On the beach - a lighter side of volunteering
Sixteen amazing human beings bring the best of themselves to improve the lives of the talibé children
From the spring of 2018 until early 2019, sixteen volunteers from the United States and around Europe had an enormous impact on Maison de la Gare, on the lives of the talibé children and on their own lives. With commitments that ranged from a few weeks to six months, these individuals brought energy, creativity and caring to the begging street children that Maison de la Gare exists to support. They taught the children French, English and Spanish, led games, provided health care in the clinic and in the daaras where the children live, led excursions and sports activities, and introduced the children to the magic of drama and art. Most importantly, they treated the children with respect as their full equals and left them with a greater sense of their own worth and of the possibilities for a productive future.
Our hope in sharing the stories of these volunteers is that you, the reader, will know of others who could bring their magic to the talibé children, and for whom this experience could be magic.
The first volunteer of the season was Christoph, a fifty something German journalist. Christoph brought his special skills to bear in an insightful and troubling article published on our website, “A Prison for Children.” Shortly after Christoph left, Sam, a student from New York City, came for three weeks and worked with the children in arts, games, music and sports, engaging them with a gentle caring personality that quickly earned their affection. A Senegalese friend who worked with Sam at Maison de la Gare wrote to say that Sam gave away most of his shoes and clothes before he left. He described going on a night round with Sam looking for talibés sleeping in the streets. They found a boy sleeping alone. When they woke him up he was shivering uncontrollably, and Sam gave the boy his shirt and brought him dinner.
Joy from England arrived next, in mid-May, and quickly engaged with the children. Her story is on our website. Some excepts give a feeling for her experience. “I find it nearly impossible to put in to words everything that was my experience in Saint Louis with Maison de la Gare. When I close my eyes and take myself back, I picture the love of my host family, the mother who cared for me when I fell ill in the first week. All the different faces of the many children, their excitement and eagerness to play, for attention and to learn.” Joy shares a deep understanding of the critical role of volunteers: “I would urge anyone with a passion for helping others and a desire to become a Maison de la Gare volunteer to do so. Stay as long as possible; two months was what I was able to afford. I wish I could have stayed longer. The more time you can spend building up relationships and working out how you can make a difference, the better. Most importantly the contribution to the center as a volunteer is vital to its invaluable work in fighting for the rights of children and maintaining a safe space for them.”
Three remarkable young women from Florida State University arrived shortly after Joy, Simone and pre-med students Savannah and Taylor. Savannah wrote this reflection six-months after her return to the U.S.: “There are no adequate words to quite describe this summer. It was a completely unique experience that I won’t ever again be able to duplicate. My time at Maison de la Gare taught me a great deal about how to overcome challenging language and cultural barriers. I think the most impactful part of my time was the relationships that I formed with my host family, with the talibés, with the Maison de la Gare workers and with my fellow students, Taylor and Simone.”
Savannah has recently been awarded the Humanitarian of the Year Award by her university, honoring her work with the talibé children. Taylor expressed her feelings in a testimonial for future volunteers: “Working with Maison de la Gare was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life so far. Saint Louis is a beautiful and historical town filled with amazing, welcoming and joyful people. The staff members at Maison de la Gare are people I now consider family and very near to my heart. They were always there to comfort and entertain me with their daily jovial auras and made coming to the center every day even more enjoyable! Treating the talibé boys in the clinic was a very rewarding and extremely insightful experience as they constantly showed their appreciation for my help. They would always smile and call for me, even as I would walk around downtown or on my way home. It felt nice to have little friends everywhere I went.”
Three Spanish students, Paula, Naomi and Alex, brought their special spark to Maison de la Gare for two weeks in the late summer. Even with such a short stay they became deeply involved with the children, engaging them in arts, music and games. They were joined by two English adventuresses, Billie and Emily, who took a break from travels around Senegal to become immersed in the lives of the talibé children.
Graciela of California arrived in September for six months, a formative experience before starting university. Graciela’s ability to listen and strive to understand served her very well in fitting into a culture and work environment foreign to her experience, and she thrived. She worked primarily in our education programs, teaching English to the older talibés and French literacy to the younger children. Graciela was joined in November by Norwegian nurse Mari and one month later by Mari’s sister Lise. Mari and Lise’s story is the subject of another article on our website, about their family’s Christmas in Saint-Louis. Mari concludes this simply with a commitment: “Thank you Maison de la Gare for helping us help these talibé children. We will never stop doing that.”
The new year began with two volunteers from France. Jean marie was with us for two months and was deeply committed to finding ways to use his experience with information technology to benefit the talibé children. And Nathalie, an intern from the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne is with us for six months, working with the talibés students to understand how best to motivate their learning.
It is a rich tapestry, and Maison de la Gare and the talibé children have been blessed by every one of these dedicated individuals.
Sam, surrounded by his fans
Savannah with soccer balls she donated
Abdou giving Simone a certificate of appreciation
Taylor at home in the infirmary
Spanish volunteers Naomi, Alex and Paula
Graciela delights a talibe child
Nathalie, intensely animated with her students
Jean marie shares his computer skills