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
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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Christoph and Aida guide children making potery
Christoph and Aida guide children making potery

Volunteer Christoph Pauly discovers the sad reality in a daara

"I had worked as a volunteer with Maison de la Gare and talibé children for weeks.  I was touched by the boys’ joy in the small things that Maison de la Gare’s peaceful center offers.  A bench to rest on, running water to wash and a book to get lost in the realm of fantasy, even if you can’t read.  Their absolute will to take on what life throws at them.  This existential hunger for a smile, for a soccer ball, for a piece of bread filled with sauce before leaving for the night on the street, before entering their marabout’s daara.

But it is in a daara that I really started to understand.  Daaras are houses run by an Islamic teacher, a marabout, where children are supposed to get an Islamic education.  These places, which often operate like businesses, force children to beg on the streets to earn a living, but also to support their marabouts.

Moustapha, about 10 years old with clean clothes, a closed face and sad eyes, is sitting with two other children in front of us.  ‘Yes, everything is fine,’ he says to us in a weak, almost inaudible voice, when Aby asks him how he is doing.  He looks at his marabout with fear; he seems anxious not to make a mistake, not to tell the truth.  The young marabouts are also present with their little whips.  They supervise the daily work of talibés and enforce discipline.  I had never seen Moustapha at Maison de la Gare.  However, this is not surprising.  Indeed, according to what the marabout tells us, the boy has not been allowed to go out since his escape from the daara - Serigne Mor Diop in Pikine near the Saint Louis bus station.

Aby, a social worker at Maison de la Gare, once again kindly asks Moustapha if he plays in his daara.  He doesn’t answer anymore.  A tear falls from his eye.  His face remains closed, hard, prematurely adult; this time the stress is too great.  I watch the tear slowly descend to his chin, in absolute silence.  I feel uneasy in the face of this suffering.  ‘When did you last see your parents, Tapha?’  It is not him but his marabout who answers us, triumphant: ‘Three weeks ago all the parents came to the daara and they were very happy.’

Élodie, a young Belgian psychologist, is also touched by this drama unfolding before our eyes.  ‘Can we talk to him alone?  Maybe only one afternoon at Maison de la Gare?’  The marabout doesn’t answer.  According to him, he is the only one who can take care of the child and teach him the Koran.

Aby invited us to join her for this follow-up visit to the daara.  Maison de la Gare regularly visits children like Moustapha who have run away or have been found abandoned in the streets during the night.  ‘Often children choose to go back to their daara because parents do not want them anymore or because they do not have families to go back to,’ says Aby.

Maison de la Gare tries to cooperate with the marabouts, to change their attitudes.  A delicate mission!  During this visit, it becomes clear that Souleymane is in an internal prison with many other children.  The marabout prefers to speak of a boarding school: ‘The children have the right to go out once a week with their guardian.’  I answer him: ‘At home, even prisoners who have committed capital crimes can go out at least once a day in the prison yard.’  What is the crime committed by these children?  Where are their basic rights?  We want to see inside this internal prison.  However, the marabout does not let us enter his daara of 500 children, one of the biggest in Saint Louis.

When we return we talk to Issa, Maison de la Gare’s president.  He is alarmed, just as we are.  Of course, it is against Senegalese and international laws to lock up children in a prison.  This would not be the first time Maison de la Gare has sued marabouts in court; some have even chained children in their daaras.  Issa speaks with court officials about our case.  Finally, it is the sub-prefect of the Saint Louis region who shows interest.  Daara Serigne Mor Diop has links with the Mourides, a very powerful brotherhood in Senegal.

But Moustapha and the other children I met in this daara do not leave me in peace.  On my last day in Saint Louis, I again accompanied Aby to visit this immense daara in the religious district of Pikine.  A place enclosed with a wall with an imposing mosque, almost like one of those so powerful cloisters of the Middle Ages at home in Europe.  This time, I wear a long boubou that shines with the colors of Africa.  One of those traditional capes that marabouts also wear, although with darker colors.

Moustapha and the two other boys we visited last time are allowed to meet us.  The same stoic faces, closed, but this time no tears.  The marabout and the boys say that they were able to leave the prison.  Apparently, our interest in their fate has helped them a lot.  The marabouts understood that we wanted to know, that Maison de la Gare knows about these children, that we will not close our eyes, that we would confront them with their responsibilities.

Then, I wanted to see the prison.  This time the marabout changes his mind.  Was it my boubou that changed the game?  The sub-prefect?  My insistence?  He lets me enter the daara.  Unfortunately, Aby is not allowed in because she is a woman.

Behind the door, a vast courtyard with several rooms where there are a hundred children who move to the rhythm of the psalms of the Koran, the books in Arabic in front of them.  And there is a black door with a small window.  ‘Behind this door is the prison,’ a young marabout tells me.

After a five-minute wait, the steel door opens from the inside.  The guard turns the key; they do not do this very often for visitors.  A little sun provides light in the courtyard.  The door closes behind me.  I see a large room with about fifty children sitting on the carpet where they learn, play and sleep.  Many young children five, six or seven years old.  Some older.  Many watchful eyes on me, calm, not daring to even hope.  In the middle of the room, I see plastic bowls filled with food which the other talibés have collected in the streets.

At first, I am relieved.  No chains.  No blood.  Not in the dark.  But, these children can’t go out; they are deprived of their liberty, sometimes for months.  Because they are too young, because they fled their daara, because they were not disciplined enough.  I let them show me the "showers", a tiled basin without running water.  And four toilets, holes with a nauseating odor.

Finally, I understood many things.  If these young boys some day are given the right to go out on the streets, they will be happy to beg or to work hard for their marabout.  To feel the freedom of the street, even for a few hours of the day, is still better than a prison.  If by chance these traumatized boys find Maison de la Gare’s little courtyard, they will feel like they are in paradise.

One of Maison de la Gare’s important obligations, for both leaders and volunteers, is to continue to monitor children in the daaras, making sure they are well.  It is also important to confront Senegalese authorities with the truth.  It is a fact that there are prisons for children, and this medieval practice obviously goes against all national and international laws."

Finally, a safe place to sleep
Finally, a safe place to sleep
MDG social worker Aby Ba on follow-up visit
MDG social worker Aby Ba on follow-up visit
Daara Serigne Mor Diop, behind the Mouride mosque
Daara Serigne Mor Diop, behind the Mouride mosque
In the Serigne Mor Diop daara
In the Serigne Mor Diop daara
Moustapha with two other boys in the daara
Moustapha with two other boys in the daara
Christoph wearing his "boubou" with Aby and Ndaraw
Christoph wearing his "boubou" with Aby and Ndaraw
A marabout in front of the prison door
A marabout in front of the prison door

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Cheikh Diallo’s vision lights a new path for village children at risk of becoming talibés

For many years, we have known a local cobbler in Saint Louis who has become a friend and an inspiration.  Cheikh Diallo, in turn, claims that we have inspired him.  As he learned of and watched our work as volunteers and partners with Maison de la Gare, he began to save his earnings toward building a primary school and supporting teachers in his home village in the region of Mbaye Awa.  After many discussions (while repairing shoes) about how education can provide hope, and change everything for a child such as a forced begging talibé, Cheikh had become a believer.

His idea is simple.  If education is accessible locally, families will not be tempted to send their boys to cities to become talibés.  Impressed with Cheikh's dedication to providing opportunity, we contributed regularly to his dream and, eventually, the first school was built.  Then, when the ongoing challenge of funding teachers proved beyond Cheikh's means, we introduced him to Issa Kouyaté to ally this unique project with Maison de la Gare.

We left Saint Louis for the district of Mbaye Awa at 9 a.m.  However, it soon became clear that we should have left much earlier.  One hour down the-well paved highway to Louga, then a left turn inland to the town of Dahra Djoloff, over 100 km on a very badly potholed road.  Although we drove carefully so as not to join the other flat-tired vehicles along our route, the hours surely amounted to far more distance than was estimated.  Along the way were herds of dromedaries and as many donkeys and goats as holes in the road.

Not long after Darha Djoloff, the "paved" road ended.  And, not too long after that, we cut off the main road onto a dirt track leading through the sandy scrub.  This part of the country is referred to as the bush.  The first school we arrived at was in the village of Ndigueli.  It had 28 students, including 4 girls.  Girls marry as young as 12 or 13 here, so it is rare for parents to educate them.  Cheikh and his collaborators are making a major effort to convince parents to send their girls to school, and to help to obtain birth certificates so these kids can get national identity cards and thus, someday, have the option of continuing past primary school; this is not possible without papers.

About an hour past Ndigueli we came to a water well.  This well serves an area of many square kilometers.  Most villages do not have their own water source, so the women walk or drive donkey carts for great distances to collect water for their villages.  Two women at the well were collecting water in traditional containers ... old inner tubes ... with babies strapped to their backs; they had travelled six kilometers to get to the well.  Collecting water can be nearly a full-time job for the women of villages in the bush.

Kids were still in class at the second school we visited, at the village of Thiagale.  Like the first school in Ndigueli, the building was constructed of cut wooden poles and grass walls.  These buildings apparently suffer significant damage during the rainy season and are then repaired or rebuilt.  Or not, depending on the means of the villagers at the time.  At this school a welcoming committee of all the village mothers awaited us.  We were a tremendous curiosity to this very isolated community.  Of the 31 students in this school, 12 are girls.  And only one child in the school has papers.  Many of the students in the school walk for hours to get here.  They know education is important, possibly their only hope for something better.

Life in these remote villages is hard.  Most women give birth at home and the maternal death rate is high.  Food is more abundant after the rainy season but, at this time of the year at the start of the summer, it is much scarcer, and the signs of malnourishment were apparent.  The distance to travel to obtain water contributes to life's many challenges here.  When there is no education available, what else is there but to marry young, start a family and continue the cycle.  Many boys are sent to daaras in the cities to be talibés, although this practice is diminishing thanks to the schools that Cheikh has founded.  Cheikh explained that education will help these kids to expect and to actively seek better for themselves.  Education will encourage change to happen here.

Another half hour journey and a few wrong turns later we arrived at the village of Medina Alpha.  There are 5 boys and 23 girls at this school.  This is the first of the four schools to be constructed as a solid-walled building that can withstand the elements, and the leaders and parents of this village have embraced the hope offered by education.  It is run as a modern school and all classes are taught in French.  All the children here have papers.  Cheikh and the teachers are working to identify and bring home the boys from this village from the cities where they have been sent to be begging talibés, a realistic hope now that true education is available locally.  Many boys have come home.

The last school site we visited, at Belel Ndioba, sadly no longer exists.  A grass walled school like two of the others, it was soon dismantled when the teacher left; it did not take long for the abandoned building to be reclaimed by the elements and needy neighbors.  This school required a fee of about $3 per month per child and, when a critical mass of parents could no longer pay, the teacher stopped coming.  43 children have had their education suspended, 19 girls and 24 boys.  The villagers here hold out hope that Maison de la Gare can make something happen for their children. 

We finished the tour with a visit to our friend Cheikh’s home village, Wouro Seno.  As usual, there is no water source here and the women walk two kilometers each way daily to collect water.  By the time we had finished a feast in honor of our visit and had met all Cheikh's family, we knew we would not make it back to Saint Louis before dark.  But, we did reach the "paved" road just before the sun set. 

As we climbed out of the vehicle after 10 p.m., we all reflected on our own good fortune to have such ready access to water and the other necessities of life and, above all, to education and thus to opportunity.  And we marveled at Cheikh’s courage and vision in giving everything he has to make possible a promising future for the boys and girls of his village and others like it. 

_________

p.s.  There is an incredible human aspect of this story that we must share with you.  When Cheikh told the village chief of Medina Alpha of his vision to build the school, the chief was completely supportive.  In fact he said that, if the school were really built, he would give his daughter Ndèye to Cheikh in marriage.  The school was built, graduating its first students in 2017, and Cheikh and Ndèye were married that same year.  They are very happy, and their son Amadou was born in January of this year.

Issa and Cheikh outside the school in Thiagale
Issa and Cheikh outside the school in Thiagale
... and inside the Thiagale school, with teacher
... and inside the Thiagale school, with teacher
Permanent school building in Medina Alpha
Permanent school building in Medina Alpha
Cheikh with his wife Ndeye and their son Amadou
Cheikh with his wife Ndeye and their son Amadou

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ISEFAC students make a difference for talibe kids
ISEFAC students make a difference for talibe kids

Former talibé Arouna reflects on the impact of French students’ visits to Maison de la Gare

"Once again, I want to tell you how valuable it is to be a volunteer with Maison de la Gare.  If you make a commitment as a volunteer, you will have the chance to face challenges that you never would have been exposed to in your work or school environment. You will experience a positive impact on all your future activities.

A group of seventy students from ISEFAC Alternance University, based in the cities of Lille and Paris in France, visited us in Saint Louis, Senegal, to help the young talibés at Maison de la Gare’s center.  They were faithful to their school’s name; ISEFAC stands for ‘European Institute of Higher Education through Action’.

They understood the value of mutual help and sharing.  That is why these young students collected and brought for the talibé children clothes, medicines, school supplies and sports equipment.  They came with love and the joy of living.  This visit allowed them to understand not only the situation of talibé children, but also what a daara is and the meaning of the word marabout.

The purpose of this visit was, first and foremost, to participate in Maison de la Gare's programs while providing valuable assistance to the center’s staff in their daily work.  It was also to learn about the talibé children with whom the students shared a day-long workshop which prepared them for daara visits, teaching French classes, cleaning daaras and the center, and helping with hygiene and medical care, leading sports activities and gardening.

The idea was to experience cultural sharing and social learning, to allow the students to be more open and sensitive to disadvantaged children.  They where able to understand that these young talibés feel oppressed, invisible, alone and abandoned by their parents, society and the government.  The government has not established any programs to make it possible for them to learn to become independent and lead wholesome lives.

After visiting daaras, the young French students spent long hours in the streets meeting talibé children who suffer from malnutrition and skin diseases.  Indeed, the daaras are unhealthy and the children have little medical support; because access to water is very limited, they can not wash every day.  The daara system, which should be providing a good religious education, has become a child-exploitation business.

It was an emotional visit for talibé children, with wonderful sharing. The children were open with the students as if they were from the same family.  The students hope to keep in touch with Maison de la Gare, and they want to return to join us in this fight against injustice.

As one of the students, Edwige, put it so well:

‘We have discovered a country of tolerance, smiles and solidarity.

The experience we had at Maison de la Gare is magical.  We all felt this indescribable reaction to the children’s difficult living conditions and, at the same time, an immense joy from being able to share extraordinary moments with them.  We had collected clothes, medicine and books in France to help Maison de la Gare for these children and for their education.  We saw wounded, disease-carrying children with unique stories, but every one of them had a wonderful smile responding to the time we spent together.

We want to thank all the members of Maison de la Gare.  We support their cause.  This association’s core values are welcoming and solidarity.  We met extraordinary people showing unparalleled kindness.  Thank you for allowing us to help you.  Thank you for making us grow.  Thank you for sharing moments of joy and happiness.’

This collaboration with Maison de la Gare has helped the students to understand the suffering of the young begging talibés and has given them the chance to explore possible solutions for denouncing this unthinkable situation and for eradicating this modern plague.

On behalf of all of Maison de la Gare’s members, we express our deep gratitude to these students.  They spared no pain or effort in bringing their support to the talibé children.  We are very happy to have them as part of the Maison de la Gare family and to have benefitted from their generosity.

Thank you for dedicating your time to Maison de la Gare’s talibé children.

Finally, we appeal to every person of good will.  Everyone wanting to defend children's rights must mobilize to demand that Senegalese authorities act to implement legislation on the protection of these rights."

Announcement of this humanitarian project
Announcement of this humanitarian project
Clothing distribution to talibe children
Clothing distribution to talibe children
Students leading a class
Students leading a class
Much-needed reorganization of the library
Much-needed reorganization of the library
... and the games continue, loved by all
... and the games continue, loved by all
Author Arouna eats Senegalese-style with students
Author Arouna eats Senegalese-style with students

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Organization Information

Maison de la Gare

Location: Saint Louis - Senegal
Website:
Project Leader:
Rod LeRoy
Saint Louis, Saint-Louis Senegal
$130,526 raised of $139,500 goal
 
1,652 donations
$8,974 to go
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