than 15 in the same room, and go out to beg for a few coins or food early in the morning, sometimes until very late at night.

When we arrived, they were discreet and amazed by our presence. Then, they quickly approached us to see what we were doing, to understand, to help.

All of them except one, who can't get up by himself, because he broke his leg several weeks ago and he hasn't been treated, so he stays here all day, without moving.

It's distressing, yes, clearly. But when I see them around the team participating and smiling, I tell myself that all is not lost, and that everything is still possible for them.

And then, finally, there are those in the far background. The most elegant in their clothing, the most smiling too and the most welcoming to the arrival of a white woman.

They are the marabout of the daara with some relatives or neighbors, I imagine. They stayed there in their beautiful clothes all day, sitting in the shade talking to each other. No effort, nothing, no gratitude for the team, no special attention for the children.

It's so revolting!

Anyway, I hope you took the time to read my text, which goes with this first picture, and to look at the few other photos that I'm adding. Because this picture doesn't just show two men in flip-flops digging a well. This photo shows all the action and energy of some people in the face of the cruelty and immobility of others, all in front of a generation of Men in the making.

So, don't misunderstand this photo looking at it quickly, because here you can see eloquently that the real men are those who wear flip-flops and have their feet full of mud!"

Links:

May 26, 2021

Slavery - A Modern Scourge (Part 2)

Three more cases of talibé children subjected to a brutal contemporary form of slavery

Almost every child who comes into Maison de la Gare’s center is a victim of a contemporary form of slavery, whether they come to participate in our daytime programs or they have been rescued from the streets by our night rounds team. Each child has a different story, but what they all have in common is that they were separated from their families at a young age and forced to live in severely abusive conditions for many years while having to beg or work for their own food as well as for money for the person controlling them.

We recently shared elements of three of the 85 case studies that we have prepared since 2012 for our applications and reports to the United Nations Fund for the Struggle Against Contemporary Forms of Slavery. We share three more of these case studies here, to further illustrate the situations of these children and to introduce other members of our dedicated staff who struggle every day to give them a chance in life. Once again, the boys' names and places of origin have been changed for their protection, and we are not including any photos of them.

Abdoulaye (16 years old)

Our street educator, Ndeye Aby Bâ, reports that Abdoulaye was sent to a daara in Saint Louis at a young age by his family in central Senegal. He was neglected in his daara, forced to beg for his food and for money for his marabout. Now 16, Abdoulaye has not seen his family for many years. He has run away from his daara several times over the years and was brutally beaten each time he returned.

Abdoulaye’s marabout abandoned his daara at the beginning of the pandemic, and Abdoulaye ran away once more. This time he lived alone on the streets for several months, suffering extreme deprivation and hunger. Mamadou Gueye and the night rounds team found him sleeping alone, and Abdoulaye agreed to accompany them to Maison de la Gare’s center. He stayed in our emergency shelter for several days, recovering his health, eating nutritious meals, and having his injuries treated by our nurse Awa Diallo in the infirmary.

Aby investigated Abdoulaye’s case, exploring possibilities with him. He refused to return to his village, as he no longer has any links there and would likely just be sent back to his daara. Abdoulaye agreed to register in our poultry farming apprenticeship program, to learn the skills he needs to become self-supporting. While in this program, he is living with some other older talibés in transition in an apartment provided by Maison de la Gare. He is at our center regularly to wash, eat and receive hygiene and medical support. He also participates regularly in the karate program, which provides strong reinforcement of his growing sense of self-respect and empowerment.

Moussa (10 years old)

Moussa was sent to a daara in Saint Louis from his home village in Guinea Bissau when he was only 6 years old. Although his family had understood that he would be learning the Quran, Moussa is effectively a slave, forced to beg for his food and for a financial quota to pay to his marabout. Living without access to potable water or hygiene facilities, he was filthy, in bare feet and wearing rags when he first came to Maison de la Gare two years ago. He had discovered our center by word of mouth from other talibé children.

Abdou Soumaré reports that, when Moussa first came to Maison de la Gare, he seemed small for his age, malnourished and very timid. After his first few visits, he began to eat regularly, take showers, and pass his time participating in games and playing with the other children. Moussa started to watch the morning karate classes in the center. He became interested but stayed shyly on the sidelines. Finally, after a month, his curiosity got the better of him and he asked Abduramane Buaró, the instructor, if he could join.

Once he started karate, Moussa never missed a class. He eats regularly at the center and has gained strength and stature. He now comes every day to the center. He is full of confidence, respectful and listens attentively, skills learned through karate. Moussa now has a sense of self-respect, evidenced by his efforts to keep himself and his clothes as clean as possible. He participated in his first karate tournament at the end of 2019, just before the pandemic struck.

Moussa is only 10 years old, so he could continue in his daara for another 10 years. We expect that Maison de la Gare will be a big part of his life during this time. We are now encouraging him to participate in French literacy classes, and he is very motivated to advance in karate and to earn higher belts, as many of the older talibés have.

Alioune (13 years old)

Our street educator Aby Bâ reports that Alioune began coming regularly to Maison de la Gare’s center in 2017. At the time, he had already been a talibé for almost five years, having been sent to Saint Louis from his home in central Senegal when he was only five years old. His parents had not been involved in his life since he was sent to Saint Louis, and he suffered enormously from the harsh living conditions and from being forced to beg on the streets for many hours each day for his food and for the quota of money for his marabout.

In Alioune’s case, his marabout was often away, and he had to give the proceeds of his begging to the “grands talibés”, older boys in the daara acting on behalf of the marabout. As is often the case, these grands talibés are the worst abusers, perhaps living out the abusive behavior that they themselves had been subjected to, and perhaps feeling a sense of power in their lives with little to look forward to.

Alioune’s marabout was away during the worst of the pandemic, leaving the grands talibés in charge. They collected the daily quotas on behalf of the marabout and sent the money to him, but otherwise left the young talibés to fend for themselves, without food or any sort of care or supervision. They beat Alioune brutally when he failed to submit his quota.

In September of 2020, Mamadou Gueye and the Maison de la Gare night rounds team found Alioune sleeping alone on the street. Since he knew Maison de la Gare well, he agreed to come with the team to the emergency shelter. He stayed in the shelter until his marabout was able to come to answer questions about the beatings that he had received. The marabout assured Aby that he had not beaten Alioune himself and that he had now returned to the daara and would ensure that the beatings would stop. However, later the next month the marabout was again away, and Alioune ran away after another brutal beating. The night rounds team found him again. This time, the street educators took Alioune home to his village and found his family. They agreed to register him at a local daara so that he can live at home with them. As soon as it is safe again after the pandemic, our street educators will make a follow-up visit to the village to ensure that Alioune is safe and that his new daara is well supervised.

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With gratitude to the United Nations Fund for the Struggle Against Contemporary Forms of Slavery, and to all our precious donors. You make possible our work to bend the lives of these innocent children towards hope and justice.

Street Educator Ndeye Aby Ba
Street Educator Ndeye Aby Ba
Aby registering talibe children found in the night
Aby registering talibe children found in the night
Abdou Soumare, responsible for education programs
Abdou Soumare, responsible for education programs
Abdou teaching a literacy class
Abdou teaching a literacy class
Buaro leading a karate class in MDG center
Buaro leading a karate class in MDG center
Mamadou Gueye, key member of the night rounds team
Mamadou Gueye, key member of the night rounds team

Links:

May 10, 2021

A Time to Shine

Karate began for Maison de la Gare six years ago. The very first classes were offered to talibé children who did not know the sport, or the language in which it was taught, or the thirteen year old Canadian boy teaching them. But, it looked fun, and it did not require shoes (which most did not have), and they got to wear clean white uniforms, and be the centre of attention. Dozens of talibés decided to give it a try.

Today karate is respected and adored at Maison de la Gare, a crown jewel among the programs offered for forced begging street children, modern day slaves known as talibés. Hundreds of children have donned uniforms, tried classes, become devoted students of martial arts, been registered in a local dojo where they are undifferentiated from regular, non-enslaved children. Many dozens have tested for and achieved higher belts, trained for and competed in local tournaments. For many talibé karateka karate has become a burning passion. For a few, they say karate has become to them life itself.  Several of Maison de la Gare’s karateka have been invited to compete at regional, and even National tournaments! For all of them, life is better than it was before they discovered karate.

The karateka now understand the language of karate, taking their instructions in the Japanese universally understood in the karate world. Children, abused and exploited from a young age, have learned confidence, perseverance, and the discipline and humility that comes from strength, pride and self respect, rather than from fear and intimidation.

Maison de la Gare regularly hosts competitions, made possible by generous international donors, and run by the local Sor Karate dojo and the World Karate Federation. Many tournaments have been hosted over the past years. Tournaments are a chance for the karateka to truly shine. They prepare for weeks leading up to the big day, at the centre during morning karate classes and also at the dojo during evening classes. A few days before the competition Sensei gives a motivational speech to the competitors, giving them advice on how to focus and comport themselves during the event, as well as to congratulate them on their perseverance, dedication and accomplishments to date. The evening prior to the competition, mats are delivered by horse and cart, and set up by the older prospective competitors, usually in the dark after the other talibés have left the Maison de la Gare Center and returned to their daaras for the night. The first few times the mats were assembled on tournament day, all the pieces did not easily come together as planned. Since those early days, the karateka have learned to begin to assemble the mats from the center rather than from multiple outer edges at a time, and they have learned to plan ahead and complete the assembly the night before.

The morning of the tournament, the karate students began to arrive, nervous but excited. Determination, anxiety and anticipation all take their turns crossing across the faces of those about to compete. As first a trickle, then dozens, then hundreds of talibés begin to tumble in to the Center, they realize something special is about to happen. The competitors don their gi’s, take some time aside for a final review of a planned kata, or practice some final sparring drills. The Federation referees arrive, wearing suits and looking very official. The prize table is assembled. Prizes! Tournament sweaters and trophies donated by the Canadian black belt who started it all; t-shirts and medals donated by the Canadian dojos that sponsor the event; Extra prizes if extra donors can be found; and the Douvris Cup: A great trophy for the Grand Champion! Each tournament ends with a new name engraved on the side. This is Maison de la Gare’s Stanley Cup of karate.

Before long Sensei is standing by, and the competitors are lined up and ready to go. Maison de la Gare is packed with talibés, staff and visitors anxious for the competition to begin.

The first division is always kihon, for the younger group of students who train at the centre in the mornings. Over twenty competitors perform as requested. Or, what they thought was requested (the instructions are in Japanese after all). After each pair performs, a winner is chosen. Then the winners compete again. And again, until only the gold, silver, bronze and runner up remain. The process is repeated for kata. First time and veteran competitors alike seem surprised and delighted by the audience's wild applause. Then medals are awarded, and prizes for the winners. But it seemed that all of them felt like winners. There was glory enough to go around for each of them.

At 1:00pm the tournament is suspended so the invitees and referees can break for lunch. Some of the competitors are called back to their daaras, some go out to the streets to beg for lunch, and some remain to hang out at Maison de la Gare or train for the afternoon divisions. The tournament is scheduled to resume at 4:00pm.  

At 4:30pm the group begins to assemble again. By 4:45 the older dojo talibés are dressed, lined up, and ready to compete. Occasionally the President of the WKF Senegalese Karate Federation will attend, a great honour! He sits at the head table beside Sensei Ignety Ba. The referees turn to salut him. Then they bow to the karateka. The boys nervously but proudly bow back to them. The afternoon battle for the Douvris Cup begins.

The afternoon begins with kata. Some are white belts, some have passed for yellow, but not yet been granted their belts (that happens later, after the competition), several orange belts, a few greens, and the occasional blue belt.  For the tournament however, they are all equal, wearing blue or red. When a competitor performs a particularly spectacular kata the crowd burst into loud, sustained shouting and applause, astonished at his skill. The joy and pride experienced by the competitor is indescribable.

Finally, kumite. As the boys are paired off and don their protective gear, the anticipation in the air is palpable. What is it about competitive fighting that excites people this way? The referee starts the first pair. As they began to spar, the crowd grows louder. At first laughing as punches miss or are blocked, then clapping and cheering as hits are made and points called. As the fights progress, with the winners move on to fight the winners, and the skill levels displayed increases. The noise from the crowd grows ever louder with each successive pair, attracting even more spectators. Finally, the fight for gold. Glory, once more!

The medals are awarded, and the Douvris Cup winner gets revealed. All the competitors who place make sure their medals are visible to the judges, thinking to influence the decision. Then,,,"Et le Grand Champion de la Coupe Douvris est...!" The crown goes wild for the Champion in admiration. Glory, indeed!

Then, a ceremony to award the new belts earned the previous week. The President of the Federation awards the first yellow belt, a wonderful honour, and an important recognition and vote of confidence in the Maison de la Gare talibé karate initiative. The new belts are tied on each successful grader, in turn. 

As the African sun sets on the end of a glorious tournament day, the glory will not soon be forgotten, for the talibés, competitors and guests alike. As for the medalists, it was truly a time to shine!

A morning class at Maison de la Gare
A morning class at Maison de la Gare
A class at Sor-Karate dojo
A class at Sor-Karate dojo
Figuring out the mats assembly
Figuring out the mats assembly
Tournament Day!
Tournament Day!
founder Robbie Hughes helps to prepare
founder Robbie Hughes helps to prepare
Respect
Respect

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