Karate began for Maison de la Gare six years ago. The very first classes were offered to talibé children who did not know the sport, or the language in which it was taught, or the thirteen year old Canadian boy teaching them. But, it looked fun, and it did not require shoes (which most did not have), and they got to wear clean white uniforms, and be the centre of attention. Dozens of talibés decided to give it a try.
Today karate is respected and adored at Maison de la Gare, a crown jewel among the programs offered for forced begging street children, modern day slaves known as talibés. Hundreds of children have donned uniforms, tried classes, become devoted students of martial arts, been registered in a local dojo where they are undifferentiated from regular, non-enslaved children. Many dozens have tested for and achieved higher belts, trained for and competed in local tournaments. For many talibé karateka karate has become a burning passion. For a few, they say karate has become to them life itself. Several of Maison de la Gare’s karateka have been invited to compete at regional, and even National tournaments! For all of them, life is better than it was before they discovered karate.
The karateka now understand the language of karate, taking their instructions in the Japanese universally understood in the karate world. Children, abused and exploited from a young age, have learned confidence, perseverance, and the discipline and humility that comes from strength, pride and self respect, rather than from fear and intimidation.
Maison de la Gare regularly hosts competitions, made possible by generous international donors, and run by the local Sor Karate dojo and the World Karate Federation. Many tournaments have been hosted over the past years. Tournaments are a chance for the karateka to truly shine. They prepare for weeks leading up to the big day, at the centre during morning karate classes and also at the dojo during evening classes. A few days before the competition Sensei gives a motivational speech to the competitors, giving them advice on how to focus and comport themselves during the event, as well as to congratulate them on their perseverance, dedication and accomplishments to date. The evening prior to the competition, mats are delivered by horse and cart, and set up by the older prospective competitors, usually in the dark after the other talibés have left the Maison de la Gare Center and returned to their daaras for the night. The first few times the mats were assembled on tournament day, all the pieces did not easily come together as planned. Since those early days, the karateka have learned to begin to assemble the mats from the center rather than from multiple outer edges at a time, and they have learned to plan ahead and complete the assembly the night before.
The morning of the tournament, the karate students began to arrive, nervous but excited. Determination, anxiety and anticipation all take their turns crossing across the faces of those about to compete. As first a trickle, then dozens, then hundreds of talibés begin to tumble in to the Center, they realize something special is about to happen. The competitors don their gi’s, take some time aside for a final review of a planned kata, or practice some final sparring drills. The Federation referees arrive, wearing suits and looking very official. The prize table is assembled. Prizes! Tournament sweaters and trophies donated by the Canadian black belt who started it all; t-shirts and medals donated by the Canadian dojos that sponsor the event; Extra prizes if extra donors can be found; and the Douvris Cup: A great trophy for the Grand Champion! Each tournament ends with a new name engraved on the side. This is Maison de la Gare’s Stanley Cup of karate.
Before long Sensei is standing by, and the competitors are lined up and ready to go. Maison de la Gare is packed with talibés, staff and visitors anxious for the competition to begin.
The first division is always kihon, for the younger group of students who train at the centre in the mornings. Over twenty competitors perform as requested. Or, what they thought was requested (the instructions are in Japanese after all). After each pair performs, a winner is chosen. Then the winners compete again. And again, until only the gold, silver, bronze and runner up remain. The process is repeated for kata. First time and veteran competitors alike seem surprised and delighted by the audience's wild applause. Then medals are awarded, and prizes for the winners. But it seemed that all of them felt like winners. There was glory enough to go around for each of them.
At 1:00pm the tournament is suspended so the invitees and referees can break for lunch. Some of the competitors are called back to their daaras, some go out to the streets to beg for lunch, and some remain to hang out at Maison de la Gare or train for the afternoon divisions. The tournament is scheduled to resume at 4:00pm.
At 4:30pm the group begins to assemble again. By 4:45 the older dojo talibés are dressed, lined up, and ready to compete. Occasionally the President of the WKF Senegalese Karate Federation will attend, a great honour! He sits at the head table beside Sensei Ignety Ba. The referees turn to salut him. Then they bow to the karateka. The boys nervously but proudly bow back to them. The afternoon battle for the Douvris Cup begins.
The afternoon begins with kata. Some are white belts, some have passed for yellow, but not yet been granted their belts (that happens later, after the competition), several orange belts, a few greens, and the occasional blue belt. For the tournament however, they are all equal, wearing blue or red. When a competitor performs a particularly spectacular kata the crowd burst into loud, sustained shouting and applause, astonished at his skill. The joy and pride experienced by the competitor is indescribable.
Finally, kumite. As the boys are paired off and don their protective gear, the anticipation in the air is palpable. What is it about competitive fighting that excites people this way? The referee starts the first pair. As they began to spar, the crowd grows louder. At first laughing as punches miss or are blocked, then clapping and cheering as hits are made and points called. As the fights progress, with the winners move on to fight the winners, and the skill levels displayed increases. The noise from the crowd grows ever louder with each successive pair, attracting even more spectators. Finally, the fight for gold. Glory, once more!
The medals are awarded, and the Douvris Cup winner gets revealed. All the competitors who place make sure their medals are visible to the judges, thinking to influence the decision. Then,,,"Et le Grand Champion de la Coupe Douvris est...!" The crown goes wild for the Champion in admiration. Glory, indeed!
Then, a ceremony to award the new belts earned the previous week. The President of the Federation awards the first yellow belt, a wonderful honour, and an important recognition and vote of confidence in the Maison de la Gare talibé karate initiative. The new belts are tied on each successful grader, in turn.
As the African sun sets on the end of a glorious tournament day, the glory will not soon be forgotten, for the talibés, competitors and guests alike. As for the medalists, it was truly a time to shine!
Six years ago a young Canadian volunteer and karate black belt, Robbie Hughes founded the karate program at Maison de la Gare. Karate was Robbie’s passion, and he wanted to share it with the children of Maison de la Gare when he visited to volunteer with his family.
Over the years Robbie has returned many times to Maison de la Gare, to train with the talibés, expand the karate program, and to identify and register talibé children who were developing a similar passion for karate and who were ready to advance their skills, at the local dojo, Sor Karate with sensei Ignéty Ba.
In Robbie’s words:
While the karate program at Maison de la Gare offers strength and agility development and teaches kids important self defence skills, its main objective is to promote and facilitate the discovery of discipline, confidence, leadership and sportsmanship.
In my opinion the greatest accomplishment of the Karate Can Kick Hopelessness project is the ongoing development of discipline. Discipline isn’t only important to karate, it is an essential factor to learning how to progress regardless of the challenges we face, and to eventually leading a productive and fulfilling life, no matter who you are or where you live.
Discipline unlocks an individual’s ability to be their best self. It teaches one how to get things done, how to have the courage to move forward when life feels hard. Sometimes there are days when I don’t feel like getting out of bed at 6:00am to do a workout or to go to work after a full day of classes. But years of training karate and the example of my senseis gave me the discipline to do what needs to be done. We all have little hills we need to climb from time to time. But the talibés have mountains to climb each and every day. They leave their daaras before the sun rises. They spend hours each day begging on their own on the streets, they do not have parents or teachers to encourage or lead them and they never have enough to eat. They return to their daaras in the dark, not to beds, loving parents, and a hot meal, but to a cold floor, a hand held out to receive their begging quotas, with grumbling stomachs. Mountains. Every day.
When you give someone the opportunity to pursue and learn difficult things, they can learn something unique about themselves from accomplishment as well as failure. They can learn that they have the ability inside of them to overcome the hard and seemingly impossible challenges in life. Such as the challenges talibés face every day of their lives. Overcoming challenge and learning skills also gives a person the opportunity to become proud of themselves. Like myself, for many of Maison de la Gare’s karate kids martial arts has been the catalyst for a deeper realization of individual ability, self worth, and understanding of the discipline needed to overcome life’s challenges.
Until now Robbie has given annual presentations at his home dojo in Ottawa to encourage families of his fellow karateka to sponsor talibés in Senegal to also be able to join and train in their local dojo, and has encouraged donations when attending WKC World Karate Championships as a member of Team Canada. Unfortunately, this year due to Covid-19 Robbie has not been able to encourage donations and sponsorships in person as he usually does. The talibés karatekas of Maison de la Gare-Sor Karate need your help so their dojo memberships can be renewed and so new talibé karateka who are ready to join the dojo are able to register.
Donations to the karate program through GlobalGiving allow the talibés who have grown to love karate the ability to continue to practice the sport they love, to continue to grow in their independence and confidence and skill. Your donations will offer the gift of martial arts to more talibés, more opportunity for talibés to feel seen and supported by the world. More opportunity to learn confidence and discipline. And, more opportunity for them to shine and be celebrated as individuals, to become heroes and role models to other talibé children.
Across the globe and throughout history there have existed unjust exploitations of certain groups of individuals lacking the ability to defend themselves. And, those in positions of power have taken advantage and those who are in a position to stop it turn a blind eye.
The Senegalese talibé system in place since the 14th century has evolved dramatically since about the 1960s from a respected system of religious education and character building into a fraught system of exploitation and modern day slavery. Today, predominantly rural families entrust their sons to urban-based Islamic teachers known as marabouts. However instead of receiving the anticipated Islamic education, tens of thousands of talibé children typically experience conditions of deprivation, extreme corporal punishment and are forced to beg for daily quotas of money as well as their own food for 8 to 10 hours a day. The United Nations considers the talibé system today to be a form of modern slavery.
Before we consider the effects of civil society and other actors on the talibé system lets examine the perpetrators of talibé abuses: the marabouts themselves.
Many marabouts have recruitment systems that extend to villages outside of Senegal in neighbouring countries, escalating the talibé system to international child trafficking. Today many marabouts force talibés to beg for the marabouts’ own personal enrichment, but it wasn’t always this way.
The talibé system originated as one of the first formal systems of education in West Africa, based on a trust relationship whereby marabouts were responsible to and supported by local populations. All talibés, whatever their origin or family wealth, practiced a moderate amount of begging, not to enrich the marabout, but rather to teach humility. Daaras were located in the community or a nearby village where their proximity to home allowed talibés and their families to remain in close contact. Families made small financial contributions to the daara and children regularly returned home to eat, bathe, clean their clothes, and to spend time with their families.
Just over half a century ago when drought descended on Senegal, severe impoverishment resulted in rural villages, in particular. This induced many marabouts to move their daaras to relatively more prosperous cities. Rising poverty in the villages made it difficult for families to continue to financially support marabouts. After the transition to cities, parents ceased to play an active role in supporting their sons. The migration of hundreds of Darras from rural villages has expanded to become thousands of Darras in cities across Senegal today, whereby marabouts use forced begging of their charges as their primary means of income.
If Marabouts had a source of income other than forcing talibés to beg, they may not have a reason to exploit children and could return to their traditional role of Quranic instruction.
Understanding the role civil society plays in perpetuating the talibé system is key to understanding why forced begging persists. Citizens of Senegal contribute to condemning the talibé system into a classic poverty trap. Senegalese people coexist daily with talibé, and are often indifferent to their distress. But even worse than indifference are the majority of citizens who generously donate to talibé begging bowls, enabling the forced begging system to exist at all. Unfortunately, for the talibés, the generosity of giving only feeds the system which exploits them.
Senegalese support of the talibé system is deeply rooted in the unique religious cultural history of Senegal. There are three primary reasons the population overwhelmingly answers the Quaranic call to give to beggars, particularly the talibés, despite the obvious abuses they suffer. First, since the 14th century Quaranic schools have been a key public symbol of Muslim identity in West Africa, and marabouts as the leaders of these schools have an unusually strong influence over the Senegalese psyche. Second, clerical communities largely acted as safe havens during the trans Atlantic slave trade and thus Darras and marabouts are generally historically regarded positively. And lastly, the particular sufi form of Islam practiced by the predominantly Sunni Muslim population continues to preserve the corporal disposition towards Islamic knowledge. This can have the effect of emphasizing the practice of the motions of Islam over embracing the spiritual intent. In other words, individuals may give more to fulfill their Muslim duty and less out of compassion for the talibés and thus some people may give without examining too closely who or what they are really giving to.
The focus on a corporal style of learning by rote rather then by developing comprehension is widely accepted as a normal condition. Thus, some of the abuses experienced by talibés in darras are not considered as offensive to Senegalese society as they may be to international organizations that advocate for children’s rights. Furthermore, some of the most serious abuses happen out of the public eye and are thus easy for society to overlook.
CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS
There are some in Senegalese society who have examined the conditions of modern talibé more closely and who consequently call for change. Some civil society groups work to spread education about the severity of the conditions faced by talibés. The work of local awareness raising groups have mainly resulted in improved living conditions for talibés rather then working towards ending forced begging. Grass roots civil society organization, Maison de la Gare is nearly alone in working to end forced begging in Senegal, in addition to improving conditions for talibés. Civil society is a critical lever of potential change. If individuals stopped giving to the talibés, the system would quickly come to an end.
The state has served a dual role in the perpetuation of the talibé system in that it does not effectively enforce forced begging laws, and in indirectly legitimizing the forced begging darra system as a form of education. Senegal’s Penal Code long ago criminalized forced child begging. Nevertheless, only a handful of cases in a landscape of thousands of forced-begging darras have been prosecuted. Governmental laxity concerning the situation of the talibés has generally prevailed due to the political influence of the marabouts, the overwhelming scope of the problem, and scarce resources. Despite political rhetoric, enforcement of forced begging laws remains elusive.
The government could turn the situation around and become a positive leaver of change by enforcing its existing laws or investing in formal education, particularly in rural villages. However such change will take significant resources and initiative which are currently lacking.
The international community is another actor that could play a stronger role in encouraging the state to change its behaviour with respect to the talibé system. For example, by providing funds to build schools in rural villages and pressuring government leaders with respect to human rights for children. Maison de la Gare’s support of schools in rural villages, as described in the Maison de la Gare Project Report: Into the Bush in Search of Education, is an excellent example. The international community furthermore has a role to play in raising awareness among civil society of conditions faced by the talibés and also in supporting the few civil society organizations who actually work to end forced begging, such as Maison de la Gare.
Families of talibés are important actors as well. If parents stopped sending children to be talibés the system would fall apart. However there are complex reasons parents send their children to darras. The importance of Islamic education and the influence of marabouts as previously discussed is particularly powerful with rural, often uneducated parents. Furthermore, families have very few options if they want their children to receive an education. Due to the lack of rural school, the promise of an Islamic education in an urban darra is often the only option available to many parents. And finally, some parents are simply unaware of the severity of conditions of deprivation, forced begging and abuse experienced by their children.
The unintended consequences of parents sending their boys from rural villages to the cities are far reaching and severe for society as a whole, not just for the talibés. By visiting many rural villages in Senegal that have sent boys to be talibés in the cities I have observed a dramatically disproportionate number of girls in the villages. It is common in these villages for girls to marry as young as 13 or 14 to much older men who already have several wives. It would seem that the lack of schools in rural villages not only encourages the talibé system but promotes polygamy, child marriage and female illiteracy. Another distressing unintended consequence is the inability of talibés to become productive members of Senegalese society. In fact, Issa Kouyaté, the founder and President of Maison de la Gare has long understood this and his primary objective for Maison de la Gare, apart from ultimately ending forced begging in Senegal, is to provide means for talibés youth to learn to become successful and productive members of society as they age and are able to escape the talibé system.
The current trap the talibés experience is a result of many complex factors. Marabouts, civil society, talibés’ families, government, and the international community all are actors that play a role, either through action or lack of action in perpetuating the horrors of the talibé system. But, there is hope for positive change. Targeting civil society as a leaver of change has significant potential, as does focusing on influencing parents to keep their children at home by building schools in rural areas, and encouraging daaras to return to their rural roots. And, pressure and targeted aid by the international community on government, and, importantly for our readers, donations made effectively through grassroots organizations such as Maison de la Gare offer more than just hope. They offer the potential for real change.
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.
In early March, not too many weeks ago, my son, Robbie and I were in the final stages of planning a very special volunteer trip to Maison de la Gare from Canada. Members of our Canadian Karate dojo were planning on travelling with us to work with the karate students of Maison de la Gare. We were loaded up with donated martial arts uniforms, medals and trophies, and our own overflowing excitement - ready to join our friends at Maison de la Gare to replenish supplies, reinforce the martial arts program which has been so successful for the forced begging talibés, host special training workshops and organize a karate competition: a rare day of celebration and glory for children who experience none in their difficult day to day lives.
But then, COVID-19 changed everything. Flights were cancelled, international volunteers were recalled home, countries were locked down. The trip became an impossibility.
It did not take long for things to escalate from bad to very much worse. Senegal, with limited medical means to fight the virus, quickly moved to lock itself down tight. Within days internal travel became restricted, streets emptied, 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.
When the National Federation of Karate in Senegal, a symbol of strength and discipline, called upon its members to help support the country in its struggle against the coronavirus, Maison de la Gare was there. This call for support was intended as an important symbolic gesture of solidarity in the face of terrible uncertainty. Maison de la Gare and its Sor-Karate partner were quick to answer the call. Maison de la Gare contributed 1000 francs (about $2) for each active Maison de la Gare karate student. This gesture was a particularly powerful example, as the talibés are among the most vulnerable of all of society, and the poorest.
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 asks 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 are left with no access to food. With no one on the streets, there is no one to beg from. "The situation is explosive," says Issa Kouyaté, the founder and director of Maison de la Gare. Marabouts who send the talibés out to beg, have not suddenly begun feeding the children during the pandemic. Some talibés have families in remote regions of the country who have demanded that their children be returned home. However, the government’s prohibition of travel between different regions of the country prevents this.
Maison de la Gare soon realized that all they were doing would not be enough when the children have nothing to eat. Maison de la Gare has now committed all its resources to feeding them and is providing nutritious daily meals to over 1,500 talibé children, sometimes as many as 2000, each day in their daaras.
How is this possible? It is thanks to the brave and dedicated women of the Ndèye daaras, the “Godmothers” in each neighborhood of Saint Louis working with Maison de la Gare. Some few, lucky talibés have a relationship with a local family whereby they can stop by the family’s house for a meal of leftovers or even a specially set aside plate of breakfast. The provider of such food support is known as a Godmother. Maison de la Gare recruited and is working with groups of these amazing women in each of ten neighborhoods of Saint Louis, including the north and south island, Pikine, Balacoss, Ndiolofène, Darou, Diamimar, Médina Course, Eaux claires and Léona.
In each of these neighborhoods, the Godmothers are cooking food paid for by Maison de la Gare’s donors each day for the children of four to seven daaras located close to their base. Each of these daaras typically has 30 to 70 children, so massive quantities of food are being cooked and many children are being reached. Maison de la Gare provides funds at the beginning of each week so that the women can do the shopping. They are very effective at this, asking vendors in the market for their support for the needy children. Many respond generously, with the result that the funds go much further than they normally would.
The food is distributed by the Maison de la Gare team and many of the older talibés to the children’s daaras in the large stainless-steel bowls that are very common for communal meals in Senegal.
With this program now underway, Maison de la Gare has expanded its influence and has been able to give even more attention to hygiene awareness for the children and everyone involved. The apprentices in the Maison de la Gare sewing program have been working to fabricate face masks; thousands of these have now been distributed to vulnerable talibés.
We are deeply grateful to everyone who has responded to this situation with emergency support of Maison de la Gare’s heroic efforts. Emergency grants from Global Fund for Children and from GO Campaign enabled the first five weeks of the emergency food program. Many individual donors have also stepped forward to help Maison de la Gare sustain the effort for many more weeks. And other organizations in Saint Louis and the local government are beginning to adopt this model in neighborhoods and daaras that Maison de la Gare has not been able to reach. But, there remain thousands of starving talibés in need. And, the longer COVID-19 threatens lives and the longer the lockdown persists, the greater the danger for the talibés of Saint Louis will be, and the more they will rely on our help.
Thank you for every dollar donated. The struggle continues.
Sulayman has always been a quiet, positive boy with a gentle spirit and a smile. He began with the karate program early, not long after karate was first offered at Maison de la Gare. Sulayman earned his yellow belt at one of the first cérémonie de passage about three years ago. As he is originally from The Gambia, Sulayman speaks some English. Karate helped build up Sulayman's self confidence and discipline and he began to devote more effort to improving his English and learning math, allowing his thoughts to drift to a possible future, fuelled by education.
Sulayman remembers that when he was a young boy he lived happily with three brothers and two sisters and his mother and father in the Village of Welingarau in The Gambia, until the age of six.
Everything changed when his father died. Sulayman does not remember his father at all, just photos of him. Apparently Sulayman had once told his father when very young that he wanted to be a marabout. and his brother said he wanted to be a teacher. Sulayman has no memory of having said this, or of ever having wanted to be a marabout. But, Because it had been his father's wish that he become a marabout, upon his father's death his mother sent him to an Arabic school in a nearby Gambian village. His brother was sent to formal school in hopes of becoming a teacher. Sulaymane remained in the daara for nearly eight years.
Then, at the age of fourteen, Sulayman's mother wanted him to go to Saint Louis to be a talibé to better learn the Quran. So, he was sent by his Marabout to a daara in Saint Louis. Saint Louis has a reputation as a place to send one's sons to learn the Quran, among poorer villages, anyway. Perhaps many parents are unaware of the miserable conditions to which they are sending their children.
Sulayman noted that all of the younger children in his daara were forced to beg for daily quotas of money. A little bit older, he only needed to beg or work for his own food. None of the children, including himself were fed or offered any type of health care when needed. No one was sent to school. Sulayman did not like what he saw of how the younger children were treated. He was taught the Quran during the day, but there was no place for him to sleep at night at the daara. Sulayman spent the first three months sleeping on the street, in doorways of homes, getting little sleep as he needed to quickly move away when anyone entered or left the house in whose doorway he was sheltering. He learned to ask for food from door to door to feed himself. Sulayman arrived from The Gambia with good clothes, but everything except what he was wearing was soon stolen in the daara.
Not too long after arriving in Saint Louis, Sulayman heard about Maison de la Gare and he made his way there. He saw the Maison de la Gare classes in session and he realized education could be the key for him. He spent as much time as he could at the centre, as life was much better there than on the streets or in the daara. He joined the karate program, working at it diligently until he earned his yellow belt.
After his first three months in the daara his marabout left for Casamance in the south of Senegal and Sulayman was able to sleep in the daara now, with more than 50 other boys.
Sulayman was permitted to return to The Gambia to visit his family twice in 2015. After two and a half years living in the daara in Saint Louis Sulayman had had enough. He left, and from that time on has existed in Saint Louis by couch surfing with friends. Sometimes he would sleep at Maison de la Gare's emergency shelter. He spent as much of his time as he could improving his English and learning math, in Maison de la Gare's classes and in classes offered by other associations. His goal was to learn enough that he would be able to someday integrate into school back in The Gambia. He supported himself working in the market helping to make cooking pots, operating the grinder to finish them. Sulayman earns enough money working to buy food.
Since this summer Sulayman has been seriously considering the idea of returning to The Gambia to go to school. The lack of resources to pay school registration fees and the fear of the unknown has held him back. This week things changed when a fellow Gambian, Tijan arrived in Saint Louis. Tijan had been a talibé who had wanted nothing more than to become educated. About three years ago, after frequenting a Maison de la Gare for several years, Tijan confided to an international volunteer that he had been considering attempting to find a way to migrate to Europe, as he heard that minors who arrived there would be enrolled in school. Maison de la Gare figured out how he could instead return to The Gambia where he had the right to go to school, but no practical means to do so. That was three years ago. This summer Tijan graduated from high school and is now preparing to begin university, to study business and economics in 2020. This week he had come to Saint Louis to visit at Maison de la Gare before starting university.
Sulayman, seeing Tijan's successful example, made up his mind that perhaps the seemingly impossible may be possible after all. The school he thinks he could go to is near his cousin's house. He is hoping to be able to stay with his cousin, and hopefully eat two meals a day there. And, Tijan lives just 20 minutes away in case he needs help.
The ongoing school fees will be a challenge. And, he is not sure his plan for living arrangements will be workable. But, he is full of hope and optimism. Sulayman is determined that his time is now. Before Tijan and Sulayman left for The Gambia, Issa, the President of Maison de la Gare, spoke with the two boys, offering advice. Sulayman also received much appreciated life advice and encouragement from Abdou, the head teacher at Maison de la Gare.
Tijan and Sulayman left Maison de la Gare together, excited about the future and we said goodbye. Two days later they arrived "home" in The Gambia. Sulayman has had a meeting with the director of his school. He began high school this January, despite his age of 21 years. And, he has found a math study group to join to help catch up for years of lost education and prepare him for what lies ahead. The future is looking bright.
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