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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Abdou, Lalla, Adama, Jade Wheldon and all Maison de la Gare’s team create a day of wonder for the talibé children
Christmas came and went at Maison de la Gare without our usual Christmas party for the talibé children … our finances were just too tight at the end of the year, and we couldn’t do it.
But Abdou, Lalla, Adama and other staff members were very unhappy about Christmas coming and going without a celebration for the boys. Jade, our English volunteer, started to raise some money from friends and family. Then a friend of Abdou’s in France made a generous donation. Suddenly the party was on, just before New Year’s!!
Abdou, Adama and Jade came up with a plan to have balloons, music, and entertainment and lots of little goody bags for the children. Also, a special gift for the students in Tata Aïda’s literacy class to encourage them for having worked so hard this year.
Everyone pitched in. Oumou cooked a feast, fried chicken with a nutritious vermicelli enriched with carrots, onions, paprika, peppers, parsley, celery and finely chopped green apricots. Oumou’s team prepared 100s of food trays, enough for all the children. Abdou, Lalla, Adama and Boury blew up balloons and put up decorations, transforming the center. Awa, Aïda and many others packed goody bags and wrapped the prizes for the games and the gifts for the lucky students.
And what a party! Word spread quickly, and over 500 talibé children came; it was a roaring success. “It was definitely a huge team effort,” Jade reports. “Once we knew it was going ahead, things unfolded quickly; it felt so great to work together as one big team. Adama was a key organizer and totally brilliant. Lalla and Abdou were amazing with the kids.”
We started with games, to music. And a dance competition. Jade taught the boys how to play ‘Pass the Parcel’, which they loved!! Then the drummers turned up, Sidy Bouya and his band of merry drummers, and the children danced in a big circle. After some time, beautiful dancers emerged in their traditional clothing. They enacted a story for the children, to the beat of the drums. Lalla and Abdou had the children singing and clapping the entire time.
As the sun went down, there were rumblings that Père Noël might be making a visit. And Abdou quietly disappeared to make their dream come true. The rest of the evening was magic.
The gifts were the goody bags for all the children, along with surprise packages for the winners of Pass the Parcel and other games. The diligent students from Aïda’s class were rewarded with tracksuits and shoes.
Jade said afterwards that “It was truly amazing to see them all smiling and having so much fun. There is something really beautiful about everyone – Muslim and Catholic – celebrating each other’s holidays together.” Adama commented simply “We are exhausted, but it was super!”
Abdou remembers “An impressive party with so many children enthralled by the show and a very dedicated organizing team. The gifts that we were able to offer to the children thanks to our donors made them feel like children living in a family.” Lalla adds “We have to do this every year. It was a very good party, and the children were very happy. Really, thank you for everything.”
Our most sincere thanks to Joe Moreth, Debbie Warden, Rick Bisby, Kay Cooke,Uli Henking and a friend from France, whose Christmas donations made this incredible event possible.
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