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
Educator Abdou with talibe children at MDG
Educator Abdou with talibe children at MDG

Diodio shares Maison de la Gare’s remarkable story as a beacon of hope for the talibé children over the past four years

A little over four years ago, we reported on “A New Chapter for the Talibé Children”, a four year grant from the European Union which made it possible to strongly reinforce our educational, health and hygiene, sports and arts programs for the begging talibé street children, to dramatically expand our efforts to take charge of children found living on the street, and to raise awareness in the children’s communities of origin of the dehumanizing conditions that they are subjected to when they are entrusted to marabouts in distant cities.

This grant ended in December 2019. This report is the first of a series of three that will look back at what has been achieved over the four years and highlight the challenges ahead.

Talibé children come to Maison de la Gare’s welcome center to benefit from the health and hygiene programs, educational, social and sports activities, and much more. Over the four years from 2016 to 2019, an average of 855 different children visited the center each month, a total of 3,165 visits per month. Most of these children (60%) were between 10 and 17 years of age, while 27% were younger, as young as 4 years old, and 13% were older. 64% of the children are from different regions of Senegal, the rest having been trafficked from neighboring countries -  Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, and Mali.

Medical Assistance - Maison de la Gare offers care and medical assistance to talibé children participating in its programs, as well as to talibé children in their daaras. On average, 427 children per month were treated in the infirmary and in daaras over the four years. The main pathologies include acute respiratory infections (cough, cold), abdominal pain (constipation, diarrhea, parasites), dental diseases, conjunctivitis and other eye conditions, and skin conditions such as scabies. Also, cuts, abscesses, headaches, infections, and burns are common.

We are increasingly convinced that prevention is key to health care. Many of the children use the hygiene facilities in our center to shower, wash their clothes and brush their teeth.  We established a major program for the prevention and treatment of scabies in partnership with the Saint-Louis health district and the Red Cross. And we have completely treated and renovated certain daaras where the children’s living conditions were particularly unhealthy.

Education - Our educational programs, through literacy training, math and life lessons, arouse the children's interest in learning, even if their integration into formal schooling has proven to be difficult due to the resistance of the marabouts. The teachers explore with the children the rules that govern society through practical exercises, simulations, exchanges, and discussions. An average of about 30 children have attended classes regularly each month, while a total of just 17 have been successfully registered in formal schooling.

For the older youth for whom formal education is not an option, our apprenticeship programs have become increasingly important. 55 youth graduated from our agricultural apprenticeship program in Bango during the four years, learning all the elements of establishing a successful market gardening plantation. We added a poultry farming apprenticeship program in 2017. 30 apprentices have completed a training program including several production cycles of 125 chickens each, mastering preparation, feeding, hygiene and security, butchering, and marketing. Several of these youth have successfully established their independent operations, most recently with the support of our new microfinance program. Since 2018, our new tailoring apprenticeship program is providing another possibility for youth working to become self-sufficient.

Based on our experience over these four years, we are thoroughly rethinking the educational programs, to make them more in line with the talibés' most pressing needs. Integration into formal schooling will be deemphasized. We will focus on providing the children with practical language and computational skills as a bridge to successful participation in our apprenticeship programs and other routes to becoming financially self-supporting.

Sports and Arts - The sports program not only promotes good health; it allows children to express themselves through leisure activity that provides a rare release from their hard lives on the streets. The children love competing in soccer tournaments which bring them together through their shared passion. 74 inter-daara tournaments were held during the four years, in addition to hundreds of unofficial matches involving huge numbers of talibé children.

Also, many children and youth continue to benefit from our karate program. 46 of them are now enrolled at our center and at a local dojo, and are making enormous progress. In 2019, one of the talibé youth successfully earned his black belt!

Art and music are powerful tools for communication and self-expression, providing children with an important means of psychological development. They are a key element of our activities, animated by our teachers, volunteers and other staff.

 

We are grateful to the European Union for the reinforcement of our programs for the talibé children that their grant has made possible. The children have benefited enormously, and our staff members have renewed their commitment and effectiveness.

Although it is difficult to limit or reduce the number of daaras in the Saint-Louis area, learning conditions for the begging street children have improved considerably over the four years. The marabouts who control their lives are now more cooperative and Maison de la Gare has reached a threshold of knowledge and visibility that facilitates the children's access to its services.

Now that the European Union grant has ended, we are more dependent than ever on you, our precious supporters, to sustain our life-giving programs.

Teacher Aida with her talibe class
Teacher Aida with her talibe class
Enjoying a creative craft activity
Enjoying a creative craft activity
Nurse Awa treating a child in the infirmary
Nurse Awa treating a child in the infirmary
Talibe children enthusiastically washing clothes
Talibe children enthusiastically washing clothes
Apprentices discussing with agricultural teacher
Apprentices discussing with agricultural teacher
Poultry farming apprentices feeding their chicks
Poultry farming apprentices feeding their chicks
Black-belt Buaro leading a karate class at MDG
Black-belt Buaro leading a karate class at MDG

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The stories of three talibés who refused to give up on their dreams

Maison de la Gare is a haven for the talibé street boys of Saint Louis. The organization’s center and its caring staff offer hope through education, and an oasis from the daily grind of hours upon hours of forced begging and from having to figure out a way to survive on the streets.

The hope, through education, is real. This report will provide an update on three exceptional boys who, despite years of forced begging and facing unimaginable obstacles, chose to persevere in pursuit of education.

The street boys of Saint Louis are rarely from the local region. With no parental support and no money, and subject to daily begging quotas of the marabouts who control them, formal education is barred to them. In most cases, the children lack the documentation that could otherwise entitle them to register for schools and write exams.

Arouna was Maison de la Gare’s first great success in formal education. Passionate about the possibility of becoming educated, Arouna did have Senegalese national identification (he is from the distant region of Kolda), and Issa Kouyaté, the founder and director of Maison de la Gare, negotiated with Arouna’s marabout to reduce his begging quota on certain days and allow him to be registered in school. Maison de la Gare fed him, so he would not have to spend time begging to eat, allowing more time for study. Issa and the staff teachers helped Arouna with homework, paid his registration fees and purchased his school supplies. Arouna’s journey through the formal education system was long and challenging. He faced countless incidents of discrimination and overcame multiple attempts by authorities and his marabout to derail his education.

Arouna was held back many times, in primary school and middle school, but he persevered. Eventually it came time for Arouna to write exams that would allow him to advance to high school. Alas, in an effort to continue to control him, his marabout refused to relinquish his national identity papers. During the years it took for Maison de la Gare and Arouna to obtain duplicates (nearly impossible given that his parents were both deceased and did not have death certificates, as Arouna was a child talibé at the time and unaware they had died until years later), Arouna took high school courses to prepare for what lay ahead, and refresher classes to help him prepare for the exams he hoped he would soon be able to write. All the while he lived in a daara with no access to electricity or running water, packed in with dozens of other talibé boys.

Arouna began high school in classes with much younger children, but with much hope in his heart. Again, he faced discrimination and was held back, extending his time in school. As he was beginning to repeat his final year of high school, disaster struck his family once more. His older sister died unexpectedly, and her young son became Arouna’s responsibility along with his two younger sisters. Not one to give in to despair, Arouna worked at Maison de la Gare between school hours to support his sisters and Issa Kouyate took in his young nephew, registering him in formal school to allow Arouna the relative freedom to continue his education.

This year Arouna was due to graduate. But, just months from exams schools in Senegal were closed due to Covid-19. Despite his familiarity with challenge, Arouna was devastated when it was announced he would need to repeat his final year of high school yet again. But, along with challenge comes hope. Arouna’s younger sister was married this summer, lessening his burden of support, and allowing him to double down on his studies. Today, in his early 20’s, Arouna has enrolled in his final year of high school (for the third time) and is committed to putting everything into his studies in order to give himself the best possible chance of advancing to post-secondary studies. Hope and perseverance define this fine young man.

Tijan is another talibé who continued to be driven by his passion to obtain an education. After leaving his home in Gambia to come to Saint Louis as a talibé, Tijan studied in Maison de la Gare’s literacy and math classes for years. He was finally able to return to Gambia, with Maison de la Gare’s support, to enroll in high school. A year ago, he graduated from high school, an extraordinary accomplishment for one who had spent many years as a talibé. He was very keen to apply to and begin university. But, despite sufficiently high marks he was not accepted. There were “irregularities” with his application; perhaps he had chosen the wrong program, or did not have the right prerequisites, we cannot really know the reason.

Determined not to give up on his education, Tijan spent the past year taking additional business courses that he felt would better prepare him once he was accepted to university. He applied again this spring and has recently received news that his application was successful this time. He is scheduled to begin studying management and business at the University of The Gambia in September!

A year ago, while waiting to receive news about his initial application to university, Tijan travelled back to Maison de la Gare to receive a computer that would help him continue with his higher education. While in Saint Louis, other talibés were astonished to learn he had actually graduated from high school. Tijan had become a superstar, a shining beacon of hope. Sulayman was one of those talibés whose eyes and heart were opened to the possibility of returning home to school thanks to Tijan’s example.

Sulayman had been a talibé for many years. Like Tijan, he was originally from Gambia and had national identity papers which entitled him to register in school in Gambia. But, as a talibé, the idea of education seemed impossibly remote. He did have an unspoken dream of becoming educated and had always worked to complete his begging responsibilities early to be able to attend Maison de la Gare’s classes. After years of forced begging, Sulayman left his daara due to intolerable conditions there. Even while continuing to beg and do odd jobs to survive, he continued to study in Maison de la Gare’s classes. When Sulayman encountered Tijan, his hope for an education was reignited.

Issa and other staff sat with both Tijan and Sulayman to offer advice and support in preparation for their return to Gambia. Sulayman was eligible to enroll in high school. Despite his age of 21, he was excited at the prospect of the next four years of study - in a real school! Planning to start school in January 2020, Sulayman and Tijan left Maison de la Gare together - headed toward a new future based on the educations they were about to pursue.

When Sulayman arrived home, he was welcomed by relations of his family who lived near the high school he hoped to attend. He was accepted into the school and enrolled in a math tutoring class to get up to speed as quickly as possible. Sulayman is now a high school student looking to the future!

The hope is real, indeed!

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Maison de la Gare has launched a microfinance program, an essential tool for talibé apprentices in achieving financial autonomy

During the darkest days of the Covid-19 crisis, while talibé children were confined to their daaras and Maison de la Gare’s center was closed to most children, a critical new program was born there.

The framework of the new microfinance program was finalized in early May. We extended an invitation to potential participants and presented the program to them during two sessions in Maison de la Gare’s center. Six men and five women decided to continue with classes introducing them to the elements of microfinance, related basic math, accounting for a small business, and basic marketing techniques. Most male borrowers will be older talibés, but we are including other men and women in order to develop a learning community of borrowers that will be mutually supportive, benefiting from each other’s experiences.

Following this training, each of these potential borrowers submitted a simple business plan in early June, and these were evaluated by an Approval Committee consisting of the program coordinator Baye Ndaraw Diop, president Issa Kouyaté, accountant Adama Diarra, and the coordinator of the poultry farming apprenticeship program Cheikh Abdoulaye Ndiaye. Eight projects were approved for initial financing, and three others were approved later in the month following required revisions.

We have set the maximum loan amount at 200,000 francs ($350 US or 305€), although initial loans averaged 110,000 francs ($190 US or 170€). All loans are interest-free. Reimbursement rates depend on the business but are typically monthly over 9 to 18 months. A formal contract is signed with each borrower. We are committed to intensive support and follow-up with each borrower to assure their success. The program coordinator is making regular visits to the borrowers to encourage them, verify their progress and collect the reimbursement payments. One month after the initial loans were made, all repayments are on-time.

This is a beginning, and we will learn as we go. Three of our initial borrowers, Doudou, Ibrahima N. and Pape Modou, are talibé graduates of our poultry farming apprenticeship program, and each of them has started their first production cycle with baby chicks. Another talibé, Ibrahima D., has started a business selling wood charcoal and palm oil. These talibés will no longer be alone, but will be part of a community of borrowers and small business entrepreneurs.

The story of each of these borrowers is different, but every one of them is very moving. We share one of these here:

“My name is Ibrahima. I am 18 years old and I live in Balacoss in Saint-Louis, Senegal.

Before, I didn't do anything after my Koranic studies. I lived in idleness. I was almost a street kid.

In 2018, I met Cheikh Abdoulaye Ndiaye, and I told him about my journey. He integrated me into the group of young people from Maison de la Gare who were apprenticing in poultry farming in Bango.

At first, I didn't take it seriously, but when we started training I began to feel a lot of motivation. I also saw all that Cheikh Ablaye had achieved through selling chickens. So, I said to myself that I could do like him.

Today, I am trained in the different techniques of poultry farming, from start-up to slaughter. Currently, I have taken basic accounting training at Maison de la Gare’s center and, thanks to this training, I received funding from a project dedicated to young talibés and vulnerable people.

I now have my own chicken coop with fifty chicks, and I intend to go as far as possible with this funding because I can see that it is possible for me to succeed. Now, it only depends on my perseverance and my will.

I thank Issa, Cheikh Abdaye, Uncle Ndaraw, the partners of Friends of Senegal and all the staff at Maison de la Gare.”

 

Ibrahima’s example and those of the other borrowers will be a beacon of hope for other talibés.

____________

We are grateful to Friends of Senegal of Ashland, Oregon, who have made possible this critically important initiative. Friends of Senegal has believed in the promise of microfinance for many years, and our new program benefits enormously from their expertise and financial support.

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Restrictions are easing, and the talibé children are returning to Maison de la Gare’s center as an oasis in their difficult lives

For over three months, the begging talibé children of Senegal have been largely confined to their daaras, unable to beg for their food or to take advantage of the oasis and hope that Maison de la Gare’s center offers them. Thanks to emergency grants from several of our long-term funders, to the amazing generosity of hundreds of individual donors and to the dedication of dozens of devoted angels, the neighborhood Godmothers of Saint Louis, we have been able to organize and finance nutritious daily meals for close to 2,500 of these children.

This phase of the crisis is now coming to an end, although not everyone is happy about this. The valiant Godmothers of the neighborhood of Guinaw Rail in Saint Louis have been preparing food for nearly 400 talibé children in their area. One 9-year-old boy, Mody, came every day with his large bowl, and every day he asked the same question: “When will the Corona leave?” One day a Godmother asked why he always had the same question. He replied “Since the Corona came, we don’t have to go begging in the streets anymore. We can wash at the Godmothers’ place. And you give us good meals every day.” The Godmother broke down in tears and explained that she realized that even the talibés aspire to a joyful, healthy, and stable life.

While this period has been positive for Mody, for many thousands of other talibé children it has been incredibly challenging. Many have not had adequate food or access to hygiene facilities. And cuts, bruises and other medical problems have festered untended.

As of early June, the 8 p.m. curfew has been lifted along with restrictions on travel between different regions of Senegal. We have reopened our center, and the children are coming back.

This will be a careful, step-by-step process. To begin, we are welcoming the children to simply relax and enjoy their friends again, to wash their clothes, take a shower and use the toilets. The children wash their hands with soap and water on entering the center. And Kalidou and Elhage in the sewing apprenticeship center are busy fabricating face masks for them. Awa is busy in the infirmary, with a line of boys waiting to have wounds and other problems cared for.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will progressively expand our other activities for these children. Our teachers will resume regular literacy classes, either in our classrooms or in selected daaras. Organized soccer and karate will resume. And our night rounds team will resume their search for children in extreme distress living on the streets.

____________

We are grateful to our individual donors and to organizations that have funded our programs over the years. You made it possible for us to help the children through these exceedingly difficult times. We must specifically thank GO Campaign, Global Fund for Children, GlobalGiving and the Kulczyk Foundation for emergency grants that made it possible to expand and extend our program feeding the children in their daaras far beyond what we had originally thought possible.

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With your help, neighborhood Godmothers are now feeding close to 2,500 talibé children every day

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.

COVID-19 changed everything. Flights were cancelled, international volunteers were recalled home, countries were locked down.

It did not take long for things to escalate from bad to very much worse.  As you know from our report last month, Senegal, with limited medical means to fight the virus, quickly moved to lock down the country. Within days internal travel was restricted, streets emptied, and 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.  

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 is asking 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 were left with no access to food.

The amazing neighborhood Godmothers who have helped us to respond to this desperate situation are still at it, seven days a week. Thanks to our incredible donors, thanks to your response, we are still able to support these wonderful women with 800,000 francs (about $1,300 US) each week for their purchases of food. And we are providing masks and hygiene support in the daaras.

This is a terrible situation for the children. Imagine 30 to 70 or more children living together, locked down in a confined space with no hygiene facilities, no access to potable water and very rudimentary shelter. And, for active children, nothing to do!

But there is some encouraging news. For the first time in decades, there are almost no children begging on Senegal’s streets! Is there a possibility to build on this for a more positive future?

Two possible avenues for this are now being modelled, thanks to the pandemic. The first is that some daaras, for whom this is possible, are being allowed and encouraged to return to their home communities. The government and community organization CDPE (Departmental Committee for Child Protection) is organizing this and we are using some of your donations to support the cost. In parallel, we are expanding our support to Cheikh Diallo and the schools of Mbaye Aw as more daaras and children are returning home to that region.

For some daaras, return to their home communities is not a possibility. Could many of these be transitioned to “modern daaras” where the children are not forced to beg? The dedicated Godmothers could be part of this solution as they have been in this moment of crisis. Also, for a dozen or so daaras in proximity to our center, we are developing a plan with municipal authorities by which several hundred talibé children could come every day for the full day, as though they were going to school. This also is something that we could build on.

 

It is impossible to know what the coming weeks and months have in store for the talibé children. What we do know is that, with your help, we will continue to do everything in our power to make their plight more livable. And, perhaps, to take some steps towards Maison de la Gare’s vision of eliminating the scourge of child begging.

A Godmother cooking for the talibes
A Godmother cooking for the talibes
Talibes enjoying a meal
Talibes enjoying a meal
MDG's Mamadou, Bouri and Ndaraw with Godmother
MDG's Mamadou, Bouri and Ndaraw with Godmother
Talibe children wearing their new masks
Talibe children wearing their new masks
Constant focus on good hygiene practices
Constant focus on good hygiene practices
Feeding the children where they are
Feeding the children where they are

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Organization Information

Maison de la Gare

Location: Saint Louis - Senegal
Website:
Project Leader:
Rod LeRoy
Saint Louis, Saint-Louis Senegal
$155,756 raised of $164,500 goal
 
1,955 donations
$8,744 to go
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