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...
Sep 8, 2016

Talibe Children Discover Their History

Djibi, shocked learning about slavery
Djibi, shocked learning about slavery

Sonia LeRoy reports on a horse-drawn carriage ride around Saint Louis that became a window on the past

Maison de la Gare is a place where talibé children have the opportunity to learn, as well as to just enjoy being children while being appreciated as the unique individuals they are.  This recently manifested itself in a unique way for the begging street children of Saint Louis.

A group of Canadian high school students, each with a parent (myself one of them) organized a unique excursion for the talibés of Maison de la Gare.  The excursion was at once an outing to relax far from their daily trials of forced begging, while at the same time being an opportunity to bond with the volunteers and to spend time experiencing a tour and seeing local historical sights.  And, these talibés learned about the history and heritage of the city in which they live, in many cases for the first time.

Initially it was planned that sixteen talibé children, their Maison de la Gare teacher Bouri Mbodj and the volunteers would participate.  When our group met at Maison de la Gare's center to gather for the walk to the tour departure point on the island of Saint Louis, the group of interested talibés had become 26.  A few more Maison de la Gare talibés joined the group as we walked and, by the time we prepared to board the horse drawn carriages to begin the tour, our group had swelled to 35.  As the tour progressed, two more stragglers hopped on.  Only four carriages had been ordered for 23 people.  However, all 35 squeezed happily into the carts, with the little ones balancing on the laps of adults and teenagers.  Only the hard working horses were unhappy with the situation.

As we set out on our journey, behaving like tourists, bystanders gaped in astonishment as they realized it was mainly talibés on board, some barefoot and filthy, but with beaming smiles emanating pride and happiness.  Many held our hands, enjoying moments of affection as might a parent and child on a family outing.

At each point of interest, the group disembarked for a history lesson.  The information was repeated in French as well as Wolof by our thoughtful guide, to ensure that the talibés understood.   Most of the talibé children had never crossed the bridge to the ocean-side Langue de Barbarie; a few had never before ventured even onto the island of Saint Louis, remaining forever in their familiar begging grounds of Sor on the mainland, a 500 meter footbridge away.

At one historical stop, meat pastries were being fried and offered for sale at a roadside stand.  The children were delighted to be treated to a pastry each for dinner.

As a description was offered of the riverside colonial warehouse that in past centuries housed the trade goods of ivory, rubber, gold and slaves, one child asked: "What is a slave?"  Sober and astonished silence descended as the guide explained, as gently as possible, the history of the transatlantic slave trade in Senegal.  Most of these kids had never heard of slavery, and could not absorb even the concept of the barbarism that dominated four centuries of their own history.  Watching these children whom the United Nations defines as modern day slaves trying to accept such historical horrors, I was struck by how little had, in fact, changed from those difficult times for these beautiful talibé boys.

For information about opportunities to volunteer with Maison de la Gare or to support the education programs for the talibés, please visit Maison de la Gare's web site at this link

Children and volunteers gather ...
Children and volunteers gather ...
Sonia organizing her carriage, awaiting the driver
Sonia organizing her carriage, awaiting the driver
In the streets of Saint Louis
In the streets of Saint Louis
Happily enroute
Happily enroute
Over the bridge to the Langue de Barbarie
Over the bridge to the Langue de Barbarie
A stop for meat pastries
A stop for meat pastries
Teacher Bouri and the children listen attentively
Teacher Bouri and the children listen attentively

Links:

Aug 18, 2016

It's Official ... Issa is a "Hero"

Secretary John Kerry recognizes Issa as a "hero"
Secretary John Kerry recognizes Issa as a "hero"

Secretary of State John Kerry honors Issa Kouyaté as a Hero of the struggle against child trafficking

Every year the U.S. State Department honors individuals around the world who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking, the highlight of release of its annual report on progress in countries around the world. 

Issa was presented to Secretary Kerry with these words: "In recognition of his selfless dedication to protecting talibés, his commitment to providing them comprehensive care, and his vital role in building support among local officials to prevent human trafficking, Issa Kouyaté ..."

This is Issa's personal report of the experience:

"My journey to the US to receive the TIP Hero award was one the most moving experiences of my professional life.  This award honors all of the work that Maison de la Gare has done over the past five years, especially in child protection.  The report covers the world and gives each country a sense of where it stands in the areas of corruption, human trafficking and respect of international conventions that it has ratified.

The visit brought together nine individuals from different countries who are leaders in the struggle against trafficking.  Each of these counties has its own challenges.  For Senegal, represented by Maison de la Gare, the problem area is street children and children who are suffering abuse or are otherwise in vulnerable situations.

I met first in Dakar with U.S. Ambassador James Zumwalt who congratulated me for the tremendous work that Maison de la Gare does.  The Embassy covered my travel expenses.

In Washington we visited organizations like Polaris, a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery and restore freedom to survivors.  And we learned in our exchanges that there are trafficking victims everywhere, even in the United States.  The meetings were successful, as many of these organizations want to stay in touch with us and our work.   We were also taken on a guided tour around Washington, visiting its monuments and statues; this helped us to understand the past and how it links the present with the future.

It was in meetings with Ambassador Susan Coppedge (Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons) and Secretary of State John Kerry that I really appreciated the impact of what we are doing.  Although we are on the other side of the world, we are key players in this struggle.  I became aware of how important our work is and how much we have accomplished in so short a time.  This has required great sacrifices and these leaders acknowledged this with generosity and  conviction.  I have reached a point personally where there is no room for error, especially in protecting the children.  

This award is very important for the thousands of people struggling to end human trafficking.  The Secretary of State and the ambassador took us into their confidence, emphasizing the importance of our work for the entire world.  We also met with US security chiefs who explained how they work to fight against human trafficking.

Many issues raised during the visit focused on the situation of talibé children in Senegal.  As the Senegalese representative, I had to explain the roles of Maison de la Gare and various government services.  In fact, the very next day the Senegalese government announced a decision about stabilizing the situation of street children, a decision to ban begging of street children throughout the country.

I returned home satisfied and full of hope that the children's situation and their living conditions will change for the better in the near future."

Issa proudly displaying his award
Issa proudly displaying his award
Issa advocates passionately for talibe children
Issa advocates passionately for talibe children
A working meeting with US anti-trafficking unit
A working meeting with US anti-trafficking unit
With Awa Ndour of Senegal anti-trafficking office
With Awa Ndour of Senegal anti-trafficking office
Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King's words touched Issa deeply

Links:

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:

 
   

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