A grade 9 student volunteer has been successful in establishing one-on-one e-mail linkages between talibé children involved in Maison de la Gare’s programs and students in her high school, Ashbury College in Ottawa, Canada.
The student, Rowan Hughes, guided 12 talibé boys and their teachers in each establishing a personal gmail account, and then helped them to compose and send their first ever emails to their correspondents in Canada - also students of French as a second language - and to their teachers who were waiting to receive these messages and reply in kind. The email exchanges were followed up with a Facebook video chat, in which the pairs of correspondents were able to introduce themselves to one another in person. The younger class of talibé students was also invited to Skype video chat with a class of students of similar ages from Manor Park Public School in Ottawa.
All of the talibés who participated in these exchanges were astonished and very excited to be able to see and speak with students in Canada who were clearly interested in getting to know them. As the conversations progressed, the confidence of the talibés soared. A Canadian student asked his talibé friend if he understood English. The talibé replied, with a brilliant smile and a laugh, “No. Do you understand Wolof?” And, a sense of happiness and wonder spread among the Maison de la Gare boys as it became apparent that they had interests in common with their new Canadian friends, and that both groups of students were similarly challenged and yet undaunted by learning the French language.
The exchanges were a great success. The experience was all the Maison de la Gare boys talked about afterward. Being involved in such a way with Canadian students via computer captured their interest and instilled a sense of pride and awe. As word about the computer exchanges spreads among the talibés, more are becoming keen to visit the centre regularly to attend classes and eventually advance to become “email talibés” as well. Email exchanges among the talibés and Canadian students will continue, opening a window on a much wider world to the talibé and Canadian students alike, and enriching the lives of all involved.
* The title of this report is taken from a comment by a visitor to Maison de la Gare’s Facebook page, commenting on a photo and description of this initiative: “Un petit pas pour la technologie, un bond de géant pour les talibés”, an allusion to Neil Armstrong’s words as he took his first steps on the moon.
Maison de la Gare has received donations totalling more than $8,000 (or £5,000) from over 180 donors since joining GlobalGiving and GlobalGiving UK in the spring of this year (2012). A very gratifying recent spurt of donations from the UK in response to Janek Seevaratnam’s sacrifice of his magnificent and much-admired dreadlocks has brought total givings close to our current objective of $10,000 (£6,375). This has stimulated us to reevaluate our suggested donation amounts and the overall financial objective.
Our many donors have responded generously to some proposed contributions, and less to others. Our redesigned donation suggestions reflect this, while at the same time representing five of Maison de la Gare’s major strategic thrusts. The five proposed donations are:
- Nutritious baguettes for talibé students, an essential requirement to make it possible for children to be able to attend classes or sporting and other activities for a few hours instead of begging for their food on the street.
- Clothing, including a shirt, shorts and simple shoes, to replace or upgrade the single outfit of heavily worn clothes that each boy has.
- Medical care for malaria, skin diseases, eye infections and much more, from which so many talibé children suffer. This includes resources for supply of mosquito nets, compresses, bandages, cotton, alcohol, betadine soap, sutures and much more.
- Funding of soccer tournaments for up to 200 talibé boys, a unique opportunity to bring some fun and healthy physical activity to their very difficult lives. The funds cover the costs of water, photos and prizes.
- Registration of talibé children in formal schooling, including the cost of school fees, notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, books and school bags.
Your donations through GlobalGiving are making a very important contribution to financing Maison de la Gare’s activities. However, the project is on-going, and we will have to increase the financial objective from time to time as donations are received. At this time, we are increasing our objective to a total of $12,500 or approximately £7,900.
We are enormously grateful for your generous response to this opportunity to make life better for the talibé street children, and hope that we can count on your continued support.
Over the past few weeks, Janek Seevaratnam in England has obtained 66 donations to Maison de la Gare through GlobalGiving, with a moving personal sacrifice. Donations totaled £1,021 plus $138 US. The donations were
designated for nutritious baguettes for talibé students (15x), for registration and support of talibé students in formal schooling (4x), for monthly soccer tournaments (5x), for emergency hospitalization (1x), for a djembe drum for the music program (1x), and for general program needs (39x).
This is the Janek’s account of the story behind this amazing initiative: “I first met Issa Kouyate in 2006. He was working in Saint Louis, Senegal for a UK company that sent volunteers around to work at various work placements. Issa was the lifeblood of the project but was not satisfied that he was doing enough, and he told me about his dream of opening a centre for the talibés. I stayed in touch with Issa and met him again in Senegal in 2007 when he had just set up Maison de la Gare. During my second year of university, I began to raise some funds for the project by making t-shirts and putting on events, and I visited Maison de la Gare properly in 2008.
Towards the end of 2008, I became involved with a social project in Peru and spent a cumulative 18 months working there. Issa was a friend but also a role model for me in his selfless attitude, tireless determination and huge heart, and I often thought of him and Maison de la Gare. I arranged with Issa for a couple of my friends to do some volunteer work with him, and I was encouraged by the progress the project was making. After returning to the UK I was keen to raise some more funds. The right opportunity never came along until I was talking to my brother about finally cutting my hair, and he suggested that, if I did it, I should raise some funds at the same time.
'Janek's Haircut.' seemed like a fun and simple enough idea, and I expected that people would like to be a part of it. I think that people initially showed an interest because I've had dreads (or have been growing my hair for dreads!) for the last six years - longer than I have known some of them! My first volunteering experience was in Senegal, and I have been doing volunteer work for the seven years that followed. I have met a lot of like-minded people who are interested in community work and specifically working with youth and children, so I suppose I had a strong network for the haircut stunt. However, all kinds of people from outside my 'not-for-profit sector network' have donated and have really shown passion for the cause. Though I thought people would be interested in the event, I could have never expected the level of generosity that donors have shown. I've been really touched by who has given and what they have given - not only people with huge hearts making huge donations, but others who don't earn a lot of money or are students but still give the most they can afford. Whatever their reasons for donating, the feedback is always the same - that it is for an excellent cause.
Whether you cut your dreads, make t-shirts or free fall from space for Maison de la Gare, people will always be happy to give because of the great work it does, and they know that a dedicated team is giving their all to enrich the difficult lives of these young boys.”
Circumcision of boys in Senegal is culturally sensitive and potentially a serious health issue. Circumcision is seen as a rite of passage from one stage of life to another more important one. In Muslim West Africa, it is essential that the procedure be performed before adulthood, and it is absolutely required before marriage. Maison de la Gare does what it can to support the children that it serves in this process, while respecting the traditions that surround it.
When families have the necessary means, boys are usually circumcised at birth in the hospital. For other boys, their opportunities to become circumcised are limited and not particularly safe. Many boys, particularly older ones, get enormously disabling infections due to this procedure, a consequence of the unsterile environment in which the procedure is carried out and where they have to recover.
This September, Maison de la Gare selected 30 boys to undergo the procedure and to recover safely from it in the MDG centre in Saint Louis. The boys ranged in age from 4 to 17 years old. A local doctor volunteered to do the procedures, and then followed the boys’ healing over the following week. Canadian nurse Karen Hornby supported by volunteer Ann Pille managed their pain during this week, with the help of Tylenol and some antibiotics provide by Health Partners International of Canada. They found it enormously satisfying to be able to support the boys through such a critical time in their lives.
One of the most troubling experiences during my short stay in Saint Louis working with Maison de la Gare was going on a “night run”. This consists of going out in the middle of the night (usually between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m.) and searching the streets for runaway talibé children. On our fourth night in St Louis we joined Issa Kouyaté at midnight and followed him to locations around the city where runaway talibés “hide”. Issa explained that when talibés run away from their daaras – usually due to being abused - they do not hide in dark, empty corners of the streets as this would put them at risk for further abuse or worse. They generally can be found trying to sleep out in the open, often in areas close to where other people circulate during the night.
Of the talibés we saw, we had time to speak with four boys (the youngest looked about four years old and the oldest was 14). It was surreal. We found these boys trying to sleep in front of a closed market stall, with a security guard sitting nearby. Issa woke the boys and talked to them one by one, trying to piece together their stories. The oldest boy did not say much, except that he was from the Gambia! The other three boys told Issa their names, which daaras they were from and why they had run away. Issa explained to them that we could help them go home or back to their daaras and arranged to meet them the next day.
Issa walked us back to the hotel and I couldn’t stop thinking of these poor boys, particularly the older one who did not want to talk. I found out the next day, that the older boy had followed us back to the hotel and then followed Issa back to his house without any of us noticing. He waited outside Issa’s house for about an hour and then knocked on the door. Having now established that we were “the real thing,” he shared his story with Issa. Issa has since reported that this older boy has been welcomed home by his family in Gambia, where they are now trying to find a satisfying occupation for him so that he will stay.
Caring for such children is part of how donations to Maison de la Gare are used - paying to return runaway talibé boys home. There is even a follow-up with boys once they are returned home to be sure they remain safe and well treated.
That night still haunts me and I can’t help thinking of all of the other runaway talibés out there waiting for someone they can trust to tell their story to and maybe help them get back home.
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