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.
Every Thanksgiving I have struggled with how to give thanks for all the wonderful things I have been lucky enough to enjoy in my life - my family, my friends, my health, my work and yes, my wealth. This year is different. I have found a way to give back that is meaningful to me. My 16 year old niece and I volunteered at Maison de la Gare working with the talibés of St Louis, Senegal.
Our main objective was to bring medical supplies and to help provide health-care to these boys. We thought this would be a story about hope and despair, health and disease, greed and generosity. We have learned that it is more complicated than that. Because it is hard and complicated, many give up without really trying, some give up after trying, and some never give up trying. We have just started trying to do something about it and we hope to be one of those who never give up trying.
This was an amazing and difficult voyage for the both of us, yet the only time I cried during our visit was the day we had to leave.
For those of you struggling to find a way to give thanks, I encourage you to support Maison de la Gare. If helping the talibés touches you like it has touched us, please consider making a generous donation to Maison de la Gare. It will make the world of difference for these boys.
This summer, a former volunteer at Maison de la Gare made an extraordinary contribution. This is her story:
“I and three friends set off on the ‘3 peaks challenge’ to raise money for Maison de la Gare. The 3 peaks challenge involves climbing the 3 tallest mountains in England, Wales and Scotland all in under 24 hours (Snowdon in Wales at 1085m, Scafell Pike in England at 978m, and Ben Nevis in Scotland at 1344m). I am happy to say we completed this in 22 hours and 17 minutes!
It involved walking up some incredibly steep mountains in 28 degree heat (82F - the weekend we chose ended up being a heat wave in the UK), and then climbing up one of the mountains in the dark through the night which was a real challenge as it was very rocky following uneven paths.
Once we completed the challenge we had a long drive home and were so stiff we couldn't walk up any stairs for at least 3 days. I am happy to say that due to the generosity and support of our friends and family we raised £1,400 ($2,300 U.S.) for Maison de la Gare. Hopefully this will help in a small way in the running of the centre and help all the volunteers to realise that people are thinking of them and their good work all the way over here in the UK.”
A wide variety of medicinal and other plants is cultivated in Maison de la Gare’s centre in Saint Louis. We are posting this update to our recent report in order to share with you the incredible growth of our garden over the past few months. Papaya, Moringa, mint, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, lemon grass, sorrel, grapes, dates and bananas … every one plays an important role in supporting Maison de la Gare’s efforts to improve the lives of the talibé children that it serves.
The garden provides nutritional support for the children involved in the centre’s programs. It also gives them the opportunity to learn valuable gardening and entrepreneurial skills, and they are responding to this enthusiastically. The centre is flexible in allowing each child to participate in the way that suits him best, learning skills and gaining confidence that will serve well in the future.
This garden has been made possible by the generous donations of our international supporters, and we are grateful. It contributes dramatically to the warm and welcoming environment that the centre provides for the talibé children, an island of calm and hope in their otherwise chaotic and challenging lives. We welcome any suggestions and technical advice to help us in improving this valuable aspect of our centre.
July 2012: The garden in Maison de la Gare’s Saint Louis centre has made enormous strides since it was renewed in April.
The garden is very popular with the Talibé children who, with the help of team member Aladji Gaye, are doing work that would make a professional horticulturalist proud!
Thus, it is with great pride that the Maison de la Gare team, and in particular Aladji who is responsible for the garden, make ready for the first harvest.
The garden has a great variety of plants, with carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, peppers (green and red), and a number of other vegetables.
The purpose of this gardening activity is nothing less than a way of combating the begging of the Talibé children.
Produce from the garden will serve to feed the children, but also to support them in developing skills that will help them to become financially self-sufficient in the future.
Congratulations to Aladji and his team for the amazing work that they have accomplished.
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