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
Farewell celebration for Mari and Lise at MDG
Farewell celebration for Mari and Lise at MDG

Stories from a Norwegian family, volunteers and visitors at Maison de la Gare

Mari and Lisa Øyen were valued volunteers with Maison de la Gare in the final months of 2018, living with a Senegalese host family and spending their days working with the talibé children. Their parents Eva Steinkjer and Øyvind Øyen joined them in Saint Louis for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday. This is their story.

From Eva, the mother

We stayed at the hotel La Maison Rose in Saint Louis, in a quiet and welcoming atmosphere. Every morning at breakfast we were surrounded by walls decorated with artwork showing different scenes of colored people serving a white person. Senegal’s colonial period, that ended in 1960, was still alive in this room.

We were told that the marabouts (Muslim religious leaders and teachers) played important roles in the liberation of Senegal. We learned that their followers are called talibés, and that they need donations to eat and to meet their basic needs. In Norway, we know nothing about these boys having to beg in the streets. The talibé boys can be as young as 4 years old, and many have been sent from poor homes in the countryside.

“I have a dream” - I am standing in the classroom where tables are crowded with boys making “thank you” drawings for Mari and Lise.

Other drawings are displayed on the walls. When I stop and look interested, Abdou stands beside me and tells me the story of a drawing in brown paint. He recalls the boy who painted it, who told him that it was the famous Faidherbe bridge (which I recognize as the bridge that connects the island of Saint Louis with the mainland). The boy himself is depicted on the bridge, and he has painted a car in the middle of the bridge. At the top of the white sheet of paper he has drawn some people: a sister, a brother and the rest of his family. Abdou tells me that the boy wanted the car to come and take him back to his family. Perhaps an impossible dream, but still a dream. As an art therapist, I know that the ability to dream creates hope and contact with inner life. This drawing may be difficult for us to look at as witnesses who know about the reality of boys’ lives, but it can provide strong support for their emotional health.

“Merci pour tous vous avait fait” (Thank you for all you’ve done) - I am not sure what I expect from my visit to this room with the boys’ drawings. I have brought some small sheets of paper, scissors, some colored pencils, stickers, glue and markers with me from Norway. The papers are embossed with my logo, name and phone number. I am sitting beside a boy who spontaneously says to me: “C’est ton nom?” (Is that your name?) I look at him and say “Oui. Comment tu t’appelles ?” (Yes. What’s your name?) He says his name: Amadou. We are connecting. I watch how the boy draws. I have seen this situation many times as a teacher in Norway. The children want to make straight lines, and use the eraser generously. Amadou draws a house with an open door. I ask him who lives in this house. He answers: “moi”. Then he draws himself in the doorway and writes his name underneath it. Another boy who is older than Amadou is sitting on the opposite side of the table. He can’t write his name and asks Amadou to write it for him. Amadou continues to write, and after a while he shows me what he has written: “Merci pour tous vous avait fait.”

Reflecting on this experience, I see how the boys’ artwork is a way of communicating, both their reality and their dreams. I would be happy to support more of this work, although I’m not sure how to do this. Still, I’m thankful for this visit to Maison de la Gare and will work to find ways to support their work.

From Lise, volunteer

“Sometimes it feels like there is so little I can do. But at least I can stop when I meet the boys in the street. I do not give them money, but I ask them their names. They all have a name - they exist!”

I decided to work as a volunteer during my three week Christmas holiday. The thing I was most nervous about was celebrating Christmas in a Muslim country like Senegal. I have spent every single Christmas of my life at home in Norway, doing the same things every year. And, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, going home for Christmas was always what I pictured. Despite this, Mari managed to convince the whole family that celebrating Christmas in Senegal would be a good idea.

My Christmas traditions are still important to me, and celebrating next Christmas in Norway might be even better than usual because of what we experienced in Saint-Louis. Volunteering for Maison de la Gare may be the single most important thing I’ve done in my entire life. And, in some ways, I think it was important for me that I did it during Christmas. Kindness, helping each other and taking extra care of each other are some of the things I like about Christmas. Helping the talibé children and experiencing their gratitude when receiving their Christmas presents was perhaps the best Christmas present I could ever get.

The cultural gap between Norway and Senegal is enormous. Seeing begging children all the time on the streets, knowing that they are going to be beaten if they don’t earn enough money that day. That was maybe the most challenging thing being a volunteer. Every day it was a constant struggle not to take the talibé children home with me, thinking I could be a mother to them.

Working in the infirmary, we saw and treated many wounds and skin diseases. We met many talibé boys we’ll never forget, and I will tell you about two of them. One day an older talibé (perhaps 13 years old) came with a younger one. He was not more then 5, and had an old piece of a wooden toothbrush in his ear. How it ended up in his ear, we will never know. The little kid was suffering a lot of pain. So Mari and I went to the hospital with him with one of Maison de la Gare’s staff members. The boy was so scared, and we tried to calm him down with body language. At the hospital, the doctors got the piece of wood out of his ear. Without help, he would likely have gotten an infection and lost his hearing. He got help because of Maison de la Gare and the donations that make their work possible.

The next talibé boy I will tell you about, Babacar, was a common case. He came in with severe scabies. Scabies is a serious skin disease that results in extreme itching and rashes. It’s caused by a parasite that digs tunnels under the skin. To get rid of this disease you have to wash all your clothes and bed sheets at 60 degrees (about 140 F), wash yourself and your family and get scabies treatment. However, the talibé boys live together with around 50 other boys, so it’s impossible to treat everyone. At Maison de la Gare, we often gave the boys new clothes since they only wash their clothes in cold water. The first time I met Babacar I gave him new clothes, but the next day he wasn’t wearing them. I asked why, and he answered that the marabout had taken the clothes. In spite of this, Babacar seemed to do well with our treatments. We met him many times on the streets during our visit. He always smiled and came over to shake hands. One time one of his friends also came over and called me Santa.

From Mari, volunteer

I have experienced and learned so much in my two months as a volunteer nurse for Maison de la Gare. Above all, I will always remember the beautiful boys and the staff members that I met at the center.

My sister has described some of the challenges you face as a Norwegian girl in Saint Louis. The last two months have not been easy, but I’ve learned more than I could have expected. I am truly proud of being a part of the Maison de la Gare team, and I will continue support their vision.

The Senegalese people have taught me how to share, to make the most out of what you have, and to take care of the people you love and to give each other time. I will never lose this. I am returning to Norway with a new view of my life and of my background. I am grateful for having being born in one of the most developed countries in the world, where women and men have the same jobs. We must support the developing parts of the world. The talibé boys deserve and have the right to a better future.

Thank you Maison de la Gare, for helping us help these talibé children. We will never stop doing that.

A talibe child's dream of returning home
A talibe child's dream of returning home
Amadou's message: "Thank you for all you've done"
Amadou's message: "Thank you for all you've done"
Lise and volunteer Graciela with a talibe child
Lise and volunteer Graciela with a talibe child
Lise treating a child's infected foot
Lise treating a child's infected foot
For Mari: "The children say thanks" (in Norwegian)
For Mari: "The children say thanks" (in Norwegian)
Eva and Oyvind with teacher Abdou
Eva and Oyvind with teacher Abdou

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Elhage gently examines a child's sore knee
Elhage gently examines a child's sore knee

Elhage's Passion - Sonia shares her experience with a remarkable young man

Elhage does not lead an easy life.  He is an example of how Maison de la Gare’s intervention can offer hope and opportunities to talibés who are willing to take advantage of those opportunities. And, for those who do not, at least Maison de la Gare offers them daily respite from very challenging situations. Elhage is an intelligent person.  He pays attention, and he has a positive, optimistic nature despite his years of abuse in the daara.  When opportunity knocks, Elhage will answer. Even more, he does not forget where he came from, or those who were not as fortunate as he to grab hold of hope that leads to change.

Elhage joined the karate program a few years ago when it was introduced at Maison de la Gare.  And, he participated in the classroom programs from the start.  He is always here, watching, learning, ready to help others when needed.  When the tailoring apprenticeship program began, Elhage joined it too, seeing the trade of tailoring as the key to a successful life. 

Speaking about his apprenticeship, Elhage said “Not having a trade at my age is like walking blind."  Most talibés face this challenge.  Talibés can remain under the thumbs of their marabouts until perhaps the age of 20 or later, never having had access to any formal education or apprenticeship opportunities.  And their only companions are other neglected children.  Their only teachers force them to beg and abuse them.  What does a child learn growing up in this environment?  At what point do they learn to support themselves and contribute as citizens should?  

These days Elhage is a busy person.  He spends two days a week, usually Sunday and Monday, in the market, hoping for the chance to work at odd jobs to earn enough money to feed himself for the week.  He works the remaining days of the week in the tailoring apprenticeship program.  But, he also takes responsibility at Maison de la Gare.  Elhage sleeps in Maison de la Gare’s center at night.  So, when the runaway talibés discovered on the streets during the twice weekly night rounds are delivered to Maison de la Gare's emergency shelter at 1 or 2 in the morning, Elhage is there to greet them and help set up their beds, get them some food, and tuck them in.  He is also trusted with the keys and is available to help with whatever is needed anytime.  But, this is not all Elhage does.  He has taken it upon himself to provide health care in the daaras.

Several mornings a week Elhage packs a bag of supplies from the medical clinic and heads out to the daaras to deliver health care on site to talibés who cannot make their way to Maison de la Gare.  If there are international volunteers, he invites them along to help.  I asked Elhage why he does this - going out early in the morning to walk dusty, dirty back alleys in search of remote and neglected daaras, to toil cleaning, disinfecting and bandaging little boys' wounds, applying ointments, and determining who might need antibiotics or hospitalization, taking away from the time he has to apply himself to his apprenticeship.  He said it is because he was a forced begging talibé for many years, beaten by his marabout and neglected.  He said he knows what these boys suffer.  He does not want them to be forgotten.  He knows they need help and that he can give it.  Elhage pointed out that Maison de la Gare supported him while he was immersed in the life of his daara and is providing him with the opportunity to make his way in life.  Elhage says the boys from these remote daaras have trouble regularly making their way to Maison de la Gare’s clinic. He says it is therefore something he just must do.

One morning, I accompanied Elhage on his daara medical rounds.  Because we left late, we took a taxi to the area near the first daara.  Elhage says he usually walks.  It must take him over an hour to reach the area on foot.  We approached the daara and Elhage politely greeted the marabout.

Upon entering the daara Elhage was immediately surrounded and greeted by many little boys.  They clearly knew him well and welcomed his presence.  We sat down, and the boys presented themselves to us one by one.  We donned medical gloves, examined their wounds, and then got to work cleaning, disinfecting and bandaging.  A group of boys huddled around Elhage while I worked on a very badly infected toe.  Elhage's crowd had all been circumcised not long ago, but their wounds were not healing.  I glanced over as boy after boy uncovered a swollen, infected penis for Elhage to treat.  Elhage took what seemed to be hours carefully cleaning and bandaging the wounds.  I later asked Elhage if it is usual to have such extreme problems after circumcision, and he said not at all.  This is very unusual - but common at this particular daara.

The toe I was treating had swollen to about twice its normal size.  And, after I cleaned away the dried blood and caked-in filth, I saw that the skin was entirely missing from almost all of his toe.  Every touch was agonizing.  I shared some Advil with the boy, and he gritted his teeth stoically, tears squeezing out of his eyes, as I did my best for him.  In bare feet, I do not know how long his bandage will last.  Elhage says he will consult with Awa the nurse and return soon, hopefully with antibiotics.

At the second daara we visited, we treated just a few boys.  But, one was quite a serious case.  Elhage said that he must come at least every three days to re-clean and disinfect this boy's wounded leg.  The leg felt hot as I did my best to clean it without water.  And, it was swollen over a large area.  Elhage added this boy's case to the list to consult on with Awa.  A few talibés came for medical care who only had slight scratches.  However, as they seemed to revel in the care and attention being showered on them as we cleaned and bandaged them, we welcomed the opportunity to do this.

Eventually we made our way back to Maison de la Gare, all our bandages and "cotton" used up, and my Advil bottle empty.  Most of the other staff and children had long since left for the mid-afternoon break.  Elhage, on the other hand, made his way to the tailoring room and got right back to work.

Elhage and Kalidou, proud of their work
Elhage and Kalidou, proud of their work
The entrance to the first daara
The entrance to the first daara
Treating a child, many others waiting
Treating a child, many others waiting
... on to the second daara
... on to the second daara
A much-appreciated visitor
A much-appreciated visitor
And, back to work at the sewing center
And, back to work at the sewing center

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A grant in 2013 from the United Nations Fund for the Struggle Against Contemporary Forms of Slavery set us on our path.  We need your help to continue this work.

Every month we welcome over 900 begging street children and provide food, medicine and education.  We are grass roots, efficient and transformative.  And, we need your help.

The begging talibés are young boys sent to learn the Quran with a “marabout”. As young as four years old, they typically come from very poor families in Senegal or neighbouring countries. Although they are meant to receive a basic education and to learn the Quran, in fact they are most often found in the streets where they beg for 6 to 10 hours a day for their food and a quota of money. They live in primitive “daaras” without access to potable water or basic hygiene facilities, and with only rudimentary shelter.

These children are excluded from the government education system and must bring themselves up, far from their families whom they seldom if ever see. They are easily victimized by unscrupulous people and are exposed to serious health problems. We carried out a census in the city of Saint Louis in 2016, identifying 14,779 begging talibés living in 197 daaras.

Maison de la Gare dramatically improves the lives of these children.  The organization’s center in Saint Louis has become a haven and a beacon of hope for these boys. Our literacy programs, arts and sports, nutritional and hygiene support and medical care are changing their lives for the better. Our emergency shelter is a halfway house for over 300 boys living on the streets whom we recover each year, most of them runaway victims of brutal abuse in their daaras. And our agricultural, poultry farming and tailoring apprenticeship programs are supporting older boys in obtaining the skills they need to become independent, contributing members of society.  It’s not easy.  Sometimes we struggle, but we are committed because we see the results.  Every week, every month.

Since 2008, we have been able to steadily increase the number of boys we support.  Start-up grants from the UN Slavery Fund, Global Fund for Children and others made it possible to establish and build our programs.  Now, we must find new partners to sustain these programs.  This is where you come in.  Every dollar you contribute makes a difference.

Now, in December 2018, our support from the United Nations fund has come to an end.  Please join us.  We need your help to sustain this life-giving work. 

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Robbie guides a new student in MDG's center
Robbie guides a new student in MDG's center

Robbie’s experience starting Maison de la Gare’s karate program

“This year's WKC World Karate Championship was all about karate, but it was also about so much more than karate.  It was about choosing to be positive in the face of tough challenges and how helping each other makes everyone feel better.  I was in Orlando, Florida competing with Team Canada at the WKC Worlds.  I am a second-degree black belt, and this was my fourth time competing at the Worlds for my country.  I was also there to try and raise some money and spread awareness about the situation of the forced begging talibé street kids in Saint Louis, Senegal, and about how karate is changing their lives for the better. 

A few years ago, when I was 13 years old, I visited Africa for the first time to volunteer at Maison de la Gare with my family.  I wanted to help, to have something to offer the kids I would be meeting in Senegal.  At home in Canada, I train and help teach karate.  I thought, what could be better than to share what I love and what I am good at?  I had to convince my family and Maison de la Gare that starting to teach karate to the talibé kids would be a good idea.  They agreed to give it a chance.

So, I got busy and gathered over 75 donated karate uniforms (gi’s) from families and dojos in my home town, packed them up, and took them to Senegal.  Once at Maison de la Gare, I just started doing karate and the kids were naturally interested.  By the end of the first week, all the gi’s we brought were being worn in my overflowing daily classes by kids who wanted to learn karate.  Imagine as a forced-begging, barefoot street kid how good it must feel being able to wear a clean white gi, and to be the center of attention while you learn to take control in your life!  Karate was such a success at Maison de la Gare that we decided to hire a local sensei to carry on giving classes after I had returned to Canada.

I have now been to Senegal three times to work with the boys of Maison de la Gare, register kids who show talent and dedication into an advanced program at the local dojo, train with them at the dojo, and coach the students to grade for higher belts.  I am so proud of how far they have come, and of the dedication and passion many of them show for the sport we all love.  I am looking forward to my next trip to Senegal to see my karate friends and to work with them again.

Now at the World Championships, I decided to spread the word beyond my home city, to let people know how karate is so important for the kids at Maison de la Gare.  I showed a video of the kids training in Africa, outside, under the sun in 40-degree (104°F) temperatures, never complaining.  In the pictures I showed, the karate kids were happy and determined, and looked like they were giving karate everything they had.  All of us who were competing at the Worlds also give karate everything we have.  But, we are never alone in pursuing our dreams.  Our parents and our senseis support us constantly.  Parents drive us to hundreds of training practices and dozens of tournaments each year.  They cheer us up and convince us to carry on when we are in pain and feel like we have had enough.  They do our stinky laundry and pay our coaching fees.  They cheer for us at our grading ceremonies, congratulate us when we win, and console us when we do not.  And our coaches help us push hard and to dig deep to find our best selves.  They share in our glory and support us in our pain and losses.

The talibé karate kids have none of this support.  They show up to karate classes after 6 to 10 hours of forced begging, having had very little to eat.  No parents or coaches encourage them to persevere.  They scrub their own gi's by hand and hang them to dry at Maison de la Gare.  They feel the same pain and disappointments my teammates and I do, but have only themselves to look to for motivation and determination.  When they achieve higher belts and win at tournaments, parents are never cheering from the sidelines.

And yet, they are as passionate about karate and as dedicated as I am.  We can learn so much from these amazing kids.  I certainly have.  The Maison de la Gare karate kids have taught me that, no matter how tough life’s challenges become, it is always possible to take back some control and choose to be happy.  And, there is always room for doing what you love.

Sometimes we can help make a difference for other people who face challenges outside their control, and sometimes we can fight for a little more control in our own lives.  And, when things happen outside our control, how we choose to react is always within our control - we can choose to be happy.  We can do what we love.”

Robbie teaching the first MDG talibe karate class
Robbie teaching the first MDG talibe karate class
Maison de la Gare karate tournament awards
Maison de la Gare karate tournament awards
Talibes wash and hang their own uniforms
Talibes wash and hang their own uniforms
Robbie coaching students preparing to grade
Robbie coaching students preparing to grade
Fundraising flyer used at WKC World Championships
Fundraising flyer used at WKC World Championships
Robbie fundraising at the Worlds in Florida
Robbie fundraising at the Worlds in Florida

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Joy drawing with younger talibe children
Joy drawing with younger talibe children

"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.  The incredible older talibés living at the center, all our conversations, the crazy party I threw for them; we danced all night drunk on adrenaline.  My daily walk to the center from my host family’s home, the beautiful sea, the Langue de Barbarie, all the colorful pirogues (fishing boats) and of course, in between all this, the life, the color and the love and warmth of all the Senegalese people I met, and the poverty and unimaginable suffering of little children.

I found Maison de la Gare a couple of years ago whilst browsing the internet looking for a French-speaking organization to volunteer with. I had just returned from teaching English abroad in Nablus, the West Bank. I had such an incredible experience and wanted to again be able to work for a small NGO, and Maison de la Gare is small.  I doubt I would have heard of it or the situation in Saint Louis if I hadn’t really wanted to speak some French!  Nobody I know knew anything about it before I explained where I was going for a few months. It was two and a half years later when I was able to become a Maison de la Gare volunteer.  During that time, in the back of my mind I thought about the horrible situation that the young talibés are subjected to. But it wasn’t quite real.

As much as one can read about the talibés and the work of Maison de la Gare, I don’t think anything can prepare someone for the first few days in Saint Louis.  The realization that one must live alongside this bizarre and unimaginably cruel situation and accept that the thefts of these children’s childhoods is a part of everyday life.  Perhaps most humbling, that most people in Saint Louis are powerless to do anything but live alongside it.  It is so very far from stepping outside my flat in England, where children would never be confronted with something as distressing as this, let alone be forced to experience it.

As citizens of the world shouldn’t we be coming together to end once and for all this tragic situation, recognizing that a matter of chance has given us the lives we have and that we are only a few hours away on a plane from something so unimaginable?

Walking past all these little children on the street as an adult, of course I feel a responsibility to do something.  I would buy little biscuits, sweets and fruit, and give them something.  But it is impossible to give to everyone.  Another great tragedy of the situation is that there are so many children fighting and competing over so little; there is never enough.

In my first hours as a volunteer, I was approached by two slightly older boys, Kalidou and Souleymane.  They asked me if I was English would I teach them English?  They had a great starting level.  I was happy to and from then on, every evening Monday to Friday, I taught a beginners’ and an advanced English class.  More students arrived.  I spent the hours in the office later in the evenings planning lessons.  I still feel guilty about some students who arrived mid-lesson with no English or French.  With too many students and not enough time I had to tell them to wait, I’ll teach you the alphabet and basic phrases when I can.  But sometimes these students were discouraged by their lack of understanding and they didn’t come back.  I hate that I was unable to schedule a beginner class for these boys and teach basics.  I had no way of contacting them again.  They vanished, and I hope they will have a chance to learn English another time.

I was continually impressed by the intelligence and passion for learning of many of the pupils, especially since none of them had been to school.  Being able to help them learn new words and answer their grammar questions and watch them progress was wonderful.  I was also aware, through the relationships I built up with these older boys, how alike they were to kids of their age in the UK.  We are all so similar and I hope that many, many more volunteers will follow me and continue teaching them and helping them improve. Their English abilities have opened the door of education that is the internet, and that is the way forward for them.

I had brought with me a set of theatre masks, designed to encourage play and creativity as well as emotional expression.  We had some fun and interesting lessons with talibés of all ages.  However, watching some of the smaller kids interact with the masks, it was clear how developmentally behind they were compared to kids I had taught before. I enjoyed greatly blasting Senegalese music from my speaker and setting up tables with the little kids drawing, making crafts and playing games together.

I personally have volunteered with different grassroots organizations and experienced many different testing situations therein, but my experience in Saint Louis was definitely the most difficult to cope with and the cruelest thing I have seen in my life - the sicknesses of the children living in terrible conditions, the lack of resources and the inability to give each and every child the love, comfort and support they deserve, not to mention clean clothes, shoes, enough food...

I would urge anyone with a passion for helping others and a desire to become a Maison de la Gare volunteer to do so keeping in mind the weight of the situation and the ways in which you will affect many children’s lives.  You will become a glimpse of stability and care and then literally disappear.  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.

I hope everyone at Maison de le Gare, the staff like Abdou who were so welcoming and supportive, the local volunteers like Lala whose generosity and commitment to the talibés is remarkable, and all the older kids who showed me around Saint Louis and became great friends, know how much I appreciate you and am grateful for having you in my life."

Joy with her advanced English students
Joy with her advanced English students
Playing drama games in Maison de la Gare courtyard
Playing drama games in Maison de la Gare courtyard
... and more games, with Abdou
... and more games, with Abdou
Introducing masks for play and creativity
Introducing masks for play and creativity
Exploring the joys of make believe
Exploring the joys of make believe

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Organization Information

Maison de la Gare

Location: Saint Louis - Senegal
Website:
Project Leader:
Rod LeRoy
Saint Louis, Saint-Louis Senegal
$143,346 raised of $149,500 goal
 
1,843 donations
$6,154 to go
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