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
Volunteer Patricia Mehaffy
Volunteer Patricia Mehaffy

Patricia reflects on her volunteer experience with Maison de la Gare

My life has more than considerably changed for the better thanks to my experience during the two months that I spent at Maison de la Gare as a volunteer. It will be impossible for me to forget all the lovely kids and adults I met at the center. My trip revolved around them and I will always be grateful that they made it as wonderful and lively as it was.

The talibé children in Saint Louis face a lot of hardships but, no matter what, they are brothers to one another. They laugh and play together. They also wrestle and fight like all kids. But there won't be a day when they won’t smile at you when you make a funny face. And working at Maison de la Gare meant leaning into that happiness and providing a space where the kids can be kids.

Through my experience, I was exposed to a totally new, totally different culture. As someone who has rarely had fewer than two jobs, spending two months in Africa has allowed me an immensely happy and calm season. In this brief moment, and for the first time, I wasn’t terribly worried about everything. I loved my job and I had friends who loved me; it was everything I could have ever asked for. Of course, the stay wasn’t comfortable like my life in the United States and there were things I could have done without, but I was so grateful to have the opportunity to be there in a strange place, surrounded by kind people and kids, without a thing clouding my mind.

As a student, I am determined not to waste the opportune environment I am in. I attend an excellent university full of extraordinary people, and such a position is scarcely attainable in most other places around the world. I have gained valuable experience working through a significant language barrier. I have gained cultural immersion in a foreign country and greatly expanded my ability to communicate and be courageous in new situations. With these new skills, I have new confidence and can expand my work prospects internationally with valuable experience already under my belt.

As a citizen, I am now capable of bringing a culturally educated voice to my life’s range of influences. I can raise awareness and contribute to refined views of certain types of social issues. Now, I can advocate for those that might not get a voice otherwise.

I will have to use incredible will to not let what I learned through my experience fade away. In the future, I will struggle to ward off my ingratitude, my self-destructive behavior and my temptation to place my own needs above those around me. Watching old habits return to my life terrifies me; I just hope the terror is enough to keep me from returning to my old lifestyle. In any case, in the future I will seize my opportunities to make known the reality I came to know in Senegal; the good and the bad, the personal and the public.

_________________

We invite you to read the full reports written by each of the former volunteers who are quoted below: Sam Kenney, Alessandra BattioniTommaso Arosio and Myah Freeman

Patricia with talibes in Maison de la Gare library
Patricia with talibes in Maison de la Gare library

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Over 30 talibes come home to the new school
Over 30 talibes come home to the new school

Cheikh Diallo is achieving a miracle, modelling a better childhood for begging talibé street children  

When Ndèye’s husband sent her 8-year-old son Samba from their home in Thiagale to a daara in faraway Louga, Ndèye collapsed on the ground sobbing. She was inconsolable and ate very little for many months. She was permitted almost no contact with her son. As the weeks and months went by, she became weaker and weaker, and no longer wanted to live. Ndèye begged her husband to allow the boy to come home, but he would not consider this. Eventually the family concluded that Ndèye had a serious illness, and they sent her to the hospital in Dahra Djoloff. Saint Louis shoemaker Cheikh Diallo became aware of this situation. Ndèye’s village of Thiagale is close to Cheikh’s own village, and it is one of the four places where he has built schools. Cheikh presented Samba’s father with an ultimatum … bring the child home or Cheikh would do it. The father relented and called Samba’s marabout, giving Cheikh permission to get the child and bring him home.

Cheikh describes the reunion of mother and child in the Dahra Djoloff hospital in a scene reminiscent of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Ndèye was slumped on her bed, near death. When she saw her son she screamed and embraced him and, apparently, was instantly recovered. They returned to Thiagale where Samba is now one of the students in the school that Cheikh build there.

We visited Cheikh’s schools in the Mbaye Aw region two years ago, and told his story in an earlier report. Believing that boys should not be sent away from their families at a young age, Cheikh resolved to build schools for them near their homes. His first school was in Medina Alpha where the village chief offered his daughter – also named Ndèye - in marriage if Cheikh truly completed the school. Cheikh and Ndèye are now very happily married and have just had their second child. When we visited, there were three thriving schools, in Ndigueli, Thiagale and Medina Alpha, while a fourth in the village of Belel Ndioba had failed due to lack of funds to pay the teacher.

Mouhamed, a talibé who had come home from begging in Dakar to attend the new school in Medina Alpha, was at the top of the first graduating class. Cheikh supported him in attending the 5th grade in Kaolack where Mouhamed again excelled. When his host family moved away however, Cheikh brought Mouhamed to live with him and continue his schooling in Saint Louis.

Djibi was also a student in the first classes in Medina Alpha, but academics were not his passion and he had to repeat the 4th year. All he wanted to do was to play soccer, and he excelled at this. Now also with Cheikh in Saint Louis, Djibi is registered in a soccer school and shows great potential to develop as a professional athlete.

The three surviving original schools are doing well, although it is a constant struggle for Cheikh. At Ndigueli, 7 km from Dahra Djoloff, 35 boys who would otherwise be begging talibés and 25 girls attend regular classes. Happily, the father of three of the children is a storekeeper in Dahra Djoloff and he pays the salary of the teacher.

The school in Thiagale, where Samba is now, has two teachers and they share a modest monthly contribution from Maison de la Gare. The villagers provide free food and accommodation for the teachers and food for the students. School supplies are the major challenge here, and Cheikh has financed these through contributions from his own network of contacts and from his own meager earnings.

At Cheikh’s original school in Medina Alpha where Mouhamed and Djibi had their start, the government has been convinced to provide two teachers for the approximately 50 students. One of these teaches math, language and other subjects in French, while the other teaches English and sports. Here also, the villagers supply food for the children and the teachers and Cheikh does his best to cover the necessary school supplies.

It was at Belel Ndioba where we had met during our earlier visit with the village elders discussing possibilities for replacing the school which had failed after Cheikh had been unable to pay the teacher. In fact, this is the most hopeful story of all. Two marabouts from the village had set up their daaras in distant cities with children who were also from the village and surrounding area. Cheikh convinced both of these marabouts to return with their children. Thierno Kalidou brought 11 talibés from Richard Toll in the north, and Thierno Omar Kâ brought 22 talibés from Kaolack in central Senegal. The two marabouts have combined their children in a new school, pictured at the beginning of this report, and this school now has a total of 36 boys and 35 girls! The marabouts teach classes in Arabic while a teacher from the Thiagale school teaches math and other subjects in French.

Meanwhile, at his shoe-repair stall on a street corner in Saint Louis, Cheikh continues to connect with talibés from the Mbaye Aw region, and works with the children’s families and their marabouts to return as many as possible to their villages and register them in one of the schools. The final photograph in this report is one of many groups of these children. In this case, Cheikh took this photograph home to his village and showed it to the children’s families, explaining how he had found their sons on the streets at night. Two of the families relented and accepted their sons back home.

During a recent visit with Cheikh at Maison de la Gare’s center, our administrator Adama Diarra said, “If there were twenty more like Cheikh in Senegal, there would be no more begging talibés.”

Samba with his mother Ndeye, happily reunited
Samba with his mother Ndeye, happily reunited
Cheikh and his Ndeye with their son Amadou in 2018
Cheikh and his Ndeye with their son Amadou in 2018
Mouhammed in 2017, and with Djibi at MDG in 2019
Mouhammed in 2017, and with Djibi at MDG in 2019
Cheikh, Issa meeting with village elders in 2018
Cheikh, Issa meeting with village elders in 2018
Mbaya Aw children found in Saint Louis by Cheikh
Mbaya Aw children found in Saint Louis by Cheikh

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Dominika Kulczyk & Issa Kouyate visit a daara
Dominika Kulczyk & Issa Kouyate visit a daara

Dominika Kulczyk exposes child slavery in Senegal for CNN Freedom Project and Kulczyk Foundation documentary series

Forced begging is the most prevalent form of human trafficking in Senegal. Human Rights Watch estimates that every day more than 100,000 talibés – children living in religious schools to learn the Quran – are forced onto the streets under the threat of violence to beg for food or money.

Most live far away from home, sent by their parents to study the Quran, and live under the care of marabouts, teachers who run a daara or Quranic school. However, many of these children end up living without food, medical care or even a roof over their head, and receive little or no education.

CNN and the Kulczyk Foundation have produced a half-hour documentary that focuses on Dominika Kulczyk’s visit to Issa Kouyate and his organization, Maison de la Gare.  Maison de la Gare provides talibés in Saint Louis with food, shelter, clothing, education and medical and psychological support.

The Kulczyk Foundation is supporting Maison de la Gare to reach more children, including through funding transport for the organization's night-time rounds looking for children sleeping in the street, so they can cover more of the city.

“The lives of most talibés in Senegal are shaped by violence, fear and despair and I was shocked to see the conditions many are living in. But when I visited Maison de la Gare during the filming of Begging for Change, I saw children filled with hope. With the Kulczyk Foundation’s support, Maison de la Gare will be able to reach more boys in the city of Saint Louis to offer these children safety and security,” said Dominika Kulczyk, Founder and President of the Kulczyk Foundation. “Collective action is now needed to change the mentality of the people who have allowed modern slavery to become an everyday norm in Senegal.”

“People say human trafficking happens in the shadows. In Senegal, it’s not like that. In Senegal it’s so obvious, so out in the open. It’s shocking … this is just exploitation. It's trafficking. It's slavery,” said Kouyate.

_____________

We are grateful to the Kulczyk Foundation and to photographer Tatiana Jachyra for their permission to use this text and Tatiana’s photographs. The Kulczyk Foundation has made generous financial contributions in support of Maison de la Gare’s work for the talibé children.

Dominika Kulczyk, the foundation’s president, featured in the CNN Freedom Project documentary about our work, Begging for Change. She also wrote an opinion piece published by CNN entitled Slave Schools: Tackling Forced Begging in Senegal.

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Myah with her proud students
Myah with her proud students

Myah brings her talents as an artist to Maison de la Gare

I sought my position as an Arts, Music, and Excursions teacher primarily because of my love for the arts and my strong belief in its power to transform lives. During my first week, I began to get to know the talibés of the center. At first, they were not the most comfortable with me because they were not fond of me. But I knew to expect this and that it would take time to earn their trust.

Our very first activity consisted of painting a sunset. What inspired me to do this project was Senegal’s beautiful beach scenery. The children really enjoyed my first effort, so I continued to go in this direction. From my previous conversations and research, I had learned a lot about the talibé lifestyle and experience. I was sure to remember one very important fact, that the talibés do not get experiences like this very often. So, something as simple as coloring can be very enjoyable to them. I made it my mission to open them up to as many of these experiences as possible.

After some time, I began to notice the steady growth of excitement about the activities that we were doing. The children would make hand gestures telling me they wanted to draw, following me anytime I was walking toward the classrooms with keys in my hand. I would reply, “Talibés, kay bindu!” (come and give me your names) and they’d come without hesitation.

One of my favorite parts about working with the children was their wittiness. Whenever they would follow me, they repeatedly shouted “Myah! Myah!” until they got my attention, pointing at their work in pursuit of my affirmation. Once I replied “Rafetna!” (It’s pretty), they would smile ear to ear or make this silly expression where they flick their tongue out and nod their head, and then proceed to create their masterpieces.

When I first arrived, there was a minimal amount of art on the classroom walls. The talibés did an amazing job changing that. After every project, I had the pleasure of hanging their work up on the walls and, bit-by-bit, the classroom transformed into an art gallery. My favorite part about this was them being able to look at their work and be proud. Too often, the arts go unnoticed and unappreciated, so this was a first step toward changing that.

The pieces that they created can serve as a reminder to the talibés that they are a lot more capable than they knew, and I hope that it encourages them to continue to try something new. Working with the talibés has helped me to discover new things about myself. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had thus far.

So, to the talibés I say thank you. Thank you for allowing me to share my passion with you. Thank you for embracing me into your community. Thank you for reminding me that, despite the language barriers, ultimately love is the most universal language.

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    Talibe Kalidou speaks out at AGM, March 2017
    Talibe Kalidou speaks out at AGM, March 2017

    Senegal's Minister of the Interior recognizes Maison de la Gare as a "Non-Governmental Organization"

    Monsieur Aly Ngouille Ndiaye, Senegal's Minister of the Interior, promulgated an order on July 3rd, 2019 recognizing Maison de la Gare officially as a Non-Govermental Organization (NGO). This was the fruition of a process that began with submission of our formal application in May 2013.

    As our many supporters know well, Maison de la Gare is a local Senegalese non-profit organization, founded in 2007. The organization is dedicated to protecting the rights of the begging talibé street children by improving their living conditions and level of education while providing much needed primary aid.

    These talibé children typically come from very poor families in Senegal or neighbouring countries. Although they are meant to receive a basic education and to learn the Quran, in fact they are most often found in the streets where they beg for 6 to 10 hours a day for their food and a quota of money. They live in primitive daaras without access to potable water or basic hygiene facilities, and with only rudimentary shelter. They are excluded from the government education system and must bring themselves up, far from their families whom they seldom if ever see. They are easily victimized by unscrupulous people and are exposed to serious health problems.

    Pursuing his interest in social work, Issa Kouyaté left his native city of Dakar in 2006 to work with an international volunteer organization in Saint Louis. Issa was distressed by the very precarious situation of the street children in Saint Louis, the talibés, and he decided to take action to help them. Using his own funds, he purchased bread and prepared nutritious sandwiches for these children, distributing it after work. In 2007, he committed himself totally to this struggle, founding Maison de la Gare with a group of young Senegalese. The organization was officially launched as an Association registered with the local government in December 2008.

    The site where Maison de la Gare offered refuge to the talibé children was behind the old Saint Louis railway station in the heart of the local market. The children learned to read and write surrounded by the merchants selling their wares. They received their daily meal sitting on the rails of the station; hence the name "Maison de la Gare".

    In 2009, expansion of the market forced Maison de la Gare to look for a new location. Issa found a site in nearby Balacos and construction of the new centre began. It opened its doors in October 2010 with showers and toilets for the children to care for their daily hygiene needs, three classrooms, a garden, an office and two activity rooms. Today the organization welcomes one to three hundred street children each day, over 900 different boys each month, providing food, medical care and education.

     

    Initially, the ten friends worked effectively together towards a common goal with an informal organization. However, it soon became clear that something more was necessary. Not being registered with the national government as an NGO resulted in several nightmarish experiences attempting to import medications and other donated supplies. And, we were soon aware as we applied for financial support that NGO status would give added credibility and enhance our chances of success.

    In 2013, we developed bylaws for Maison de la Gare as an NGO, and prepared and submitted a complete application. Our bylaws laid out our objectives and our governance structure. Maison de la Gare is ultimately responsible to its members, who meet annually to review the organization’s progress and to appoint the members of the Board of Directors.

    We succeeded in attracting three Board Members who are well connected to government services and civil society organizations concerned with vulnerable children: Maodo Diagne, Founder and Executive Secretary of Action Femme Enfant, an association working for the most underprivileged, especially mothers and their children; Baye Ndaraw Diop, formerly the director of the Saint Louis division of the Ministry of Justice responsible for street children; and Gora Sèye, Regional Director of l'Action sociale (Ministry of Health and Social Action). The Board also has three representatives of Maison de la Gare’s staff, Issa Kouyaté, Diodio Calloga and Abdou Soumaré, and one expatriate member, Canadian Rod LeRoy.

    We have operated under these new bylaws since 2013. There are currently 32 members, all but three being Senegalese. Four are older talibé youth, and four other talibés have been members over the years. All members express their ideas and concerns about Maison de la Gare’s operations at our Annual General Meetings, and this has been a source of strength and renewal.

    The road to achieving formal NGO status, however, was long and tortuous. Bureacratic inertial can be a serious problem in Senegal. We were very fortunate to attract Ndèye Diodio Calloga to our staff in early 2016. Diodio holds a masters degree in law from Saint Louis’s Gaston Berger University, and it was she who succeeded in the end in unblocking the process.

    Now, as an officially recognized NGO, Maison de la Gare has a new springboard for achieving its mission of improving the lives of the begging talibé children and acting with others to eliminate child begging in Senegal.

    Order declaring Maison de la Gare to be an NGO
    Order declaring Maison de la Gare to be an NGO
    What it's all about ... the talibes
    What it's all about ... the talibes
    First Annual General Meeting, May 3rd, 2013
    First Annual General Meeting, May 3rd, 2013
    Maison de la Gare's governance structure
    Maison de la Gare's governance structure
    December 2017 Board of Directors meeting
    December 2017 Board of Directors meeting
    Diodio Calloga at Directors' meeting, April 2018
    Diodio Calloga at Directors' meeting, April 2018
    April 2017 Annual General Meeting
    April 2017 Annual General Meeting

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    Maison de la Gare

    Location: Saint Louis - Senegal
    Website:
    Project Leader:
    Rod LeRoy
    Saint Louis, Saint-Louis Senegal
    $130,526 raised of $139,500 goal
     
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