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

Project Report | May 10, 2022
A Talibe's Journey in Search of Education

By Sulayman | High School Student, former talibe

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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Organization Information

Maison de la Gare

Location: Saint Louis - Senegal
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Maison de la Gare
Saint Louis , Saint Louis Senegal
$3,480 raised of $6,000 goal
 
59 donations
$2,520 to go
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