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 with t...
Nov 6, 2014

An Important Step for Maison de la Gare

Fellows from around the world, at a Ford project
Fellows from around the world, at a Ford project

Learning from Others - Issa Kouyaté's experience in New York through a Ford fellowship

I had the chance to participate in an exchange program and training offered by the 92nd Street Y ("92Y") and Columbia University in New York in June 2014, thanks to a fellowship from the Ford Motor Company Fund.  This opportunity brought together stakeholders working in social development from around the world, representing ten different countries including Senegal.  In all, 23 development workers were present around the table to discuss and present their work and their programs, but also to share their experience, knowledge and especially their commitment to projects that lead to sustainable development in their communities.

This program, created by Alison Gardy of 92Y, has been active around the world for fourteen years and targets vulnerable populations.  92Y is supported by the Ford Motor Company Fund, which supports national and international organizations and promotes the work of community leaders.  92Y is one of many projects that Ford supports worldwide to develop local initiatives.

What I have gained from my participation in this fellowship is invaluable; in such a short time, I learned what would normally take at least a year.  I first realized the value of showcasing Maison de la Gare, and talking about the talibés children and the diversity of Senegal.  I was inspired by other participants concerned about the development of their organizations and looking for strong support in their quest to enhance the success of their commitments to social welfare.  And that's exactly what we were all able to find, thanks to the supportive group, the teachers and the leaders.

Before the program began, e-mail contact was followed by a lengthy telephone conversation to discuss what we do in our own organization, what are our expectations, what emergencies must we respond to, and how we see the future.  A few months later, documents detailing the purpose of the fellowship and the scope of the program were sent to help us prepare.  This material was carefully adapted to respect the real-life situations and challenges of the participants.  We had to read and write, but also to understand and integrate the information.  This preliminary training gave me an idea of the nature of the work to come, and of the commitments that would unite the fellowship leaders and participants.  These documents would become the base for applying to our respective organisations the techniques that we learned.

Vision and Strategy - Once in New York, participants were treated to an in-depth tour of the city, showing us the many different facets of a developed country with its shortcomings and weaknesses as well as achievements and strengths.  New York is an important development model, especially in terms of the evolution and diversity of infrastructure.  Local people are proud to show off their buildings, statues, monuments, and even languages.  So we visited an emerging country that is working to secure its successes.  New York is also a city with a very special atmosphere that speaks for itself.  In addition to being a renowned center for sustainable development issues, it is a city filled with joy and fun that followed us throughout our training.

Columbia University was our place of learning, where we were taught by exceptional professors.  In addition to being motivated and experienced, these professors took the diversity within the group into careful consideration.  As participants we all felt included, although representing many different languages and religions.  This diversity was the starting point of the program, with all the countries represented being invited to share the social importance of their work, values that united us all in respect and recognition of each other.  Participants were also asked to identify the most pressing needs of their organizations, and then we worked together to find ways of responding to these needs in a spirit of sustainable development.  The teachers worked to share their knowledge and to ensure the best learning conditions, leaving nothing to chance, with intensive and positive learning sessions.  Knowledge was on offer, and we were all aware of the commitment required to acquire the knowledge and experience that we needed to support our own projects and to bring about the changes necessary for them to flourish.

However, without the guidance given and the commitment of the participants who applied themselves body and soul, nothing could have moved forward.  We were protected as children with their parents and felt that we were very valued, beyond a simple working relationship.  The leaders wanted each of us to feel at home, and that was the case.  After the program, I felt confident, sure of myself, ready to make decisions without hesitation.  They really made us work!!  And the experience will always remain engraved in my memory, in our memories.  I wanted to leave earlier than planned to avoid forgetting certain ideas, certain possibilities, but the program gave us the means to retain all that we had learned. 

This experience reinforced for me that you have to love what you do!!  To live happily, it is best to share life with people who are acting with the same values.  Although the work we are doing is difficult, it is only necessary to love the work in order to succeed.

In short, the program was a great success, thanks to the leaders' commitment to creating good learning conditions, the opportunity to attend invaluable classes, and the interest and involvement of all of the participants in wanting again and again to help one another with their projects.   Moreover, I believe that we had the best teachers in the world, sources of inspiration who pushed me to put into practice what I had learned.  I understood through this program that there is much underdevelopment in sustainable development, but it is possible for committed social activists who love what they do and are dedicated to it to achieve their development goals.

Thank you to Alison Gardy, to Mayola Charles and to all the teachers, guides, educators, donors and host families, not to mention the participants and all the others who made possible the success of this Fellowship 2014.

Issa "imagining", at NYC
Issa "imagining", at NYC's John Lennon memorial
Issa in his element at PS96, a turn-around school
Issa in his element at PS96, a turn-around school
With a group of Ford Fellows at PS96
With a group of Ford Fellows at PS96
Vision and strategy group at Columbia University
Vision and strategy group at Columbia University
Problem-solving and team-building exercise
Problem-solving and team-building exercise
Invaluable relationships with community leaders
Invaluable relationships with community leaders

Links:

Oct 16, 2014

Volunteering with Maison de la Gare

Sam teaching a French class, while Issa watches
Sam teaching a French class, while Issa watches

Reflections from Sam Whaley, while volunteering with Maison de la Gare

"Well here I am in Saint-Louis, Senegal, and it sure has been quite the adventure already.

I flew into Dakar a few weeks ago and, from the start, I was impressed by the level of organization that Maison de la Gare displays in terms of getting its volunteers to Saint-Louis.  Just outside the airport, I easily spotted the man holding the sign with my name, who kindly led me to the hotel where I would be staying the night.  The hotel, breakfast, and taxi that took me to Saint-Louis the next morning were all prepaid by Maison de la Gare, and I never felt unsure of what to do or where to go.  In an environment where I was immediately out of my comfort zone, this organization was certainly welcome.

The drive from Dakar to the northern city of Saint-Louis lasted about four hours, and I spent the drive’s entirety staring out the window as we drove through small villages full of mango-vendors, past gorgeous mosques which stood out against the rest of the simpler buildings, and over desert that seemed to stretch on forever.

In Saint Louis, I was taken directly to meet my host family and, as anyone who has stayed with a host family before knows, it is simultaneously the most nerve-wracking and most exciting part of the trip.  I quickly saw, however, that I had no reason to be nervous as the family of six (I think… there seems to always be guests over) welcomed me as one of their own, preparing deliciously spicy food and speaking slowly so that I could understand their accents that drastically differ from the European French accents with which I was familiar.

Every afternoon, I come home and my host sisters bring me my lunch, which is very considerate as the day I arrived was, by coincidence, the first day of Ramadan.  This means that I, as a non-Muslim, am the only person in the family who eats or drinks between sunrise and sunset.  From what I’ve been told, this month of fasting changes the feeling of Saint Louis significantly, as many spend the scorchingly hot afternoons resting so as to conserve the energy they lack from fasting all day and resting little at night.  At around 9 p.m., the entire family gathers around a large, communal dish of what is typically rice and fish for dinner.  This is an awesome time for the family to come together and for me to get to find out a little more about them and Senegalese culture in general.

And now the reason I’m actually here, Maison de la Gare.

I start my Monday through Friday mornings at 10 a.m., heading out into the bright sun and walking the 15ish minutes it takes to get to the center.  I take a break during the hottest part of the day to eat lunch at home and return around 4:30 p.m. and stay until about 7:30 p.m. 

While I signed up to be an education volunteer, I do a wide variety of activities with the talibé children.  For those of you who don’t know, the talibés are a group of boys who attend Koranic school under the direction of a marabout.  They live together in very poor conditions and are often abused, denied education in any other subject, and forced to spend a significant amount of time begging for money for their marabout.

Maison de la Gare's center is a place where the boys have access to education, basic health care, and more of what they miss out on.  The center is comprised of the administrative office, the library where the kids can use their French skills and broaden their vocabulary, a small kitchen where their evening food is prepared, the infirmary where they can get some healthcare, showers, classrooms, and a big open area with a garden where the kids play soccer and spend the majority of the day.

I spend most of my mornings giving one-on-one or one-on-two English lessons, which are primarily aimed at the older boys.  I teach these lessons in a mixture of French and English, helping some talibés with basic vocabulary and the alphabet and others with more difficult grammatical structures and tenses.  In the evening I teach the younger kids French.  This would normally take place under the supervision of the center’s own Senegalese professors, but as they take the month of Ramadan off, I am the sole professor during my stay.  I have had some experience teaching foreign languages, but without a common language to fall back on when things get too complicated, it has proven to be incredibly challenging.  Even given that, I still feel that I’ve made some progress – at the least, they can introduce themselves in French!

When not teaching, I play cards or checkers with the smaller kids with whom I communicate through gestures and expressions.  But even with this limited communication, I am able to see how grateful they are to have somewhere to just be kids, to not have to worry about begging or food or any of the other worries these children should never have to think about.  When I first arrived there was another volunteer from Sweden at the center who was in charge of the infirmary, but she recently headed home, leaving me with that responsibility as well.  When needed, I clean and disinfect the children’s cuts and scrapes, but with the limited supplies and medications, I often feel myself wishing I could do more.  I just keep reminding myself that the little that I provide them is better than the nothing they would otherwise have.

Maison de la Gare’s director, Issa, is an incredibly hardworking man who has had a huge impact on the lives of these children.  Under his and the other staff members' direction, Maison de la Gare has become a haven for these children and continues to become even more incredible.  With the help of GO Campaign, the center will soon be opening a new building that will serve as an emergency shelter for children in crisis as well as a new kitchen.  New volunteers are always coming and going, sharing their ideas for how to continue to make the center a better place for everyone.  While my stay is short at just under a month long, I’ve already seen what great places Saint Louis and Maison de la Gare really are.

My time here has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve come to appreciate the cultural differences and see the beauty of these people who are so content with what is considered so little by American standards.

It’s been an experience I won’t ever forget, and I look forward to the possibility of returning in the future."

 

Thank you to everyone who supports Maison de la Gare so generously to make its work, and Sam's experience, possible.

Sam with his Saint Louis host family
Sam with his Saint Louis host family
With host sister Adja Ngosse overlooking St. Louis
With host sister Adja Ngosse overlooking St. Louis
Sam with talibe children in MDG center in St.Louis
Sam with talibe children in MDG center in St.Louis
Treating an injured talibe child in the infirmary
Treating an injured talibe child in the infirmary
Thumbs up, with talibe children in MDG centre
Thumbs up, with talibe children in MDG centre

Links:

Sep 25, 2014

In Memoriam - Djiby Aliou Sow

Djiby, full of life with his friends (on the left)
Djiby, full of life with his friends (on the left)

Our president Issa Kouyate writes: "Maison de la Gare must announce the sad news of a young child with tetanus who died 18 days after contracting the disease.

It was sad news for the talibé children who knew this child, who came from Dagana in the north of Senegal for treatment in Saint Louis.

The story began with a call from our administrator, Mapaté Bousso, telling me that a young talibé had arrived at emergency at the Regional Hospital of Saint Louis, suffering from tetanus and in very critical condition. We responded immediately, going to the hospital to learn what we could about the child’s condition, and what we could do to support him in recovering his health as quickly as possible.

It's always hard to recover when you are suffering from certain acute diseases. After ten days of waiting in emergency, often on a respirator, we began to have doubts about the recovery of this child who by now had fallen into a deep coma.

His parents came from Dagana to offer their support during these difficult moments, prayers were offered every day, and Maison de la Gare was there to help in every way possible.  However, at the beginning of the third week the disease worsened and, after 18 days, my phone rang at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon with the news of the death of this young man whom we had all hoped would return to life after his long stay in the dark.  We all prayed that he would come back to us, but in vain.

We are determined to learn from this experience, so that it will not happen again.

Prevention is better than cure.

To all those who knew and cared for Djiby, we send our most sincere condolences. "

Mapaté went to the hospital every day to look after the Djiby’s needs, and to local pharmacies to purchase prescribed medicines for him. He writes: "I think we all did our best to save him, but it was not to be. We must learn from his illness and do what is needed to protect other talibé children from this disease. "

Maison de la Gare has made tremendous progress in improving the quality of the lives of the talibé children it works with, through education, health care and deep human caring. However, we are not always successful. We know you share our deep sadness, and this gives us the strength to continue.

Over the course of 18 days, our expenses for Djiby’s care totalled over 400,000 francs, about $800 U.S.  This is an extreme case, but we find ourselves financing emergency hospitalization of talibé children a couple of times each month, on the average.  We have added a donation category to our listing on GlobalGiving, in the hope that some of you will be able to help us with this cost.

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