Karate Can Kick Hopelessness

by Maison de la Gare
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Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness

As we approach the end of the year, we want to thank everyone in the global karate community and outside it who has supported Maison de la Gare’s Karate Can Kick Hopelessness project, and ask for your help for the coming year.

Founder of the program, Robbie Hughes and I were able to return to Senegal this summer for the first time since the pandemic began. Thanks to donors, an epic karate tournament for the Maison de la Gare talibé karate kids was hosted that showcased the progress that long-time karateka have made. And, the passion and determination of talibés who are newer to the karate program was truly inspiring. While we were there many new students were invited to join the dojo, Sor-Karate, as part of the Maison de la Gare contingent. And, a grading test and ceremony resulted in many proud, new yellow belts.

The karate program at Maison de la Gare has been an amazing success for the forced begging street boys of Saint Louis, known as talibés. In the eight years since a young Canadian boy, a new black belt himself at the time, brought karate to Maison de la Gare, hundreds of vulnerable kids have benefited from the sense of family and community that karate brings. They have had a chance to develop the confidence, perseverance and discipline that martial arts offers. And for children living on their own, surviving on the streets, forced to fend for themselves, the value of self defence skills cannot be underestimated.

43 talibe karate students currently qualify to renew their memberships at the local dojo, Sor karate, or join for the first time. It will be impossible for them without our help. More students are ready and desiring to be registered in the dojo program now, at one time, than ever before. Dozens more participate in the morning karate classes at the Maison de la Gare Center that Robbie began, now taught by Boiro, under local dojo Sor Karate and Sensei Ignéty Ba’s supervision. When one thinks of the life these kids live, the forced quotas of money they must deliver daily to their controllers, the lack of parental, or any supervision they have, their malnutrition, and lack of educational opportunities, it is not difficult to understand just how important karate is in these kids lives. And, it is amazing to think of respect they have for their senseis, and their discipline, washing and caring for their own uniforms, caring for the dojo, attending classes many times a week, often after hours of forced begging.

For the 43 hopeful students, in order to pay the annual registration fee, the monthly dues for a year, twice a year grading fees, and WKF federation licensing, the annual cost is about $100 each. Each January when the annual registration renewals are due, Maison de la Gare needs to decide how many karate students can be supported in the dojo program this year. 43 kids are hopeful that the answer will be 43. We are asking for your help to sponsor one or more karate students in Senegal, so they all will get to continue in the sport they love, and that is such a wonderful life opportunity for them.

Thank you with all our hearts from the founders, providers, and partners of the Maison de la Gare Karate Can Kick Hopelessness program, and from all the kids who are its benefactors.

Ready to compete
Ready to compete
Founder, Robbie Hughes awarding a yellow belt
Founder, Robbie Hughes awarding a yellow belt
Boiro teaching a class at the Center
Boiro teaching a class at the Center
A class in session
A class in session

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A bright day for talibés and for karate

 

This summer at Maison de la Gare, on July 1, the fifth annual karate tournament among the talibé karate students of the center took place.

 

The karate program at Maison de la Gare was founded seven (07) years ago by Robbie Hughes and his mother Sonia LeRoy, martial arts enthusiasts from Canada, and has been sustained over the years by generous donations from abroad. Maison de Gare, in partnership with Sor-Karate’s Sensei Ignéty Ba, has welcomed and trained hundreds of talibé children, instilling in these vulnerable boys self-confidence, perseverance, a sense of respect, and important self defence skills.

 

On tournament day, the young karatekas competed with pride under the gaze of Maison de la Gare President, Mr Issa Kouyate, the members of the MDG team, and the program founders, visiting from Canada for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. Over 30 hopeful and excited Maison de la Gare karatekas wearing their gis (karate uniforms) competed, showcasing kata, kion and kumité skills. The competition was judged by referees from the World Karate Federation.  

 

The tournament aroused a craze among the competitors as well as among the spectators. The participants were more numerous this year, and more talented than in previous years. Many of the competitors had been training with the MDG program for many years, and had earned higher belt ranks. Twelve were awarded their yellow belts on tournament day, after strenuous testing earlier in the week.  Sensei Ignéty Ba, president of Sor Karate, said, "this year unlike previous years, the tournament welcomed many more participants, and was of remarkable technical quality". These children seized the opportunity during this tournament to exploit their potential, and to express their desire to learn, succeed and move forward.”

 

A very special guest watched the tournament with interest. Because of his passion for karaté and his love for these talibé children, Senegalese National Champion, the winner of the Senegalese cup of karaté, Mr. Lamine Ndiaye came to admire these bearers of hope in the field. He even asserts that "these children have all the potential and rigour it takes to become great champions in this discipline and participate in international tournaments in the future".

 

After the competition the talibé children receiving their yellow belts were awarded them by the founder of the program, and a great inspiration to them, Robbie Hughes and made their transition to a higher rank. Many trophies and medals were awarded to the big winners of the competition; in three (3) different divisions, beginner, intermediate, and advanced.  The medals and trophies were donated by Canadian and World karate champions to celebrate and further inspire the karatekas. The  finalists in the kumité fight,in kata and in keon, each received their trophies and medals. Grand Champions in each of the three divisions were awarded special prizes and the intermediate and advanced Grand Champions were presented with the Douvris Cup and the Douvris Young Guns Cup by Robbie Hughes, who is a Canadian WKC karate weapons champion.

 

After a glorious day of competition Seinse Ignéty BA described the hope that this day will further instil in these talibé children, in view of their emeritus performances. He states that they have all the necessary technique to compete at the national and international level. He furthermore urges the serignes de daaras who control the difficult lives of these talibés to allow them to be free to reach the summits of which they are capable.

 

Amadou, winner of the Douvris Cup, expressed his gratitude to the founder of the MDG karate program. He also expressed his satisfaction for the prizes he won, and for what karate brought him such as discipline, wisdom and other skills.

 

Karaté is a Japanese martial art, a fighting technique that allows participants to have general physical maintenance and cultivate self-defence skills. But it offers much more than this. Karate forges the mind and learns respect, discipline, self-confidence and surpassing oneself. This competition  was therefore a great opportunity that the talibé children were able to seize, to show not only their love for this discipline but also to bring out the best in themselves.

 

Because the Talibés of today are the Men of tomorrow!

preparing to compete in kata
preparing to compete in kata
Robbie Hughes with the Grand Champions and winners
Robbie Hughes with the Grand Champions and winners
Robbie with future champions
Robbie with future champions
The prize table
The prize table
talibes relaxing at the end of a glorious day
talibes relaxing at the end of a glorious day

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My name is Sulayman. I was born in Gambia, West Africa. I have six siblings and I am the third son of my mother. I spent much of my childhood and youth as a modern slave, first as a slave labourer then a forced begging talibé. But education was all I wanted. Eventually I finally took some control over my own life and found a way to go to school.

 

The way I became a talibé is tragically a bit funny actually.  I  and my elder brother would always be arguing about who is going to be a school teacher and who is going to be a marabout (Islamic teacher). I was the one that would always say I want to be a marabout and my brother would say he wants to be a teacher, but I was not really being too serious. One fateful day, my late father called me and my brother and asked if we were sure of what we were claiming we wanted to become and we said of course! I was very optimistic about it at the time, I was not familiar with the system of slavery that many West African marabouts practiced. So my father sent my brother to school and he took me to one of his friends who was a marabout, to teach me the Quran. 

 

Although I was learning the Quran, the teacher was extremely strict. He would not even allow me to go to see my parents. Sometimes I would go to visit my parents house when I really missed them.  When this was discovered by my marabout, he would beat me up. I can still remember those beatings. I lived with him this way until he persuaded my parents to send me to a village in Gambia. When I arrived in this village I was given over to another man, left alone with him. I remember on the second my shoes disappeared. At this time I started crying, realizing my life was to be real hardship. I was so young at that time that I can't even remember what my age was. 

 

This village was composed of many "talibés". In this village we talibés were the labourers. We were forced to work on huge farmlands. We grew groundnuts and maize. We consumed half and the other half was taken for sale. We also took care of gardens for the son of our marabout in that village. We mainly cultivated bananas and onions. Our marabout had more than 400 talibés and there were only a few rooms for us to sleep in. It was like a prison inside our rooms, there was not even space to step or walk. There was a long time that I only had the clothes I was wearing and no shoes on my feet while I had to do this hard work every day. The life in the village was like a hell for me, particularly in my first year before I got somewhat used to the situation. We did not have electricity so we would go to the forest everyday to fetch firewood. We would burn that wood for our light at night and when we had to wake up 4:00 in the morning to learn the Quran until 7:00 am. Then we would be sent to work all day. 

 

There I was until my father past away. I wanted to go home and my mum visited me there in the village only twice and I would cry whenever she was leaving. But she always told me “I have no choice Sulayman, your Dad wanted you to learn the Quran and become a marabout and he always reminded me of this” my mum said. So there I remained until I was finished the Quran. But then my marabout in that village decided to take me to Senegal to continue studying. This was how my journey to Saint Louis came about. 

 

I was taken to Saint Louis, Senegal with one of my daara- mates who  was also a Gambian. When we arrived in the city around 8pm we were supposed to be taken to a particular daara. But we were not allowed to stay there. Instead we were sent to a different marabout. We eventually arrived at this other daara later that night and it was full also. But the marabout let us stay there with some of his talibés despite it  being overcrowded. I remember it was so dramatic that night! 

 

My first morning in Saint Louis, I woke up and was sitting waiting for breakfast. We were extremely famished after our long journey and the the chaos of the previous day without food.  One guy came and told us boys “I know you boys are new comers, but here in this daara you have to go out beg for food or look for job in order to survive.” We of course had no money, so we went to the market with some of the other talibés to try to get jobs carrying people's stuff. We were paid very small amounts actually, not enough to even buy food. That was how we were living for several more years. 

 

I was forced to do many tedious jobs in Saint Louis just for survival to take care of myself, and also to give my marabout money. No one else cared about taking care of me even though I was a child. I can remember my first job apart from going to that market was sweeping. There was a very wicked woman named Aja that I was working for, she was very mean to me. I did not understand the money, and I would wake up every morning and clean everywhere in the house up and down everyday, with no days off. For this I was paid 2000cfa a week (about US$3.25). But this woman often would not even pay me that small amount so I left there and I returned to the market to earn what I could.  

 

In 2015 I learned about some centres helping talibé like me. I started going to the centres and found Maison de la Gare. Whenever we were returning from working in the market we would pass by Maison de la Gare to take a shower and sometimes watch films and play. We would also come back in the afternoon and eat free food they gave us. I joined karate classes too. I started falling love with it. Maison de la Gare was a break from my very hard life. I spent as much time as I could at Maison de la Gare. I started getting used to the people at Maison de la Gare, and trusting them, especially the head teacher,  Abdou Soumaré. He always would advise me go to the classes and learn French or English, that it may help a lot in my life. 

 

At that time I could not understand anything in either English or French so I found it pointless to sit in the class room. I could not tolerate my life in the daara any longer, so I was eager to escape to Europe, through Libya or Morocco. Four of my friends had gone on that journey, and I wanted to do it too. That was the year I left the daara and went to Mauritania to try to find a better job and then make my way to Europe. But Mauritania was even a worse nightmare for me. Even more terrible than living in the daara. I returned to Saint Louis and finally took Abdou Soumaré’s advice. He had always been telling me I should try to go to classes and at least learn to understand one official language that could help me in life. So I started learning English with some of the volunteers at the centre. I remained at the centre until I started speaking a bit of English. I even joined the karate dojo and earned my yellow belt.

 

I returned to Gambia in late 2018, but I found my mum had a heart attack and my elder brother was not working. My uncle was the one taking care of this whole family and I had the feeling that I needed to make a change. I was wondering how I could make my way through my entire life with only having learned the Quran. I refused to treat other children the way I had been treated, as slaves, so being a marabout was not for me. I felt quite useless in my family. I went back to Saint Louis, and my main objective was to try to support myself, enrol myself to school, get my certificate, and then start working to become the bread winner of my family. I refused to return to the daara so I lived sometimes on the streets, sometimes at friends’ rooms, and sometimes at Maison de la Gare’s dortoir (emergency shelter). I continued to go to the Maison de la Gare classes.

 

I explained my situation and my desire to go to a real school to some of my friends. One friend who motivated me the most to find a way to go to school was my friend Tijan, also from Gambia. Tijan and I almost have similar stories. He was the one who would tell me “Sulayman stop thinking about this back way of going to Europe. You can make it in your own country.” He had returned to Gambia to go to school a few years before and he was going to graduate from high school! He was at that time in Senegal only briefly to visit Maison de la Gare. Tijan convinced and inspired me to return again to Gambia, this time to go to school. Abdou Soumaré and Issa Kouyate, the president and founder of Maison de la Gare, gave us both some advice and wished us well. Tijan and I returned to Gambia together. 

 

Today I believe that everything in life is possible. You just have to believe in yourself and give it a try. If I didn't believe in myself so strongly at this point, and already been through so much hardship, I would have dropped out of school the very first week that I enrolled. I will never forget this in my life: my very first test in school I earned zero out of one hundred. The teacher called me in front of the class room and embarrassed me in front of everybody. But, I didn't give up or think “well, I am stupid  and I can't do this” instead I was like “ahhh, this is my first time in school, so it's not the end of the world. I’ll do better next time after I learn something.”  I thank God now, Alhamdulillah!! that I stuck with it. I have learned much and improved a lot, advancing through all my high school grades. I am not bothered that I am of such an older age compared to my classmates and I am now at the last stage of high schooling. I have completed my high school studies with the help of tutors to help me get caught up for all the education I missed as a child. I have qualified to write the WASSCE, the West African Senior School Certificate examination, which I will be attempting this spring.

 

My hope for the future is to get good results in my upcoming exams. My high school diploma and good exam results will hopefully open the door for me to further my education. I hope my hard work and perseverance will give me the chance to go to university, to continue my education. I want to do it for myself and for my family. I believe education can brighten my life, it is the way.

Sulayman receiving his yellow belt in karate
Sulayman receiving his yellow belt in karate
a Maison de la Gare Classroom
a Maison de la Gare Classroom
Sulayman and Tijan discussing the future
Sulayman and Tijan discussing the future
Sulayman with Abdou Soumare
Sulayman with Abdou Soumare
Sulayman and Tijan with Issa Kouyate
Sulayman and Tijan with Issa Kouyate

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2021 has been such a difficult year for the talibés, forced begging street boys, of Saint Louis and the staff of Maison de la Gare who strive to make their lives better and help them find hope for a better future. Again.

 

Covid 19 initially closed the Maison de la Gare centre and dramatically affected the talibés ability to find enough even to eat. Eventually with the help of donors, Maison de la Gare was able to help feed the hungry boys during periods of lock-down. Later, the Center was able to reopen and talibé could return to spend a few hours a day playing, learning, seeking solace or health care, and just be children.

 

Best of all for the young martial artists of Maison de la Gare, karate could resume. the clean, white gi’s came out of storage, white and coloured belts were wrapped around torsos once, the sand was raked and swept of shells, pebbles and twigs, and the karateka lined up under the African sun once more. Yoi. Ready in anticipation for the instruction of their Sensei.

 

This December, excitement about karate was heightened as a few of Maison de la Gare’s long time karate students, Ahmadou and Adama, and the Center’s instructor, Bouaro were invited to compete at a rare International Karate Tournament being hosted in Saint Louis on boxing Day, December 26. Ahmadou and Bouaro competed in kata divisions, while Adama competed in kumité. For any martial artist, a karate competition is an exciting opportunity. For talibés, it is an absolute life highlight. More than an opportunity to excel at their sport and test their skill, competition tests a karateka’s perseverance, courage, determination, and offers incredible opportunity for personal growth. It is also an opportunity to shine on the mat. To be applauded as a hero, win or lose. For talibés who live most of their lives neglected, overlooked or pitied by much of society, the positive impact of applause and admiration, let opportunity to be in the spotlight can hardly be understood.

 

Bouaro, Adama, and Ahmadou enjoyed their glorious day of competition. Cheered on by Maison de la Gare supporters and their fellow karatekas, the day of competition will not soon be forgotten by the competitors.  And it will be remembered by the spectators who watched these young people putting everything they had on the mat, demonstrating their skill with unusual passion and determination, inspiring other talibés that it is possible to rise out of the invisible crowd and shine, that glory is possible if one is willing to work for it. 

 

There are over 30 of the talibés who are more advanced and particularly committed to elevating their karate skills, who are registered in the local dojo, Sor-Karate. They are anxious to renew their memberships at the dojo and be able to continuing to practice the martial art they have come to love, that offers them a sense of self worth, confidence, self respect, and belonging. January each year the karate licensing and dojo membership renewal fees are due. Continuation with the program depends on the generosity of international donors. A gift of $100 Canadian will renew a child’s karate membership for a year, enabling them to test for higher belts, and participate in a supplementary food program while training. More kids who have been participating in the morning karate classes at the Maison de la Gare center are ready to join the dojo as well. Their hopes being fulfilled will depend upon the generosity of donors. 

 

Thank you to our generous donors for helping to bring the opportunity that participation in martial arts offers, to the talibés of Maison de la Gare.

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In March of 2020 Covid-19 hit Maison de la Gare like a freight train. International volunteers evacuated the country. Planned volunteer visits and the revenue they bring were cancelled. Travel between regions was prohibited, trapping vulnerable talibés children in the cities in their darras. And, the cities locked down, instantly eliminating the source of food for tens of thousands of forced begging street children.

 

Early in the Pandemic, Covid-19 was not the primary danger in Saint Louis.  With travel and all activity stopped in its tracks, cases were few. But, the economic devastation was swift and deep. Many Senegalese lost their work and income. Many could no longer house or sufficiently feed their families. For the vulnerable talibés, already victims of abuse, neglect and modern slavery, things became so much worse. Within days of the first lock downs, the streets of Saint Louis were empty of all but hungry talibés, desperately sorting through garbage heaps for anything at all to eat. With the help of generous donors, Maison de la Gare was able to continue to pay its staff, but the Center had to close. The only refuge for thousands of talibés was lost to them. 

 

Maison de la Gare soon was able to pivot and respond to the new dangers to talibés. Neighbourhood cooks were rallied, international donors responded, and first hundreds, and then thousands of meals each day were cooked and delivered by Maison de la Gare staff and older talibés to the daaras where the boys lived. Starvation for many talibés was avoided after all. Apprentices in the Maison de la Gare couture program sewed massive quantities of masks. Maison de la Gare teams delivered cleaning supplies and masks to the talibés in their darras and taught them to protect themselves from the Covid virus.

 

As time passed, Covid did make its way more dangerously into Senegal.  After months of experiencing  few cases, economic activity began to  resume in Saint Louis. people returned to their daily business, even if at a diminished rate. Talibés went back to begging, the Center was able to open again. But, as vaccinations became widely available in the Global North, travel began to resume. And with it, Covid began to spread and take hold.

 

Now in Senegal, hospitals are full. So many people are sick, and everyone seems to know someone who has died of Covid. But, unlike in the North, the hope offered by vaccines is not available to most in Senegal. The supply of vaccines only trickles in, and Covid continues to spread.

 

But now, knowing how to better manage the risks of Covid, life at Maison de la Gare continues. Masked, and distanced, but it continues. Food and water and cleaning supply costs are higher than ever at Maison de la Gare. But, talibé children are able to tumble through the gates each day in twos and threes, or alone. They wash their clothes and themselves.  They enjoy a meal they do not need to beg for. They visit the infirmary, sometimes to have serious conditions treated, sometimes just for some much needed tender loving care from the health care workers. The put on clean, white uniforms and practice karate. They play soccer. They attend classes and learn French and math. They play, relax, and just get to be children for a few minutes or hours. 

 

Some of the Maison de la Gare team have managed to get vaccinated. Others are registered to get their jabs, waiting their turn. But, it could be a long wait. People are scared. Nevertheless, Maison de la Gare staff are doing all they can for the vulnerable talibés, most of who are too young to be vaccinated, even if the supply were available. We have often described Maison de la Gare as an oasis for the talibés. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the oasis provided by Maison de la Gare has proven to be more important than ever, offering more than hope…helping to sustain life itself.

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Maison de la Gare

Location: Saint Louis - Senegal
Website:
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Project Leader:
Sonia LeRoy
Saint Louis, Saint Louis Senegal
$2,100 raised of $6,000 goal
 
39 donations
$3,900 to go
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