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 20, 2016

Senegaleses Students Work for Change

NODETA volunteers, proud of a job well done
NODETA volunteers, proud of a job well done

A New Start for Talibé Children

Most residents of Senegal have lived near begging talibés all their lives.  And, to many, the talibés are just part of life, not thought of as individual children with human rights, hopes or dreams.  But this summer that all changed for a group of one hundred and thirty-five local university and high school volunteers in the city of Saint-Louis.

NODETA (Nouveau départ pour les enfants talibés) is a student led volunteer organization with the objective of involving all stakeholders in finding a solution for Senegal's notorious talibé issue.  Rose M'Baye and Boubacar Diallo, NODETA's coordinators, are Senegalese students who have just graduated from the University of Rochester in New York.  Returning to Saint-Louis after having secured a grant from the US embassy in Dakar, Rose and Boubacar partnered NODETA with Maison de la Gare to work with talibé children, parents of talibés, marabouts, the government and local community members to raise awareness about the talibé situation and to improve their conditions.  This summer NODETA's second campaign was launched, lasting six weeks.

The local volunteers were divided into groups of approximately twenty-five, each having a team leader.  The volunteer teams went door to door in the community, fundraising and obtaining donations of clothing, shoes, mattresses, mosquito nets and other supplies for the talibés.  Nearly 500,000 francs were collected (about $800 US) along with over seven hundred items of clothing and materials and cleaning supplies to help improve living conditions in some daaras.  The money was used to renovate four particularly run down daaras.  The groups visited twenty daaras to distribute donations of supplies.  The community fundraising and many daara visits led the volunteers to many parts of Saint Louis that they had never before seen.

Through working with the marabouts, the volunteers soon came to learn that many of them do not always act in the best interests of the children.  Marabouts would often try to deflect attention from evidence of abusive conditions suffered by the talibés under their "care".  Or, they would try to extract a personal benefit.  The volunteers found they had to use diplomacy in order to facilitate discussions with marabouts.  Even then, they were sometimes discouraged that some marabouts would fail to take advantage of the improvements offered for the talibés, if it gave them no personal benefit.

Another plank of the NODETA program was vocational training.  Over the course of the campaign, forty-three talibé children received training in gardening, recycling, and pottery.  Rose noted that many more children could have benefited from vocational training if their marabouts had been more willing to cooperate.

The NODETA students also surveyed one hundred and fifty people in the Saint Louis area to learn about their attitudes toward talibés, forced begging and the daaras that control these children.  The survey results provided some important insights into the talibé situation in Senegal.  Some people refuse to help talibés, thinking of them as bandits or thieves.  Others do not consider talibés to be their responsibility as many of the children are foreigners, trafficked from other countries.  It was clear that talibés are thought of as different, apart from Senegalese society.  Talibés are defined by many as beggars and not as children.

But, for NODETA volunteers, these attitudes have been forever altered.  Having learned who the talibés are, where they come from and how they really live, the students' eyes have been opened.  Talibé children are now seen by these young agents of change as who they really are, as children with all the same needs, dreams and potential of any other children.  The students all feel that a sense of individual responsibility toward the talibés has been awakened in them. In the words of one team leader, El Hadj Malick Wade, "We must make the choice ... between what is right and what is easy."

If this grassroots movement of young, educated people is any indication, then positive change, indeed, must certainly lie ahead for the talibé children of Senegal.

______________

We express our sincere thanks to the American embassy in Dakar for their financial support which made NODETA 2016 possible, and to all of our generous donors on GlobalGiving who support Maison de la Gare's work for the talibé children every day.

A volunteer reads with children in the library
A volunteer reads with children in the library
Volunteers distribute clothes and gifts in a daara
Volunteers distribute clothes and gifts in a daara
A volunteer and his student with pottery creation
A volunteer and his student with pottery creation
Major clean-up of a Saint Louis daara
Major clean-up of a Saint Louis daara
Volunteers make major renovations in some daaras
Volunteers make major renovations in some daaras
Rose and Issa answer press questions about NODETA
Rose and Issa answer press questions about NODETA
NODETA
NODETA's slogan

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Nov 28, 2016

New Opportunity for Talibe Children- You Can Help

Teacher Abdou leading singsong in MDG center
Teacher Abdou leading singsong in MDG center

Dear friends of Maison de la Gare,

With your help, we have made enormous strides in improving the lives of the begging talibé street children.  Earlier this year we carried out a full census of the daaras of Saint-Louis, the first time that this has been done.  The astonishing result ... 12,528 boys living in 187 daaras under abysmal conditions and begging in order to support themselves and their marabouts!

Over 1,000 of these boys visit our center each month, taking basic literacy classes, exploring arts and crafts, learning rudimentary computer skills, playing soccer, learning karate and, in general, having a chance to play and to be children.  Our nurses treat over 300 of these boys each month in our infirmary.  So far this year close to 300 boys whom we have found sleeping in the streets have passed through our emergency shelter as we worked to reintegrate them into their daaras or their families in their home communities.

But what happens to the older boys?  For many, they aspire to become marabouts themselves, the main adult role model they have known.  Others, unable to read or write and with no marketable skills, drift into marginal lives in the streets.  We are striving to help them find better ways.  For the younger boys, education offers a way forward.  But, for the older boys it is harder.  We have taught tailoring skills and, since last year, have offered a basic agricultural apprenticeship opportunity at our new property in Bango for up to 25 boys at a time. 

Our objective at Bango is to prepare the boys to become autonomous over a period of one to two years, for reintegration into their home communities or elsewhere.  Their response has been enthusiastic.  As they have become more familiar with what is possible, our ideas about how to organize the project have evolved.  We have divided the property into seven sections with one older talibé responsible for each.  Each of these leaders has several younger talibés working with him.  This seems to be working very well as it gives each child a clear idea of what they are accomplishing and also provides a certain competition among the boys which is motivating for them.  They are growing and selling avocado, basil, papaya, citronella (used for tea), mint, peppers. mango, okra, oranges, hibiscus (the flowers of which are used to produce the popular Senegalese drink Bissap), tomatoes, guava, plums and bananas.

We want to expand these opportunities, and have identified two new properties to do this.  One, close to Bango, will be for raising poultry.  This has the potential to greatly increase the revenues from these apprenticeship programs and to provide the boys with very valuable additional skills.  The second property is about 10 km from Saint Louis and is well suited to growing bananas, which have been very successful in our Bango property but consume much available space as they grow.  We have defined a project which would involve about 40 boys and should be fully self-supporting after the first year.

You can help us to kick off these new projects.  Tomorrow, Tuesday November 29th, is GivingTuesday and, starting in the US at 12:01 a.m. Washington time, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will add 50% to your donation.  Matching in the UK starts at 12:01 a.m. London time.

This the perfect opportunity to renew your support.  Please donate early in the day, while matching funds are still available.  Thank you.

Kalidou learning to sew at Maison de la Gare
Kalidou learning to sew at Maison de la Gare
A corner of MDG
A corner of MDG's Bango agricultural property
Arouna and Imam drawing water for the garden
Arouna and Imam drawing water for the garden
Issa proudly showing off new tomatoes at Bango
Issa proudly showing off new tomatoes at Bango
Mamadou with thriving Bango banana trees
Mamadou with thriving Bango banana trees
Nov 10, 2016

Souleymane

Souleymane celebrates love of karate with Robbie
Souleymane celebrates love of karate with Robbie

A Child at Heart Becomes a Leader of Children

Souleymane first arrived at Maison de la Gare in 2010 when he was about 14 years old.  After receiving help from Maison de la Gare when he was sick, he became a familiar figure at the center.  It soon became apparent that Souleymane, sent from his home in The Gambia to a marabout and forced to beg for a quota of money at an early age, had been cheated of his childhood.  At Maison de la Gare he made up for lost time.  As a teenager, he learned to play.  And, he discovered education.  Now, as an older talibé with responsibilities at the center, and freed from his marabout, Souleymane is helping other talibés find their way to better lives.

Souleymane had initially heard about Maison de la Gare's center by word of mouth from other talibé children. He would appear from time to time for food and respite from his daily begging.  He became curious about the classes.  Then, in 2011, Souleymane began to have trouble in his daara.  He became sick and his marabout failed to provide any care.  Maison de la Gare took responsibility for his healthcare and Souleymane was hospitalized until he was well again.  He was required to submit 600 francs of begging proceeds (about one US dollar) every day to his marabout.  Even when he was in hospital, his daily quota accumulated.  Maison de la Gare intervened to assist Souleymane through these troubles.

Once Souleymane's health was restored, he began to attend literacy classes at Maison de la Gare on a regular basis.  It was his hope to be able to go to regular school some day.

Even as a teenager, Souleymane had the heart of a child.  At a series of celebrations organized for talibé children at the center, Souleymane spent hours coloring and drawing alongside children half his age.  He would spend as much time as possible participating in every game, always with the younger kids.  He loved the sack races (please click this link to see a video), and learning to skip rope.  The opportunity to play the djembe drums also captured his imagination.  Souleymane loves a good joke and he is always quick to tease.  Wherever there is fun, to this day Souleymane is sure to be on the scene.

When then 13 year old Robbie Hughes, a karate black belt, arrived from Canada in 2015 with his family to help begin a karate program at Maison de la Gare, Souleymane was interested right away.  Robbie and Souleymane became close friends.  Robbie taught him to love karate, and Souleymane taught Robbie to play marbles and to make a perfect pot of ataya tea.

Souleymane continued to study karate at the center and at the dojo Sor-Karaté.  As he progressed, his discipline and sense of responsibility increased.  There was a time when Souleymane may have been as likely to be napping behind a market stall as to be at class on time.  But now, the discipline of karate and his pride in responsibility seem to have had a transformative effect.  Souleymane leads the warm up for the karate class at the center twice a week, and trains at the dojo most nights.  He helps orient the newly registered "dojo talibés" in  the karate program, ensuring they are on time. And, he helps the kids just starting karate to find a gi (the karate kimono) that fits.  He now also competes in kata and combat for his dojo.  Souleymane has found passion and leadership in karate.

As Souleymane transitions out of the talibé life he continues to work with Maison de la Gare, not only leading karate classes, but supporting the hygiene and health care project.  Most days he leads the talibé children in brushing their teeth.  Among other projects, Souleymane also leads a group of four other talibés in cultivating a garden plot of okra at Maison de la Gare's property in Bango.

Meanwhile, Souleymane still yearns for an education, attending Maison de la Gare classes faithfully.  And, if fun is afoot, Souleymane will not be far away.

_____________

It is you, our faithful contributors, who make stories like Souleymane's possible.  We are grateful for your interest and support.

 

A child at heart - Souleymane skipping
A child at heart - Souleymane skipping
In class, Souleymane in the foreground
In class, Souleymane in the foreground
Coloring, a first chance to be a child
Coloring, a first chance to be a child
Now a yellow belt, leading the karate class at MDG
Now a yellow belt, leading the karate class at MDG
Registering new karate students at Sor-Karate
Registering new karate students at Sor-Karate
Proud of his okra crop at MDG
Proud of his okra crop at MDG's Bango property

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