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...
Mar 3, 2016

"A Day in the Life" at Maison de la Gare

Early morning, all is quiet at Maison de la Gare
Early morning, all is quiet at Maison de la Gare

There is very little action at Maison de la Gare first thing in the morning. Mame Diarra, the "house mother", prepares breakfast for the little talibé boys living in the emergency shelter, just Kalidou and Gorgui at the moment. Mamadou turns on the water and tends the garden. A neighbor notices the water is running and knocks on the still locked door, asking to fill his jug. He is invited in, as usual. Arouna organizes his books and bag for school.

Kalidou and Gorgui eventually rise and enjoy their breakfast. Then they kick the ball around, amusing themselves. After all, this is no daara where the talibés are sent out with the sunrise to beg for their breakfast as well as quotas of money.

By 10 a.m. Noël is positioned with his computer by the front door. He greets each talibé, recording his name and daara, as the boys begin to stream through the now open gate. Some entrust Noël with their begging bowls, little piles of coins collected during morning begging, and their few small treasures, so they can run off and play hands free.

Before long the library is full of kids asking Bachir, the librarian, to put on a movie. And, a lively soccer match is underway in the sandy open area. One strong kick injures the already battered bougainvillea. Another, the banana tree. Mamadou winces with the next near miss of his bananas . Then he shrugs and joins the game. Before long, the ball is gone over the wall due to an over-enthusiastic kick. Someone small and light is launched up onto the roof of the classrooms. Then, he is over the wall. Back comes the soccer ball and the game resumes. A little later the boy has also made his way back around through the front gate again. Many children take advantage of the bank of showers and toilets. They watch out for each other, passing filthy clothes out to each other to watch over as they bathe.

Children present themselves throughout the morning at the infirmary, arriving in ones and twos. Awa, the nurse, tends their wounds, eases their toothaches, examines and dresses their infections and generally spreads much needed tender loving care.

At about 11 a.m. karate begins. The karate kids wait by the door to the room where the karate uniforms are sorted. Even the smallest children put on their own gi and tie their own belts. Children who a few minutes earlier were rolling in the sand, running around in rags of clothes or begging barefoot in the streets are now lined up in disciplined rows, proudly dressed in clean, white uniforms attentive and eager to learn, understanding that they are part of something special. Instruction lasts a little over an hour. The class is divided into beginner and advanced levels. Many more talibés sit alongside, watching curiously. Perhaps they, too, are considering becoming Maison de la Gare karate kids.

As the sun rises higher in the African sky, more and more kids make their way over to the library or the garden. There they play, talk, or just lounge around, enjoying doing nothing in the shade.

After a few hours the kids head back out onto the street and the doors of Maison de la Gare close. The boys have begging quotas to fill. And, in many cases they will be expected back at their daara for a little bit of Koranic instruction.

Later in the afternoon the gates of Maison de la Gare open once again. Kalidou and Gorgui have been fed and have enjoyed an afternoon nap. Mamadou probably has as well. Arouna returns from school. He has a break for a few hours, time to help out around Maison de la Gare. Arouna, a begging talibé himself until just last year, is an inspiration to so many of the kids. Some of the children who visited in the morning come back, trickling in as their begging quotas have been filled and submitted. But, there is also a different crowd. Classes are taught in the afternoon, and the children who want to learn are gathering, waiting for the teachers to arrive. Games resume. The infirmary is back in action. More children head to the showers or wash their clothes. All the while, kids are keeping an eye out for the arrival of the teachers.

When Bouri, Aida and Abdou unlock the doors to their classrooms, children begin to head over. Some of the older ones who are studying with Bouri are hoping to learn enough to begin in the public school system sometime soon. These boys are eager and diligent. Some of the littlest ones need some encouragement to set aside the ball and head to class. However, many also see this opportunity for what it is, and they stream right on in.

A short time before classes end a few kids, the "dojo talibes" leave early to train at the Sor-Karate dojo. After classes, as the night descends, a meal is handed out to each child. Then after a bit more socializing, out they go ... "Ba souba", "à demain" ... into the darkness and back to their daaras. Maison de la Gare is quiet once more.

Maison de la Gare
Maison de la Gare's garden
Noel welcomes children, and guards their treasures
Noel welcomes children, and guards their treasures
Soccer, anytime anywhere
Soccer, anytime anywhere
The infirmary, with nurse Awa at work
The infirmary, with nurse Awa at work
Relaxing in the garden, begging bowl by his side
Relaxing in the garden, begging bowl by his side
Bouri with her students
Bouri with her students
Talibes doing their laundry, and karate gi drying
Talibes doing their laundry, and karate gi drying

Links:

Feb 11, 2016

Karate Delivers at Maison de la Gare

Morning karate class in Maison de la Gare
Morning karate class in Maison de la Gare's center

Early in 2015 Robbie, a young karate black belt volunteering with Maison de la Gare with his family, established a karate program for the talibé children of Maison de la Gare. He thought that the discipline, structure, self-confidence, sense of belonging to something special and respect among practitioners that is integral to the sport could greatly influence the talibés in a positive way. And, self defense skills could be a real advantage for vulnerable children forced to beg on the streets of Saint Louis. Robbie's family brought many dozens of gi from his dojo in Canada and he began teaching karate to the talibés. Local senseis in Saint Louis were engaged to continue the program, and many of the Maison de la Gare talibés fell in love with this sport.

Karate is now taught at the Maison de la Gare centre several mornings a week by senseis of the local dojo, Sor-Karaté Saint-Louis (please click to see video captured by Issa Kouyate the day before Christmas). An average of about 30 talibé karate students attend each class, which is divided into beginner and advanced sessions. All students proudly wear their white gi and belts during class. Many more talibés sit on the side-lines, curious and perhaps imagining themselves in a clean, white gi as well. They too will be welcomed into class when they demonstrate interest.

Most of the dozen talibés who were registered at the Sor-Karaté dojo in March 2015 have progressed impressively and will soon be testing for their orange belts. Issmaila, a "grand talibé" who assists with instructing the Maison de la Gare morning karate classes, has recently earned his green belt. These "dojo talibés" train at the dojo most nights each week. For some, karate has become a consuming passion.

One little boy, Yaya, is particularly devoted, attending Maison de la Gare's karate classes nearly every day. He takes karate very seriously and learns quickly. Yaya always wears a purple dinosaur gi, and refuses to relinquish it despite the fact that it is clearly too small for him. Yaya was recently promoted to the more advanced class. Issa Kouyaté, president of Maison de la Gare, will speak to Yaya's marabout about permitting him to be registered at the dojo with the older boys. Several of the other more dedicated children in the advanced class have been identified for registration in the dojo.

Thirteen year old Samba was initially registered at the dojo, but dropped out after a few months. Apparently his heels were injured and he could not practice. But, he is better now, and Samba has been re-registered at the dojo. Samba is proud of his new gi and keen to begin again and catch up to the other dojo talibés. Several of the Maison de la Gare "dojo talibés" kids have begun sparring and are ready for competition. However, equipment is lacking. At the dojo, one pair of kumite gloves was shared among all. When on a follow up visit Robbie joined the "dojo talibés" in training and offered his gloves for use, the kids took advantage of having two full sets of gloves and a series of sparring matches ensued.

The talibé karate kids have seen some of Robbie's karate Bo staff competitions on YouTube, and they also want to learn this skill. Robbie and Mamadou found that broomsticks from the market serve fairly well as Bo staves, although they are a foot or two too short. Robbie's initial Bo lesson with Issmaila (please click to play video) is a reminder of how eager and capable these kids are of learning quickly when they are motivated.

The morning following Issmaila's introduction to the Bo, after karate classes, five children asked Robbie to teach them Bo as well. It later was noted that several broom heads were lying discarded, stripped of their broom handles which are now being used as Bo's. It is also likely there is also a shovel head now missing its handle. Mamadou discovered an alternative to broomsticks, and the talibé karate kids were soon at work sanding and perfecting their new Bos. Issmaila is such a committed karate student, and such a fast learner, that he is now able (and very willing) to continue teaching the karate Bo lessons.

Karate is delivering astonishing benefits to many of the Maison de la Gare talibé children. And, for a few, a true and abiding passion has been sparked. Who knows where it may take them.

Yaya (in purple) practicing katas with his class
Yaya (in purple) practicing katas with his class
Talibes training at Sor-Karate Saint-Louis dojo
Talibes training at Sor-Karate Saint-Louis dojo
Yaya, a devoted talibe student
Yaya, a devoted talibe student
Mamadou and Samba sanding their new Bo staves
Mamadou and Samba sanding their new Bo staves
Issmaila, the student, becomes the teacher
Issmaila, the student, becomes the teacher

Links:

Jan 21, 2016

Kalidou

Kalidou expressing his artistic side
Kalidou expressing his artistic side

How can the world allow this?

Watching him, his energy, his involvement, his intelligence, his kindness, you would think he was an exceptional teenager. But he is a young child. We thought he was six. But, when Mame Diarra spoke with him about it, he said that he is certain that he is only four years old.

Kalidou’s father is a farmer in the Saloum area in the south of Senegal. The family has many children and very limited resources. They sent Kalidou to Saint Louis to learn the Koran when he was three, entrusting him to marabout Lamine Kâ at his daara in the Ndiolofène area of Saint Louis.

Kalidou could not tolerate the conditions in the daara. Because of his young age, he was given a begging quota of 30 francs a day, about 6 cents US, compared to 300 to 500 francs (60 cents to a dollar) for the older boys. But the long hours on the street were hard for him. And the daara was filthy, without running water or hygiene facilities  Hardest of all, he was far from his family and had no contact with them or with any other nurturing adults.

So Kalidou ran. He slept for several days on the porches of houses, and in the morning often was given something to eat by the families. The police found him, and he was entrusted to Maison de la Gare. I tried to take him back to his daara. We walked there, but when we got close he absolutely refused to go in. And his parents won’t take him back because they believe that he is better off in the daara.

So, for the moment, Kalidou is living in Maison de la Gare’s emergency shelter. Mame Diarra, the shelter’s house mother, cares for him and showers him with the affection that he has been starved for. And all of the Maison de la Gare staff treat him like family. He insists on joining the karate classes, and participates actively in Abdou’s beginning French classes. Kalidou does not want to be left out of anything.

Like so many talibé children, Kalidou has a heart of gold. When one is short on his begging quota, another who has excess will share it. It is the same with any food they are given. Some Canadian volunteers took Kalidou and another boy from the shelter to a Senegalese restaurant for a simple meal, and they reported an extraordinary example of this generosity. After the meal, the boys wanted to take the left-over rice, chicken bones and other food, so the restaurant provided some small plastic bags. Outside the restaurant as they were leaving, they saw a homeless man who had been there for several days. Without a thought, Kalidou took his bag and the other boy’s and gave them both to the man, who immediately started eating. Little boys with nothing ready to give whatever they have!

It is hard to know what the future holds for Kalidou. His situation is unconscionable. Maison de la Gare will work to have his family accept him back and will support them in finding a way to integrate him.

But change must come. We won’t stop until it does.

Secure with Mame Diarra
Secure with Mame Diarra
Trying to keep up in the karate Bo class
Trying to keep up in the karate Bo class
Greeting another talibe in beginner French class
Greeting another talibe in beginner French class
With other talibes in Bango water well
With other talibes in Bango water well
Issmaila giving Kalidou a private Bo lesson
Issmaila giving Kalidou a private Bo lesson
At supper in a local Senegalese restaurant
At supper in a local Senegalese restaurant
Mame Diarra tending to an infected ear
Mame Diarra tending to an infected ear

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