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...
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

Links:

Dec 31, 2015

Senegalese Volunteers Take Action for the Talibes

Talibe children, proud of their creations
Talibe children, proud of their creations

Thanks to Rose Mbaye, Eyram Adedze, Ben Ouattara, Mame Coumba and "Davis Projects for Peace", Senegalese university students have joined the struggle for justice

This project came to pass thanks to the initiative of four African students from the University of Rochester in New York and a grant that they received from Davis Projects for Peace”. The project made it possible for close to fifty Senegalese volunteers to address a problem close to their hearts, a problem they thought they could eliminate or reduce. Many of these volunteers, however, were only beginning to learn what exploitation truly is.

The volunteers were mainly students from Gaston Berger University in Saint Louis and Alioune Diop University in Bambey. They gave up their summer vacations to help Maison de la Gare in its efforts for the talibé children, and to learn more about how organizations committed to child protection act on behalf of the victims of abuse. The project was actively supported by the Ministry of Justice through its office for social action in open environments (AEMO), along with the Prefect, the Governor and the General Secretary of Maîtres Coraniques du Sénégal (Quranic Teachers of Senegal).

The university volunteers divided into groups for the activities in Maison de la Gare’s welcome centre, to allow everyone to be fully involved and to energize the activities with friendly competition between the groups. The talibé children felt the warm embrace of these university students and were open to discussing with them while cooperating fully with their instructions for the various activities. The students animated creative activities such as coloring, making collages, playing checkers and making masterpieces out of recycled materials. And they taught French and basic math classes. They reinforced for Maison de la Gare that it’s not necessary to wait for help from the outside in order to take action on behalf of the talibé children.

Maison de la Gare has always worked to provide the talibé children with possibilities for developing their personal potential. In addition to education, gardening, football and karate, there is one activity that the children have embraced to show their awareness of the challenges of society and their ability to contribute. Working with the volunteers, many of the children focused on creating their own small cars. Others, more daring, made masks with used oil tins, drink cans and empty deodorant bottles. There is a promising future ahead for many of these young people. About fifty young talibé children showed us what they were capable of, through objects, colors, shapes and even morphology. They bequeathed their personalities to these works, marking them uniquely with a symbol which was their true name.

In another initiative, groups of ten volunteers went into the streets of Saint Louis to collect money and clothing for the children. The idea was to ask for donations of clothing for the talibé children from homes and stores, but many people preferred instead to donate money and other things. At the end of the project, the clothing collected was distributed to the talibé children, and the money was used to contribute to the cost of renovations carried out in a number of daaras.

Mapaté summarizes the project in this way: “For us, this project was a great success. The objectives that had been set both by the volunteers and by Maison de la Gare were achieved. For Maison de la Gare, the project supported us enormously in our daily efforts to come to the aid of the talibé children. We were able to revisit many daaras and to improve conditions there. Also, the volunteers carried the message about the situation of the talibé children to many people in the local community, with the collaboration of families linked to the daaras and of the marabouts themselves. And in terms of education, the university student volunteers reinforced the children’s abilities in French, in math and in creative art.”

Above all, this project made it possible for the Senegalese university students to be volunteers in their own country. Even though much infrastructure is lacking, this very visible initiative gave local organizations an understanding of the collaborative efforts that Maison de la Gare has set in motion. And we were able to see how Senegalese volunteers can contribute to improving the lives of the talibés children, in parallel with the invaluable contributions made over many years by volunteers from the developed world.

Volunteers organize for the day
Volunteers organize for the day's activities
Drawing with the talibe children
Drawing with the talibe children
Rose, helping with math
Rose, helping with math
Volunteers back from collecting clothing donations
Volunteers back from collecting clothing donations
Delight at making a work of art from garbage
Delight at making a work of art from garbage
Volunteers organizing games with the children
Volunteers organizing games with the children
"Talibes have rights like everyone ..."
"Talibes have rights like everyone ..."

Links:

 
   

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