Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal

by Maison de la Gare
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Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal
Early 2022, the talibes reclaim their neighborhood
Early 2022, the talibes reclaim their neighborhood

Jade describes successful community mobilization in response to devastating fall flooding, a new start for talibé children living in Darou

We reported some months ago on the utter devastation caused by the exceptional fall rains of 2021, particularly in the Darou neighborhood of Saint Louis where dozens of daaras are located and many hundred of the begging talibé children live (see “Flooding! The Talibés are So Vulnerable”). Undaunted by early challenges, our English volunteer Jade Wheldon extended her stay by several months and worked hand in hand with Issa Kouyaté to drive this project to a successful conclusion, a new beginning for the entire community. This is Jade’s report.

____

The devastating fall flooding in Saint-Louis left many of the talibé children exposed to the harsh climate without access to clean water, fresh and nutritious food, or even basic clothing such as shoes to protect their feet. The floodwater was toxic and contributed to the spread of disease and infection, putting the physical and mental health of the children at further risk.

One of the worst affected sites was in the Darou neighborhood, shown in the first two photos of this report. It is a large square surrounding by housing with two road entrances. Two further nearby sites flooded to the same extent, and the talibés living there as well as the wider community had no choice but to walk through these places to get to connecting roads.

When we started this project, we were given some really amazing opportunities to raise awareness within the community by participating in a couple of large-scale street cleaning campaigns. When the restoration project itself was delayed due to a lack of access to industrial pumps, we focussed on mobilizing the community through a series of talks. After a very productive meeting in late November, a committee was formed to assure regular street cleaning in the district, working with local organizations.

The relatively modest project that we had originally proposed in response to the flooding somehow blossomed into a much larger mobilization of the local community. On the busiest day, over 120 people volunteered to clean the streets with us. But we did not stop there. We spent time talking with the families in the area we were going to restore, discussing the importance of maintaining the land once it was restored and of using the space to bring the community together.

Our original restoration plan was to begin with pumping the flood waters back into the river, and then cleaning up the debris before restoring the landscape.  We were unsuccessful in obtaining pumps that could handle this job, but during the resulting delay most of the water had evaporated.

So, with the support of the community, we plunged into the restoration project.  We removed the rubbish and deposited it in a dumpster, using pickaxes and wheelbarrows. We then levelled the land using the pickaxes. In areas where the water had created small pits, we used gravel to raise the level, ready for the sand to be laid. Many truckloads of sand were needed along with much muscle power to spread it.

In total, the task took ten days to complete; we had enough materials to restore all three sites. The finished result is a clean, fresh landscape. The community was incredibly grateful for the transformation of their public areas. And the talibés immediately took to the space, building sandcastles, playing football, and running around freely in their bare feet.    

This project has really helped the local community take a huge step in the right direction. There is also hope in the newly formed bridge of communication between the marabouts, the community and Maison de la Gare, as well as in the clean-up committee that is now running events in the neighborhood. The project has been lifechanging for the young boys who can enjoy a game of football in a space that was previously a huge health hazard.

Even though this project has been completed, there are many more sites in areas where the talibés live that are in disrepair and damaged by the yearly flooding. What Maison de la Gare has done for the Darou community is very special and greatly appreciated, and it can now be used as a template for other such projects in the future.

___________

We once again express our gratitude to Off The Fence of Amsterdam and to Caminos of Switzerland whose grant made this project of community renewal in Darou possible.

Fall 2021, before MDG mobilized the community
Fall 2021, before MDG mobilized the community
Talibe Samba, with Issa and Kalidou, speaks on TV
Talibe Samba, with Issa and Kalidou, speaks on TV
Delivery of tools to begin work
Delivery of tools to begin work
The community is mobilized for the clean-up
The community is mobilized for the clean-up
Issa (center) is at the heart of the action
Issa (center) is at the heart of the action
Jade pitches in as well
Jade pitches in as well
Many tons of sand are required
Many tons of sand are required

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Samba and Ibrahima celebrate their success
Samba and Ibrahima celebrate their success

The story of each successful apprentice is a small miracle

We recently shared with you the encouraging progress made in our sewing apprenticeship program, with eleven talibé youth completing the program and being set on their paths to self-sufficiency (“A Chance at Life” at this link). The story of each of these boys is a tribute to their courage in triumphing over unbelievable adversity, true stories of transformation and of the victory of hope over despair. The tales of two of these aspiring entrepreneurs are recorded here.

Samba

Samba was born to a very poor family living in Casamance in the south of Senegal and was sent to learn the Koran in a daara in Saint Louis at a very young age. He has an independent spirit and refuses to give in to the abuse and repression he suffers in his daara. Samba does not want to be in his abusive daara, and he does not want to go home either as he says that his parents will simply send him back to the daara since the marabout is his mother's uncle.

Samba's marabout is very harsh and forces him to beg for a daily quota of money. He is regularly beaten and is deprived of nutrition, medical treatment, formal education and adequate shelter. He is severely psychologically intimidated.

Samba had been introduced to Maison de la Gare’s center by other talibé children and loved going there. He participated regularly in soccer games and had begun training in the karate program. However, his marabout forbade him to participate in these programs and confiscated his karate uniform. Samba persisted in coming to the center however, calling it the only joy in his life. He was repeatedly treated for his injuries in Maison de la Gare’s infirmary.

Finally, Samba ran away, unable to tolerate any longer the severe abuse that he suffered in his daara. His parents refused to accept him coming home, so he had nowhere to go and spent many days and nights alone and dangerously exposed on the street. This is where Maison de la Gare’s team found him, after someone had reported seeing him alone sleeping under the hot sun.

Samba was taken to our emergency shelter and spent many days there recovering from his ordeal. After our street educators had gained his confidence, he told them that he wanted to participate in the sewing program because his first ambition had always been to become a great tailor. He was enrolled into the GO Campaign program. Maison de la Gare met with his marabout and obtained his agreement. Samba returned to his daara and is living there, with regular monitoring by Maison de la Gare’s staff to ensure that the severe abuse does not happen again.

Samba came faithfully to Maison de la Gare’s center to participate in the program, avoiding his daara as much as possible. He has been a quiet but very good student, learning quickly and well. Maison de la Gare has become his family, healing his wounds and providing comfort and psychological support in his very difficult life. Sewing has become a passion for him, allowing him to focus and find a purpose. He says: “I want to become as good as my instructor Baka. After the training, I will lead workshops and help children who need it."

Samba is very ambitious and made great progress in the tailoring program. He got excellent marks in the assessments and looks forward to the future and to being able to take care of his mother.

Ibrahima

Ibrahima was born in Gambia to a father who is now a mechanic living in Dakar and a mother who sells products in the market in Saint Louis. He was found asleep in the market by Maison de la Gare’s night rounds team, covered with empty rice bags. The team took him to Maison de la Gare’s emergency shelter, where our street educators worked with him patiently to learn his story.

Ibrahima is the eldest of six children from several different fathers.   He grew up in Gambia with his maternal grandmother until the age of five, when he was sent to Louga to a maternal aunt where he stayed for several years.

Ibrahima’s mother had moved to Saint Louis, but she could not take care of him due to the number of children and her small income from selling fresh water and juice in the market. He was sent to a daara in the Darou area of Saint Louis. He found the conditions there intolerable and was often not able to beg for enough money to satisfy the daily quota that his marabout demanded of him. His only refuge was the street.

Ibrahima’s daara was particularly bad, with no doors, windows or light, and located in a dangerous area without security. During the winter season, the children were left to fend for themselves without protection from the cold while the marabout lived next door. Because of these conditions, Ibrahima ran away repeatedly, leading to our night rounds team finding him in the market.

Ibrahima began to get involved in our programs after a few days at Maison de la Gare’s center, playing in the yard with other talibés and talking with our staff. Our team found that he was very polite, and courageous about his situation. He saw the apprentices involved in the sewing program and wanted very much to be involved. He was accepted into the program and worked very diligently and successfully. Thanks to this program, Ibrahima now has a promising future.

In his words: "It was not easy for me because neither my father nor my mother supported me or cared about me. I spent years in the daara and on the streets, fending for myself. Now, thanks to this project, I have been able to find my place in society. I hope to become a great tailor and be able to help my mother, who does not have the means to support herself.”

___________________

Thank you again to GO Campaign of California for their grant that made Samba and Ibrahima’s program possible, and to all our donors who continue to support us and who will make it possible for many more youth to follow in Samba and Ibrahima’s footsteps. Samba and Ibrahima’s names, and their regions of origin, have been changed in this report.

Samba awaits his moment at the graduation ceremony
Samba awaits his moment at the graduation ceremony
Issa Kouyate congratulates Samba on his success
Issa Kouyate congratulates Samba on his success
Ibrahima relaxing at the graduation ceremony
Ibrahima relaxing at the graduation ceremony
Ibrahima with Ndaraw Diop-MDG microfinance program
Ibrahima with Ndaraw Diop-MDG microfinance program

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Much-appreciated food distribution to the talibes
Much-appreciated food distribution to the talibes

As the pandemic wanes, Maison de la Gare welcomes back its precious volunteers

It is hard to overstate the enormous contribution that international volunteers have made to Maison de la Gare and the talibé children, since our very beginnings in 2007.  Ranging in age from 16 to 80, they have brought their energy, idealism and creativity, and they have given the children love, respect and full acceptance as their equals, a precious gift for the talibés who must beg on the streets every day.

Uli Henking is a 50-something mother of three boys from Bavaria in Germany, and she is one of five volunteers who braved the pandemic in 2021 to support the talibé children in Saint Louis.  The others were Emmanuelle, an intern from France, Joseph and Steven, business students from the US who contributed to our microfinance program, and Jade, a film maker from Britain who spent four months as a driving force for several new projects.

In common with most volunteers, Uli contributed wherever she could help.  She attended to children’s injuries in the infirmary, helped with literacy classes, prepared and distributed food, led art activities in the classroom and games in the courtyard, helped children with their morning laundry and hygiene, and joined nurse Awa providing healthcare in some daaras.  In Uli’s words:

“Spending time as a volunteer at a place like Maison de la Gare is a profound and very complex experience that should be a must for young people growing up in Europe or other rich countries.  It is an experience of the poverty and abuse that many vulnerable children must live with.  And it is also an experience of how people living within this system can respond with their hearts, supporting and offering hopeful change to these brave children.  Maison de la Gare offers these children a basic education and the chance of learning a trade. 

I strongly recommend volunteering.  I hope to find many volunteers here in Germany who will seize the chance to embrace this experience and bring it back to Europe and to their future lives.  Maison de la Gare is very well organized and volunteers from all over the world are warmly welcomed, well accommodated, and included in the daily work of the organization in a very meaningful way.  The age of the volunteer does not matter at all.  Whether they are alone or with a parent or a friend, they are welcomed in a warm and uncomplicated way!

The intensive time that I spent at Maison de la Gare was for me one of the most meaningful times in my life.  The harrowing living conditions of the children and the unbelievable energy and commitment of the organization's team left a deep impression on me.  It is an honor for me to support this work.”

Uli made some unique and lasting contributions to Maison de la Gare.  She was concerned that the food that we give to the children every day did not include any fruit, and she was determined to change this.  She made a personal financial contribution while she was still in Saint Louis that allow us to begin including fruit in the children’s daily diet.  Then Sibylle, a friend of Uli’s in Germany, made a very generous donation that has allow us to continue this through 2022.  Uli also contributed after her departure to making the children’s Christmas party possible.

Uli was very moved by the pride of our sewing apprentices in showing off the results of their work.  It is a constant challenge for us to finance this program, and Uli decided to help by organizing sales in Germany.  She took a selection of the apprentices’ products home with her and prepared a very professional brochure to support sales.

We are grateful to Uli and to all our volunteers for their transformative contributions to Maison de la Gare and the talibé children.  We hope very much that, as the shadow of the pandemic recedes, many more international volunteers will follow in Uli’s footsteps.

Uli with volunteer coordinator Adama Diarra
Uli with volunteer coordinator Adama Diarra
Treating a talibe's infected foot in the infirmary
Treating a talibe's infected foot in the infirmary
Uli helped in the mornings with laundry & hygiene
Uli helped in the mornings with laundry & hygiene
Providing health care in daaras with nurse Awa
Providing health care in daaras with nurse Awa
Uli introduced regular fruit to the boys' diets
Uli introduced regular fruit to the boys' diets
Leading a well-received art class
Leading a well-received art class

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Graduating class with instructor Kalidou, on right
Graduating class with instructor Kalidou, on right

Encouraging progress in setting begging street children on the path to self-sufficiency

Offering apprenticeship training to begging talibé children has many challenges that are not present in a normal learning environment. The children, usually in their late teens, have no formal education and are unaccustomed to investing long hours in learning something for the future. The experience of begging, which most of them have lived since a very young age, is one of instant gratification … the immediate need to do what must be done to eat and avoid being beaten.

Apprenticeship requires a very different perspective, and our challenge is to motivate the youth in a way that can be successful. Marabouts react negatively if the apprentices fall short on their begging quotas. Some apprentices don’t get enough to eat, because of taking time from begging. And, after a good start, some can lose their focus and commitment.

A one-year grant gave us the opportunity to test strategies for success. Fifteen talibé youth were registered in our sewing apprenticeship program, and eleven of them completed the program successfully.

 

Graduation day was very special at Maison de la Gare as a broad cross-section of the Saint Louis community gathered to celebrate the success of these impressive young men. Sewing machines were given to ten of them, to support them in beginning their professional lives.

The ceremony was presided over by Madame Fatou Sy Barro representing the Prefect of the Saint Louis district. She is head of the Social Action Department and president of the Departmental Child Protection Committee.   Other notables attending included the heads of the local office of the Ministry of Justice responsible for street children (AEMO – Educational Action in Open Environments) and of the Centre for Promotion and Social Reintegration (CPRS), two imams, the president of the Badjenu Goxx (a social organization of community godmothers) and beneficiaries of Maison de la Gare’s microfinance program. Other invitees included Maître Aba Talib Gueye, a court lawyer and children's advocate, about thirty of the apprentices' family members, several marabouts, and members of Maison de la Gare’s staff.

Maison de la Gare’s president Issa Kouyaté welcomed everyone. He explained the objectives of the project while thanking our donors for making this dream of Maison de la Gare possible. Baka Fall, the tailoring instructor, congratulated the learners and Maison de la Gare. He said that we must not stop and should continue to train at least as many young people each year.

Talibé Yoro spoke on behalf of his fellow graduates. He praised the organization of such a festival and thanked the donors for giving him a trade and a machine to start his life; he promised never to exchange, sell or barter this machine.

Marabout Thierno Yéril Sow spoke next. He admitted that he and his fellow marabouts did not understand the project in the beginning, but they are now ready to encourage their talibés and to collaborate more with Maison de la Gare.

Finally, Madame Barro welcomed the ceremony and encouraged the graduates. She offered them much useful advice. Speaking to the marabouts, she celebrated this “beautiful way” of helping the children to find jobs to ensure their survival and future autonomy. And she thanked Maison de la Gare and its partners for understanding this.

A fashion show was organized to showcase products made by the apprentices. The press was well represented at this event, with reporting on ZIG-FM (a local and national radio station), SEN-TV and Ndar-Info, an online television station.

 

We have learned valuable lessons from this experience and are already applying these in our apprenticeship programs for the talibé youth. The marabouts must be involved from the very beginning, at the time of recruitment. Also, the talibé students and their marabouts or parents should sign a legal commitment to the program before the training begins, to underline the seriousness of both the commitment and the opportunity. Some financial support is essential to allow the students to complete the program. And, we are reinforcing the basic literacy, maths and entrepreneurial training which must go hand-in-hand with learning the technical skills.

Many talibé children have been motivated by the success of these graduates, and we are very hopeful for the future.

___________________

We are grateful to GO Campaign of California whose grant made this one-year project possible, and to all our international donors who have supported us over the years and whose continuing commitment will allow us to set many more youth on their paths to independence.

Apprentices at work in the tailoring center
Apprentices at work in the tailoring center
Kalidou with apprentices in the classroom
Kalidou with apprentices in the classroom
Instructor Baka Fall supervising his students
Instructor Baka Fall supervising his students
Abdoulaye proudly showing his creation
Abdoulaye proudly showing his creation
Gathering for the award ceremony
Gathering for the award ceremony
Issa Kouyate addresses the graduation assembly
Issa Kouyate addresses the graduation assembly
Modelling dresses made by the apprentices
Modelling dresses made by the apprentices

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Maison de la Gare center at the end of a busy day
Maison de la Gare center at the end of a busy day

Boubacar offers a portrait of Maison de la Gare’s efforts for the talibé children in 2021

We regularly share stories of individual children supported by Maison de la Gare and of our various programs, all of which are conceived to improve the lives of these children and to give them hope for the future.

It is our faithful supporters around the world who make this possible. We want to be accountable to you and will give you here an overview of the impact that you have had in 2021.

Maison de la Gare’s center in Saint-Louis is at the heart of everything that we do. Noël welcomed and registered a total of 2560 talibé children entering the center in 2021, an average of 660 children making 2660 visits each month. About 11% of these were 6 years of age and younger, almost impossible to believe, and the rest are mostly between 7 and 18.

Two thirds of the children come from families in all corners of Senegal while the rest have been trafficked from neighboring countries, 17% from Guinea-Bissau, 12% from Gambia, 5% from Guinea and a few from Mauritania. All these children are living as virtual slaves in 127 different Saint-Louis daaras, far from their families or any emotional support and without any of the necessities of life … clean water to drink, decent hygiene facilities, safe and warm sleeping areas and even regular food. And they are forced to beg for 6 to 10 hours each day for their food and for a payment to the marabout who controls them. Maison de la Gare is their window onto a better life.

Once in our center the children wash their clothes, take showers, read books and watch films in the library or just hang out, safe for a brief moment from the dangers of the street. Nurse Awa treated on average 195 of them each month of 2021 in our infirmary. Cuts and other wounds are most common, with skin diseases, in particular scabies, being close behind. And, in order of frequency, eye problems, tooth pain, burns, diarrhea and malaria.

Our teachers Bouri and Aïda offer literacy classes every day, and Abdou organizes and teaches the children through games and other activities. 33 children participated regularly in classes in the centre in 2021, and 50 others were taught in their daaras. Abdou also provides clothing for children in the most desperate need, averaging 70 each month.

Lalla has the children involved in pick-up games of soccer, which they love passionately. She organized 30 matches between different daaras during the year, culminating in a dramatic final in a local stadium. Buaró leads regular karate classes for 20 committed youth in our center several mornings each week, and 35 older talibés train every night in a local dojo. Karate offers them self-confidence and pride, and a realization that they are children like any other, worthy of their basic human rights.

Every year we are more aware of the need to give our older talibés the skills they need to make their independent way in the world and become self-sufficient. In 2021, Baka and Kalidou guided 35 youth to graduating successfully from our sewing apprenticeship program, and Cheikh Ablaye and Samba led 13 others to success in our poultry farming apprenticeship program.

Our new microfinance program is linked to this objective for the older talibés; we hope that it will be an invaluable support in their journey to independence. The program expanded during the year to 86 loans, 19 of them to budding talibé entrepreneurs.

Perhaps the most difficult job in our center is in our emergency shelter. Mamadou and his night rounds team recovered 128 children living on the street during the year. Aby and the team in the shelter received them, listened to their stories, and worked to find the best way forward for each of them. 58 were returned to their families in their home communities, 50 were reintegrated in their daaras, 13 were referred to other centers and 7 ran away.

Finally, our program designed to retain boys in their home villages had a very promising year. 204 boys and 131 girls attended regular classes in the six schools built under this project in the Mbaye Aw region close to Louga. Many of the boys were talibés in Saint-Louis and elsewhere and had returned home for school. And, thanks to being in school, the girls are now much less likely to be forced into premature marriages.

The need is so great and there is so much more to be done. But Maison de la Gare and its committed team has a great deal to be proud of.

Art class in the center's courtyard
Art class in the center's courtyard
Morning clothes washing in the center
Morning clothes washing in the center
Teacher Aida with talibe students
Teacher Aida with talibe students
Buaro leads morning karate class in the center
Buaro leads morning karate class in the center
Issa with seven sewing-apprenticeship graduates
Issa with seven sewing-apprenticeship graduates

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Organization Information

Maison de la Gare

Location: Saint Louis - Senegal
Website:
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Project Leader:
Rod LeRoy
Saint Louis, Saint-Louis Senegal
$175,722 raised of $184,500 goal
 
2,309 donations
$8,778 to go
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