Arouna surrounded by his high school classmates
Maison de la Gare's primary tool to offer hope of a better life for the talibé children of Saint Louis is education. Regular instruction in French language skills and math in Maison de la Gare’s classrooms can sometimes lead to children being registered in the regular public system. Attending classes in a public school not only promises an independent future for the boys, but can lead to improved living conditions. Sometimes the boys' marabouts, who control so many aspects of their lives, agree to waive or reduce the begging requirement on school days. Also, interaction with classmates can lead to a feeling of experiencing a somewhat normal childhood, at least during school hours. Of course, unlike the talibés, non-talibé classmates are well nourished and clothed, supported by a family, and have a home and a bed to return to each night, not to mention light by which to study and complete homework.
Arouna Kandé is a special case among the 30 or so talibé children whom Maison de la Gare has registered in the public school system. Arouna was taken from his home in Kolda in the south of Senegal to live in a Saint Louis daara in 2006. He is orphaned, and had to leave behind three younger sisters who are always in his thoughts. Arouna dreams of being a teacher, and of someday being able to support his sisters. History is his favourite subject.
Just 16 years old, Arouna is a leader and an example among the talibés. He is dedicated to his studies and will often give up the opportunity to participate in soccer games or extracurricular school activities in favour of studying and homework. He does whatever it takes to complete his work and remain in the top half of his class of 43 students, occasionally working in his daara by the light of the moon until after midnight. Despite his somewhat alleviated begging requirement, he still needs to dedicate time to providing a small quota of money for his marabout. In order to do this, Arouna sells fish in the local market, fish that he finds by the Senegal River after they have been discarded by fishermen. Yet, he always has time for and watches out for younger talibés, and he is also available as a responsible helping hand around Maison de la Gare’s centre.
Maison de la Gare provides Arouna with a family-like support system. Staff member Aladji Gaye is a mentor and provides brotherly support, while Mapaté Bousso helps with math homework when help is required. Arouna is also encouraged to persevere by email pen-pals in Canada, Maison de la Gare volunteers who recognize his special qualities and potential, and his French teacher at École Amadou Fara Mbodj who considers Arouna to be an excellent student with the potential to achieve his goals. Arouna is more than a Maison de la Gare success story in the making; he and others like him are Senegal's future.
Arouna with Issa Kouyate at MDG centre in 2011
Arouna in front of his school with Sonia LeRoy
Arouna with his school friends in his classroom
Arouna showing home area of Kolda in south Senegal
Mapate, MDG administrator, helps Arouna with math
Arouna is a role model for the younger talibes