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

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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Marabout Thierno Yeril Sow
Marabout Thierno Yeril Sow

Issa Kouyaté praises an important ally in the struggle to improve the lives of the begging talibé street children

"You can’t miss hearing his name in Saint Louis if you are speaking about modern or exemplary daaras.  Thierno Yéril Sow has committed his life to early childhood care and he continues to demonstrate this working with organizations dedicated to vulnerable children, assisting them with the care and integration of victims of trafficking and of other abusive situations into safe environments.

Thierno Yéril Sow has also provided Maison de la Gare’s center with invaluable support in dealing with the challenges that can often impede our work, in particular attacks by some Koranic teachers.  Most of these Koranic teachers or marabouts think that the reception centers have been established to stop Koranic teaching.  Recognizing this, Thierno Yéril Sow realized that he could make an important contribution by clarifying Maison de la Gare’s role with other marabouts, and by supporting us in getting closer to the daaras so that we can better aid the development of modern Koranic education.

A man of great integrity who is involved in almost all our activities, Thierno Yéril Sow is one of the marabouts who has dedicated themselves throughout their lives to Koranic education for the benefit of talibé children.  He set up his daara thirty years ago in the Fouta region of Senegal, before moving to Saint Louis.  Since that time, he has contributed to the emancipation of daaras in the Saint Louis region, truly earning the designation of “modern marabout” which his colleagues have given him.  He has become very involved with national and international organizations working for child protection, participating in forums and workshops in which he has demonstrate repeatedly his values as a marabout of integrity.

Consistent with his beliefs, Thierno Yéril Sow has supported his talibé students in participating in educational opportunities provided by child protection organizations such as Maison de la Gare.

Thierno Yéril Sow has now joined with Maison de la Gare as a marabout facilitator.  He makes a unique contribution supporting investigations of abusive situations and of children found living on the streets, as well as participating himself as a member of our “night rounds” team.  He has also returned some of the children found living on the streets to their home communities and is very involved as a mediator between runaway talibé children and their marabouts.

Thierno Yéril Sow’s role as a mediator has served a vital educational role for the marabouts of the Saint Louis area, helping them to understand the critical importance of the work being done by Maison de la Gare and other child protection organizations.

We pay tribute to him for the countless hours that he spends for the benefit of the talibé children and Senegalese society."

___________

One of the objectives set out in Maison de la Gare's bylaws is “To work in synergy with Koranic teachers to improve the living conditions of talibé children”.

Marabout Sow is a shining example of the relationships that we strive to establish.  He does his best for his talibés within the limitations of his means ... they must still beg for their food.  However, there is no abuse in his daara and there are no runaways.  Many of the children are connected with "Godmothers" in the community who provide them with regular meals, and the sleeping arrangements are much better than typical daaras.  And Marabout Sow supports the older youth in becoming established with small businesses.

Marabout Sow joined Maison de la Gare as a Member at the recent Annual General Meeting, where he spoke passionately of the importance of working with the talibés from conviction, with mutual respect.

Marabout Sow teaching young talibes in his daara
Marabout Sow teaching young talibes in his daara
In front of his daara with Issa & other marabouts
In front of his daara with Issa & other marabouts
Issa with Marabout Sow and his wife, in their home
Issa with Marabout Sow and his wife, in their home

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Let the party begin!  Over 400 talibes at MDG.
Let the party begin! Over 400 talibes at MDG.

Sonia shares her impressions and feelings from an incredible day

“World Talibé Day is celebrated all over Senegal, and it was certainly well celebrated by the talibé children of Maison de la Gare.

Talibé Day is a holiday for the forced begging street kids of Senegal.  Not for profit organizations, including Maison de la Gare, put on special programs for the kids to enjoy, including games to play and food to eat.  A few demonstrations were organized by some associations to raise awareness about the plight of the talibés.  But, for the hundreds of talibés at Maison de la Gare’s center on this day, it was a chance to relax and enjoy a party.

The day began as most other days.  Not long after Maison de la Gare’s doors opened, kids started to trickle in.  The trickle soon increased to a regular stream.  At about ten o'clock, karate kids started to arrive and put on their gi's in preparation for the Friday morning class.  As the kids gathered on the sand with Sensei, board games were beginning under the grape vine arbor in the garden while other boys climbed the vines as a jungle gym.  Some kids made their way over to the infirmary for treatment of their ailments and some TLC from nurses Abibou and Awa.

I had not realized it until this day but, terribly, the tiny malnourished talibé living in the emergency shelter, Seydou, had disappeared the night before.  A frantic search of several hours around the neighborhood revealed nothing.  A report was made to the police, but there is not much hope of finding him that way.  Why would he have run?  Seydou was developing a close trust relationship with a Belgian volunteer and seemed happy to be at Maison de la Gare.  Could he have been taken?  Did something spook him?  How can we know, and how can we find him?  He could not possibly survive for long on his own given the weakened state he was in.  Such a disaster at home would be all consuming, bringing life to a stop.  Here, it seems to be another sad but not uncommon African tragedy.  Hopefully, Seydou will be found and returned to this safe place.

Meanwhile, children continued to arrive. Many watched the karate training in action.  One adorable little boy on the sidelines practiced his own version of oizuki, a future karateka perhaps.  Other talibés began an enthusiastic game of soccer.  As the soccer ball disappeared over an eight-foot wall, soon too did a tiny little talibé boy hoping to retrieve it, which he did. 

In the afternoon, even greater numbers of kids arrived at the centre.  Both classrooms were full of students concentrating on their studies while outside the party was ramping up.  Maison de la Gare teacher Abdou Soumaré organized music broadcast through loudspeakers while he and older talibé leaders took turns with the microphone acting as Em Cee to the joyful crowd.  Amazingly, the students in the classrooms continued to devote themselves to their studies throughout the commotion and excitement happening just outside the window.

Lala Sène, a regular volunteer at the centre and a member of the national women’s soccer team, led a soccer tournament while a dance party started up in the sand nearby.  Whenever a team scored, everyone erupted into wild cheers and applause.  Then the game and the dancing would resume.  As the classes and games progressed, Oumou, Maison de la Gare’ cook, prepared a nutritious mixture for the sandwiches that would feed the crowd.  Older talibés assisted in chopping peppers and other ingredients to add to her pot.

Abdou took over the microphone, leading the kids like the pied piper around the Maison de la Gare compound while the staff and older talibés helped out frantically preparing sandwiches for hundreds of hungry celebrants.

Eventually the soccer winners were declared, the grand trophy was awarded and circulated around the centre in a victory lap and the winners were properly adored and celebrated by the crowd. 

Then the dinner line formed.  It seemed impossible that there could be room for everyone, or that the meal could be handed out in any kind of calm or order.  But, the seasoned Maison de la Gare staff had done this before and all were fed, at least this time.

As the last sandwiches were served, Abdou ramped up the music once more and dancing resumed despite the late hour and the dark.  Even my Dad went a little crazy, dancing like a teenager.  This was a time to let some of that pent up emotion out.  Understandably, no one wanted this magical party to end and volunteers, staff, and talibés alike set aside their worries for a moment and joined together to just celebrate life for a little longer.”

Grape vine arbor in garden becomes a climbing gym
Grape vine arbor in garden becomes a climbing gym
Friday morning karate class, as always with fans
Friday morning karate class, as always with fans
Volunteer Christoph with very vulnerable Seydou
Volunteer Christoph with very vulnerable Seydou
Tiny talibe disappears over 8-ft wall, after ball
Tiny talibe disappears over 8-ft wall, after ball
Cook Oumou prepares nutritious filling for buns
Cook Oumou prepares nutritious filling for buns
Soccer game in midst of dancing, cheering crowd
Soccer game in midst of dancing, cheering crowd
.. and, at least this time, there was food for all
.. and, at least this time, there was food for all

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Just a car engine?  No!  A path to the future ...
Just a car engine? No! A path to the future ...

Issa shares his dream to become an auto mechanic

Issa Bâ is a talibé from the region of Kolda.  Kolda is in the far south of Senegal, far from Saint Louis.  Issa has been in Saint Louis for years begging and working to meet his quota for his marabout and studying the Koran a few hours a week, while spending as much time as he can at Maison de la Gare where he has friends and can rely on people to watch out for him.

Now, as an older talibé transitioning away from forced begging, Issa is taking full advantage of the opportunities Maison de la Gare has to offer.  A few months ago he was offered a leadership role at the center, which he proudly accepted.  Now he is responsible for general maintenance and cleanliness of the center’s emergency shelter as well as assisting the younger talibés with hygiene.  The possibility for some older talibés be to members of Maison de la Gare’s staff provides a stepping stone between forced begging and independence, allowing these youth to be freed from forced begging even though they have not yet developed enough in education, skills or training to live successfully on their own.

While working daily at Maison de la Gare, Issa Bâ is also a dedicated mechanic's apprentice.  Upon learning of opportunities to acquire skills though Maison de la Gare's apprenticeship programs, Issa spoke up at the organization’s annual general meeting last November about his dream of learning to become an auto mechanic.

Now, Issa is in training at the mechanic shop Atelier Mame Dabakha Sy.  The manager, Daouda Sy, is impressed with Issa's dedication and diligence and thinks he should be ready to work independently as a mechanic in two years.

Issa arrives at the shop every morning at 9 a.m., remaining until 3 p.m.  Two days a week he returns to his daara to study the Koran for about an hour. The days he does not have Koranic studies he remains at the shop longer, eager to put in the training hours that will lead him closer to his goal.  Then, at 5 p.m., his work at Maison de la Gare begins.

Issa is also a karate student and trains each night at the Sor-Karate dojo for several hours, developing his passion for martial arts.  A few years ago, he became curious about the morning karate classes in Maison de la Gare’s center, and he soon joined in.  Issa is in training for his orange belt now.  Donors have sponsored him for membership at the Sor-Karate dojo.

Issa dedicates himself to each of his pursuits with uncommon dedication, recognizing his opportunities for what they really are: hope for the future.  Due to his skill and persevering attitude, he was invited to join the karate competition team and has had the opportunity to travel with the team several times for regional and national combat and kata competitions.

 

After years of forced begging, Maison de la Gare has made it possible for Issa Bâ to come a long way in a short time.  He is a leader, a role model for young talibés on their own and far from family, talibés without education or skills or any idea of how to obtain them.  Issa is apprenticing for work he loves.  And, his development as a martial artist is gaining him not just self-defense skill but confidence and respect.  And, the stamina and discipline to help him through the long days that are necessary to achieve his goals.

Issa Ba, from Maison de la Gare website
Issa Ba, from Maison de la Gare website
Issa speaks at AGM about his car mechanic dream
Issa speaks at AGM about his car mechanic dream
Issa with his mentor, mechanic Daouda Sy
Issa with his mentor, mechanic Daouda Sy
Deeply involved in the intricacies of a car engine
Deeply involved in the intricacies of a car engine
Issa receiving his yellow belt from Sonia LeRoy
Issa receiving his yellow belt from Sonia LeRoy
Issa (smiling) with Sor-Karate competition team
Issa (smiling) with Sor-Karate competition team

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Maison de la Gare

Location: Saint Louis - Senegal
Website:
Project Leader:
Rod LeRoy
Saint Louis, Saint-Louis Senegal
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