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...
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:

May 26, 2016

A New Adventure Begins

Issa proudly shows off new tomatos at Bango
Issa proudly shows off new tomatos at Bango

Maison de la Gare's agricultural apprenticeship program in Bango is born

For many years, the garden in Maison de la Gare’s centre in Saint Louis has been an oasis of greenery and tranquility in the lives of the begging talibé street children.  For the many children who have been directly involved in planting, cultivating, watering and otherwise caring for the garden, it has provided stability in their lives, giving them a sense of pride and responsibility and providing them with skills that will help them to eventually reintegrate into the farming communities that they come from.  Gardening has become a doorway to autonomy for these children.

The garden is small, however, too small for the ever increasing numbers of vulnerable children who see it as an opportunity to work towards a better future.  Many of the older talibé youth, typically between 17 and 25 years old, have wanted to take part, but there just has not been enough space for them to assume meaningful roles. 

Issa Kouyaté, Maison de la Gare’s president, has dreamed for over six years of acquiring a plot of land that could be used to establish an agricultural apprenticeship program for these older talibé children.  He has found many potential properties over the years, but has never had the financial means to go forward.  The possibility became real during a discussion with GO Campaign of Santa Monica, California in early 2015.  GO Campaign had given a grant to Maison de la Gare in 2014 that made it possible to build the emergency shelter in our Saint Louis center.  With the success of this project, they were looking for another way to help.  We prepared an application and, shortly afterwards, they provided funding to enable us to buy the land and start the project.

We found an ideal site for our purposes in Bango, a town seven kilometers from our center in Saint Louis.  The property, 621 square meters in size, is located next to an irrigation ditch that supplies water.  Thanks to the location in the delta of the Senegal River, the soil is rich and well suited to growing market vegetables.  Purchase of the land was completed by mid-summer of 2015 and the first sections were planted shortly after.  The plants grew well and we were expecting an early crop.  However, a short time later, everything was destroyed by the incursion of a herd of cattle.  We realized that we had to start over, after building a solid wall around the field.

Everything was ready by the end of the year, the wall, doors and a ten-meter deep well.  Issa was the first to taste the water from the new well and, fortunately, he confirmed that it is very good.  We started  2016 with new plantings, this time very successfully.  Seydou, an experienced local farmer, agreed to supervise the property and to serve as a teacher and mentor for the children.

Several initial crops have now been harvested, helping us to see what can be most successful as a base for the future.  Many of the young people are only beginning to appreciate the opportunity that this new space offers.  As more and more of them visit the property and as the children who are involved talk about their experiences, the numbers are growing.  The first harvests have shown how fertile the land is, and the experience has let us see which of the young people are ready to fully commit to this activity.  For these children, they are already feeling more independent and can see clearly how their involvement can lead to a meaningful future.  Maison de la Gare is making great strides both in developing the property and in supporting the talibés who are involved, encouraging them in their efforts and helping them to become increasingly self-confident.

Imam is one of the talibé youth committed to this project.  In his words, "Everything is going well, a good start.  It's good to be busy.  For the future, I hope this will continue and help me to find work."

We express our profound thanks to GO Campaign and to everyone who has made possible this new adventure for the children of Maison de la Gare, a pathway to becoming self-sufficient contributors to society.

Site of the project ... rich, well-watered soil
Site of the project ... rich, well-watered soil
The dream ... first peak at the possible property
The dream ... first peak at the possible property
Irrigation canal next to the property
Irrigation canal next to the property
Walls and well under construction
Walls and well under construction
The dream comes true
The dream comes true
Arouna and Imam draw water from the well
Arouna and Imam draw water from the well
Berengere, Imam & Arouna discuss development plans
Berengere, Imam & Arouna discuss development plans

Links:

May 5, 2016

Three Girls at Maison de la Gare

Issa with Rowan, Alicia & Katherine in MDG center
Issa with Rowan, Alicia & Katherine in MDG center

Arouna reports on Canadian high school students teaching his fellow talibés

"Alicia, Katherine and Rowan are high school students from Ottawa, Canada.  Alicia, 15, is a student at Glebe Collegiate while Katherine, aged 16, and Rowan, 17, are studying at Ashbury College.  The three girls came to Senegal in March, specifically to Saint Louis to visit our center, Maison de la Gare.

The three girls travelled with Katherine's father Martin and Rowan's and Alicia's moms, Sonia and Karen.  They spent nine days with us at Maison de la Gare, but they also visited the city of Saint Louis where they met the talibé children begging and even living in the streets.  The talibés live in extremely difficult conditions, walking barefoot in the streets wearing only rags, begging for what then must give to their marabouts.  Most of these children are between 5 and 15 years of age.  They come from poor families far from the city, from distant regions of Senegal and from neighbouring countries (Casamance, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, etc.).  Instead of teaching the children the Koran or giving them a good education, the marabouts use them to enrich themselves.  The talibés are forced to live in very marginal conditions like abandoned houses where access to water and electricity, and even food, is very limited.  And the health of these talibé children is severely compromised.

The first days at Maison de la Gare were challenging for the Canadian girls.  We saw the concern in their faces, reflecting their lack of understanding of the children's situation.  They felt badly for the children.  And they did not understand what people were saying in the context of African culture.  Their objectives were to share some of their knowledge with the children and to contribute to development and to the fight against child abuse.

They began by animating games in the center's open courtyard, and this proved very successful as a way to establish good connections with the children.  Their goodwill and their desire to contribute were very obvious to everyone.  After three days at the center, the girls began to talk with the children about their living conditions and other aspects of their lives, with strong support from teacher Abdou and some of the older talibés.  They taught English classes to older talibé children.  Karen and Sonia were always close at hand to guide them, while Martin played the role of a wise grandfather.  Outside the classroom, the three girls regularly read books to the children in the courtyard and in the library.  Like children everywhere, the talibés love stories and identify themselves with great enthusiasm with well-illustrated books.  They always crowded around in large numbers when the girls were reading to them.  Katherine was able to share a special skill, creating origami birds, and many children were fascinated by the magic of this art.  And the three girls were able to teach children crammed into the library to sing "Happy Birthday" to Issa in English, to celebrate his birthday!

Despite the unthinkable conditions in which talibés live, these children always seem to have a ready smile and to be able to forget their life problems.  They are very open to people who treat them with respect, and many of them rapidly become very attached to Rowan, Katherine and Alicia.

This visit to Maison de la Gare allowed Rowan, Katherine and Alicia to learn many things about the talibé children and Senegalese culture.  They learned that there are thousands of young people who are suffering because of begging or poverty.  This trip allowed them to understand better the complexity of what is happening in Senegal.  To address this scourge, these young talibé children need help, protection and constant support in their fight against abuse.  But they also need the support of centers such as Maison de la Gare so they can have a better future.

In conclusion, on behalf of all of the talibés and of Maison de la Gare, we thank you, Rowan, Katherine and Alicia, for this visit and for your commitment to the talibé children.  We also express our thanks to Ashbury College in Ottawa which chose to give their students the opportunity to come to Senegal to visit us and to support us.  And, finally, we call on everyone to join the fight against begging and against the abuse of talibé children, who are themselves the future.

Stop our brothers' begging."

Alicia and Katherine animating games
Alicia and Katherine animating games
Teaching an English class to older talibe students
Teaching an English class to older talibe students
In library teaching talibes to sing Happy Birthday
In library teaching talibes to sing Happy Birthday
Reading to children amassed in the courtyard
Reading to children amassed in the courtyard
Katherine taught the children to make origami
Katherine taught the children to make origami
With Abdou, distributing the evening snack
With Abdou, distributing the evening snack
Farewell celebration, a meal for 120 people!
Farewell celebration, a meal for 120 people!
Tearful goodbye to their English class
Tearful goodbye to their English class

Links:

 
   

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