Jul 29, 2020

On a Path to Proud Self-Sufficiency

Maison de la Gare has launched a microfinance program, an essential tool for talibé apprentices in achieving financial autonomy

During the darkest days of the Covid-19 crisis, while talibé children were confined to their daaras and Maison de la Gare’s center was closed to most children, a critical new program was born there.

The framework of the new microfinance program was finalized in early May. We extended an invitation to potential participants and presented the program to them during two sessions in Maison de la Gare’s center. Six men and five women decided to continue with classes introducing them to the elements of microfinance, related basic math, accounting for a small business, and basic marketing techniques. Most male borrowers will be older talibés, but we are including other men and women in order to develop a learning community of borrowers that will be mutually supportive, benefiting from each other’s experiences.

Following this training, each of these potential borrowers submitted a simple business plan in early June, and these were evaluated by an Approval Committee consisting of the program coordinator Baye Ndaraw Diop, president Issa Kouyaté, accountant Adama Diarra, and the coordinator of the poultry farming apprenticeship program Cheikh Abdoulaye Ndiaye. Eight projects were approved for initial financing, and three others were approved later in the month following required revisions.

We have set the maximum loan amount at 200,000 francs ($350 US or 305€), although initial loans averaged 110,000 francs ($190 US or 170€). All loans are interest-free. Reimbursement rates depend on the business but are typically monthly over 9 to 18 months. A formal contract is signed with each borrower. We are committed to intensive support and follow-up with each borrower to assure their success. The program coordinator is making regular visits to the borrowers to encourage them, verify their progress and collect the reimbursement payments. One month after the initial loans were made, all repayments are on-time.

This is a beginning, and we will learn as we go. Three of our initial borrowers, Doudou, Ibrahima N. and Pape Modou, are talibé graduates of our poultry farming apprenticeship program, and each of them has started their first production cycle with baby chicks. Another talibé, Ibrahima D., has started a business selling wood charcoal and palm oil. These talibés will no longer be alone, but will be part of a community of borrowers and small business entrepreneurs.

The story of each of these borrowers is different, but every one of them is very moving. We share one of these here:

“My name is Ibrahima. I am 18 years old and I live in Balacoss in Saint-Louis, Senegal.

Before, I didn't do anything after my Koranic studies. I lived in idleness. I was almost a street kid.

In 2018, I met Cheikh Abdoulaye Ndiaye, and I told him about my journey. He integrated me into the group of young people from Maison de la Gare who were apprenticing in poultry farming in Bango.

At first, I didn't take it seriously, but when we started training I began to feel a lot of motivation. I also saw all that Cheikh Ablaye had achieved through selling chickens. So, I said to myself that I could do like him.

Today, I am trained in the different techniques of poultry farming, from start-up to slaughter. Currently, I have taken basic accounting training at Maison de la Gare’s center and, thanks to this training, I received funding from a project dedicated to young talibés and vulnerable people.

I now have my own chicken coop with fifty chicks, and I intend to go as far as possible with this funding because I can see that it is possible for me to succeed. Now, it only depends on my perseverance and my will.

I thank Issa, Cheikh Abdaye, Uncle Ndaraw, the partners of Friends of Senegal and all the staff at Maison de la Gare.”

 

Ibrahima’s example and those of the other borrowers will be a beacon of hope for other talibés.

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We are grateful to Friends of Senegal of Ashland, Oregon, who have made possible this critically important initiative. Friends of Senegal has believed in the promise of microfinance for many years, and our new program benefits enormously from their expertise and financial support.

Links:

Jun 24, 2020

Life Begins Again - Slowly, Carefully

Restrictions are easing, and the talibé children are returning to Maison de la Gare’s center as an oasis in their difficult lives

For over three months, the begging talibé children of Senegal have been largely confined to their daaras, unable to beg for their food or to take advantage of the oasis and hope that Maison de la Gare’s center offers them. Thanks to emergency grants from several of our long-term funders, to the amazing generosity of hundreds of individual donors and to the dedication of dozens of devoted angels, the neighborhood Godmothers of Saint Louis, we have been able to organize and finance nutritious daily meals for close to 2,500 of these children.

This phase of the crisis is now coming to an end, although not everyone is happy about this. The valiant Godmothers of the neighborhood of Guinaw Rail in Saint Louis have been preparing food for nearly 400 talibé children in their area. One 9-year-old boy, Mody, came every day with his large bowl, and every day he asked the same question: “When will the Corona leave?” One day a Godmother asked why he always had the same question. He replied “Since the Corona came, we don’t have to go begging in the streets anymore. We can wash at the Godmothers’ place. And you give us good meals every day.” The Godmother broke down in tears and explained that she realized that even the talibés aspire to a joyful, healthy, and stable life.

While this period has been positive for Mody, for many thousands of other talibé children it has been incredibly challenging. Many have not had adequate food or access to hygiene facilities. And cuts, bruises and other medical problems have festered untended.

As of early June, the 8 p.m. curfew has been lifted along with restrictions on travel between different regions of Senegal. We have reopened our center, and the children are coming back.

This will be a careful, step-by-step process. To begin, we are welcoming the children to simply relax and enjoy their friends again, to wash their clothes, take a shower and use the toilets. The children wash their hands with soap and water on entering the center. And Kalidou and Elhage in the sewing apprenticeship center are busy fabricating face masks for them. Awa is busy in the infirmary, with a line of boys waiting to have wounds and other problems cared for.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will progressively expand our other activities for these children. Our teachers will resume regular literacy classes, either in our classrooms or in selected daaras. Organized soccer and karate will resume. And our night rounds team will resume their search for children in extreme distress living on the streets.

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We are grateful to our individual donors and to organizations that have funded our programs over the years. You made it possible for us to help the children through these exceedingly difficult times. We must specifically thank GO Campaign, Global Fund for Children, GlobalGiving and the Kulczyk Foundation for emergency grants that made it possible to expand and extend our program feeding the children in their daaras far beyond what we had originally thought possible.

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May 27, 2020

Month Two - The Struggle Continues

With your help, neighborhood Godmothers are now feeding close to 2,500 talibé children every day

How quickly life can change! From hopeful anticipation, to unimaginable disaster, to tragedy forestalled, all in one month! But with uncertain funding and an unknown path for the pandemic, the future remains terrifyingly unknown for the forced begging street children, talibés, of Maison de la Gare.

COVID-19 changed everything. Flights were cancelled, international volunteers were recalled home, countries were locked down.

It did not take long for things to escalate from bad to very much worse.  As you know from our report last month, Senegal, with limited medical means to fight the virus, quickly moved to lock down the country. Within days internal travel was restricted, streets emptied, and doors closed. Even Maison de la Gare - a last resort oasis of hope and caring for so many talibés - was forced to close its doors.  The team pivoted and responded by providing soap, disinfectant, and hygiene instruction for the children on location in their daaras.  

Confinement and curfew soon tragically complicated the lives of thousands of children.  In Saint-Louis, you normally cannot take a step without bumping into a child dressed in rags who is asking for some coins or food. However, since the coming of Covid-19, with the population afraid and hidden away in their homes, thousands of begging talibé children were left with no access to food.

The amazing neighborhood Godmothers who have helped us to respond to this desperate situation are still at it, seven days a week. Thanks to our incredible donors, thanks to your response, we are still able to support these wonderful women with 800,000 francs (about $1,300 US) each week for their purchases of food. And we are providing masks and hygiene support in the daaras.

This is a terrible situation for the children. Imagine 30 to 70 or more children living together, locked down in a confined space with no hygiene facilities, no access to potable water and very rudimentary shelter. And, for active children, nothing to do!

But there is some encouraging news. For the first time in decades, there are almost no children begging on Senegal’s streets! Is there a possibility to build on this for a more positive future?

Two possible avenues for this are now being modelled, thanks to the pandemic. The first is that some daaras, for whom this is possible, are being allowed and encouraged to return to their home communities. The government and community organization CDPE (Departmental Committee for Child Protection) is organizing this and we are using some of your donations to support the cost. In parallel, we are expanding our support to Cheikh Diallo and the schools of Mbaye Aw as more daaras and children are returning home to that region.

For some daaras, return to their home communities is not a possibility. Could many of these be transitioned to “modern daaras” where the children are not forced to beg? The dedicated Godmothers could be part of this solution as they have been in this moment of crisis. Also, for a dozen or so daaras in proximity to our center, we are developing a plan with municipal authorities by which several hundred talibé children could come every day for the full day, as though they were going to school. This also is something that we could build on.

 

It is impossible to know what the coming weeks and months have in store for the talibé children. What we do know is that, with your help, we will continue to do everything in our power to make their plight more livable. And, perhaps, to take some steps towards Maison de la Gare’s vision of eliminating the scourge of child begging.

A Godmother cooking for the talibes
A Godmother cooking for the talibes
Talibes enjoying a meal
Talibes enjoying a meal
MDG's Mamadou, Bouri and Ndaraw with Godmother
MDG's Mamadou, Bouri and Ndaraw with Godmother
Talibe children wearing their new masks
Talibe children wearing their new masks
Constant focus on good hygiene practices
Constant focus on good hygiene practices
Feeding the children where they are
Feeding the children where they are

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