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...
Aug 27, 2015

Runaway Talibe Children

Gallo and Malick at MDG center, the next day
Gallo and Malick at MDG center, the next day

Three talibé children who ran from their daaras

Night rounds, and rescue - By day the neighbourhood of Langue de Barbarie, across the bridge from the island of Saint Louis, is bustling with activity.  The streets are filled with merchants, fishermen and their families, livestock, cars and horse-drawn carts and carriages.  But by night, the streets of Langue de Barbarie are quiet and dark.  Only a few lights remain on in the houses densely packed along the roadsides.  It was into this silence at 1:00 a.m. in the morning that I went with Issa Kouyaté, the president of Maison de la Gare, and his close associate Idrissa Diallo of Univers de l'enfant on a night walk in the search for runaway talibé children. 

Issa estimates that, on any given night, there are a hundred runaway talibé children sleeping on the streets of Saint Louis.  The reasons that the boys run away are numerous and complex.  It could be that they had not managed to meet their daily begging quota and were afraid of the repercussions from their marabouts (Quranic teachers), or that they were running from physical abuse in their daara.

On this particular night (and, sadly, on most nights) runaways were not difficult to find.  Early on our night walk, Issa and Idrissa found two boys huddled and sleeping in a small enclosure under a tarpaulin on the side of one of the streets.

The boys, 7 or 8 years old, wouldn’t move.  Issa gently pulled the first boy, Gallo, out of the enclosure.  Gallo was very surprised to be woken up in the night, but said very little.  The second boy, Rasoul, screamed loudly when Issa tried to retrieve him (I learned later that he was afraid of being returned to his daara).  Within seconds the street came alive with about twenty neighbours surrounding the scene, yelling and demanding to know what Issa and Idrissa were up to.  For myself as an observer not speaking much Wolof, it was a very tense scene.  I can only imagine how frightening the whole incident must have been to the two boys.

Issa and Idrissa explained what they were doing, and the crowd eventually dispersed and returned to their homes.  Issa and Idrissa reassured Gallo and Rasoul that they were not going to return them to their daaras and that they would bring them somewhere safe to sleep and eat.  Barefoot and in silent obedience, the boys walked back to Issa’s apartment through the again deserted streets.

Rasoul, Gallo and Malick- Arriving at Issa’s apartment, Rasoul and Gallo each chose a mattress and went immediately to sleep.  There was another young boy there named Malick who was already asleep.  Malick, approximately 6 years old, had been sleeping on the street for a week when someone brought him to Maison de la Gare.  The marabouts are required to contact the Ministry of Justice as soon as a child goes missing.  However, this is rarely done by marabouts who are aware they are mistreating the children and want to avoid investigation.

The next morning Rasoul, Gallo and Malick received new clothes at Maison de la Gare's center and then were brought to the AEMO office (Educational Action in Open Environments) of the Ministry of Justice to be registered and to begin inquiries into their cases.

Rasoul, we learned, came from Fouta in northern Senegal.   His parents were contacted after his daara had been identified and the reason he ran away had been established.  Rasoul's father arrived the next day to take him home.  His father appeared shocked to learn of the treatment that Rasoul had been subjected to in his daara.

Gallo was very quiet and we almost never saw him smile or express any emotion.  He seemed terribly serious and we could only guess what had led him to run from his daara.  Despite multiple attempts, he wouldn’t open up to anyone.

Malick in contrast had a spark in his eyes and frequently smiled with great enthusiasm.  Although he seemed happy, he had fresh wounds on his back from being beaten.  Malick took us to see where his daara was, but stayed hidden in a corner store with Issa while Idrissa went to investigate.  Malick was forthcoming with his story and explained that it was the junior marabout, 16 or 17 years old, who had been beating him. Malick did not want to return to live in his daara.

When Malick’s junior marabout was summoned to the Ministry of Justice for a formal investigation, we were shocked to learn that he was Malick’s biological brother.  This junior marabout was adamant that Malick should return to his daara and that their family not be contacted.

Malick had come to Saint Louis from the Gambia and, when the investigation was completed, his parents were contacted.  As Malick's desire to return home was clear, the Ministry of Justice prepared a decision ordering his return.  In such cases, Idrissa, Issa or a Maison de la Gare staff member will accompany the child to his home or the parents will come to get the child in Saint Louis.

Gallo’s time with Maison de la Gare did not have such a happy ending. Two days after we had found him in Langue de Barbarie, Gallo ran away from Maison de la Gare's center.  Issa and Idrissa went searching for him the following nights, particularly near the bus station where many talibés run to get transport to Dakar.  Gallo has not been found, and we never learned what he was running from.

Hope for the runaways - In Maison de la Gare's centre, it is easy to quickly forget the tough realities faced by the talibé children and to get lost in the moment when enjoying a game or a laugh.  For these boys, the center is a place of hope where they are able to seek refuge, be cared for and know that they are not alone.

However, the challenges of the talibés' lives are enormous, and even more so for runaways.  Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch documented the continuing abuses.  While the work to address the issues of talibé boys begging can seem insurmountable, the efforts and commitment of Maison de la Gare and many other national and international organizations are inspiring.  We invite committed volunteers to join us in this effort.

For a powerful video about Maison de la Gare's work on behalf of the runaway talibés, please click on this link.

Tireless advocates Idrissa and Issa, with Malick
Tireless advocates Idrissa and Issa, with Malick
Malick answers questions at Ministry of Justice
Malick answers questions at Ministry of Justice
Sample return order for a talibe child
Sample return order for a talibe child
Gallo
Gallo
Malick
Malick
Malick playing with Bathe and a volunteer
Malick playing with Bathe and a volunteer

Links:

Aug 6, 2015

A Key Relationship in Fighting Talibe Begging

Ambassador Zumwalt visits a Saint-Louis daara
Ambassador Zumwalt visits a Saint-Louis daara

James Zumwalt, the U.S. Ambassador to Senegal, visits Maison de la Gare

On Thursday, May 21, 2015, the American ambassador to Senegal continued a tradition.  As his predecessor Louis Lukens had done in 2014, Ambassador James P. Zumwalt honored Maison de la Gare with his presence, deeply concerned as Ambassador Lukens had been about the situation of the begging talibé street children.  This visit reinforces a cooperative relationship that has developed over the years with the strong involvement of Peace Corps volunteers in support of Maison de la Gare efforts, especially agricultural apprenticeship and recovering children sleeping in the streets in "night rounds".  Maison de la Gare's president, Issa Kouyaté, had previously been invited to participate in the U.S. State Department's International Visitors Leadership Program during the month of May, and so could not be present during the ambassador's visit.

The tour was organized by Ms Ndeye Diodio Calloga, a legal intern with Maison de la Gare.  It began with a visit to the daara Thierno Yoro Ba in the Diamagueune district of Saint Louis.  Once at the daara, the ambassador and his delegation were able to see the reality the talibé children's everyday life.  Maison de la Gare team members like Bathe Ndong and Abou Sy make regular tours of local daaras for cleaning, disinfection and repair.  The Thierno Yoro Ba daara has benefited from these services.

The Ambassador had an extensive discussion with the marabout, the person responsible for the daara, who explained that for him what is important is the children's well-being.  That is why he is not opposed to the help and the activities that Maison de la Gare provides for the children. The ambassador also spoke with the marabout at length about his working methods, his helpers and how he cares for the children, to better understand the daara system and the marabouts' perspective.

The tour continued in Maison de la Gare's center in Balacos.  Nurse Binta Coly presented the infirmary to the ambassador describing the services it offers to children, the most common diseases that are encountered and some of the more serious cases.  The ambassador then visited the library and computer room, the different classrooms and the emergency shelter.

To complete the visit, the ambassador and his delegation met with the entire Maison de la Gare staff.  Noël Coly made a presentation of the situation of talibé children in the Saint Louis region and of Maison de la Gare's work.  He also described the worst forms of abuse suffered by children.  Then the other team members presented the short and long-term projects which Maison de la Gare has planned to improve the lives of the talibé children and give them hope.

The talibé children were all very touched that the ambassador of the United States wanted to visit them, despite his busy schedule.  They expressed their pleasure and thanked Ambassador Zumwalt by their innocent smiles, full of life.  The discussions were very emotional, and the ambassador and his delegation were moved by the questions that were raised and by the drawings that they were given as a gesture of appreciation.

A sincere thank you to everyone who makes this work possible by your faithful financial support.

Nurse Binta presents Maison de la Gare
Nurse Binta presents Maison de la Gare's infirmary
The ambassador visits the new emergency shelter
The ambassador visits the new emergency shelter
Diodio presents senior talibe staff members
Diodio presents senior talibe staff members
Diodio presents teacher Bouri to the ambassador
Diodio presents teacher Bouri to the ambassador
Bathe shows MDG
Bathe shows MDG's garden to the ambassador
Ambassador Zumwalt with MDG team members
Ambassador Zumwalt with MDG team members

Links:

Jul 16, 2015

Amadou - from Begging to a Promising Future

Amadou celebrating with victorious MDG soccer team
Amadou celebrating with victorious MDG soccer team

A smile in adversity to inspire us all

Rod LeRoy recalls: "I first met Amadou in Maison de la Gare's then-new library in January of 2012.  He, in common with many young talibés, was enthralled by the pictures in the books and by the stories read to them by staff and volunteers.  Amadou stood out, however ... he was intently studying a book held upside down.  Taken with his beaming smile, I had no idea at that moment of the difficult life that he had endured."

The youngest of eight siblings, with four sisters and three brothers, Amadou was entrusted to a Saint-Louis daara by his family in Kolda, in Casamance in the south of Senegal.  This was in 2005 when he was only five years old.  Issa Kouyaté, Maison de la Gare's president, first became aware of Amadou's situation in 2010 through other children from his daara.  He reports that Amadou "lived in a daara where the Koranic teacher demanded, in addition to the money which had to be paid each day, charcoal, rice and sugar as well as water needed for the daara.  After running away and living on the streets for six months, Amadou was found in Dakar and returned to his parents in Casamance.  However, they sent him back to Saint Louis to another daara that was equally bad.  Amadou ran away for another two months and began to get into serious trouble associating with children living in the streets."

It was in January 2012 that Amadou, then 12 years old, committed himself fully to Maison de la Gare's programs.  He explored the books in the library, participated enthusiastically in regular soccer matches, and involved himself in all of Maison de la Gare's other activities.  Many of Maison de la Gare's international volunteers got to know him well, and their caring and support helped him enormously on his way.

Most importantly, Amadou began attending French literacy classes regularly.  He applied himself diligently for three years working with teacher Bouri Mbodj, progressing from a base of no spoken French and no written language skills to an impressive level of competence in both reading and writing.  Bouri writes "Amadou is a brilliant student.  Despite his experience subjected to extreme exploitation, he studied for three years at Maison de la Gare.  Now he has returned to his home village to continue his studies.  He is in the sixth level and is a disciplined and courageous student."

It was on October 13th, 2014 that Amadou left Saint Louis to return to his family in Kolda.  His father had registered him in formal schooling there, with Maison de la Gare's help.  After brave farewells and a final spin on Arouna's bicycle, Amadou walked away to catch the bus home.

Issa stays in regular contact with Amadou and his family.  To no one's surprise, he is thriving in school and has finished his first year at the top of his class.  Speaking with Amadou just before he left, it was clear that this move was his personal decision.  He hopes to complete his education, and then return to Saint Louis to live and work.  There is no doubt that this exceptionally kind, gifted and determined young man will succeed in realizing his potential and making a major contribution to his community.

Discovering books when first at MDG in Jan. 2012
Discovering books when first at MDG in Jan. 2012
An eager participant in Francesca
An eager participant in Francesca's art classes
With Issa and Swedish volunteer Oscar in 2013
With Issa and Swedish volunteer Oscar in 2013
Always a warm smile
Always a warm smile
Bittersweet farewell to MDG, Arouna and Sonia
Bittersweet farewell to MDG, Arouna and Sonia
Amadou
Amadou's life has been enriched by MDG volunteers

Links:

 
   

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