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

Talibé children discover a new world, right next door

The talibé children of Maison de la Gare recently had the opportunity to discover a corner of Gandiol, an area close to Saint Louis where they had never been despite its nearness.  This excursion was organized by Maison de la Gare’s volunteers and staff working with volunteers and staff from the association “Hahatay - Smiles from Gandiol”.

Almost a hundred children gathered at Maison de la Gare’s center that day to participate in the excursion, which was to include minibus transportation, food and a guided tour of the area.

This day will be etched in the memories of the young talibés, thanks the opportunity to discover an extraordinary place.  The mere fact of leaving behind their daily routine and the bustle of the city to spend a day of leisure in the Gandiolesque calm was a release for these children, a breath of fresh air and a source of energy for returning to face their challenging day-to-day lives.

In Gandiol they visited the House of the Little Ones, a classroom built by Hahatay volunteers and staff from plastic bottles filled with sand.  They were able to play and sing with the young students and the teachers of the school, and with the Hahatay volunteer team.  The school’s director donated a bag of soap to Maison de la Gare, a commodity that is used in large quantities at Maison de la Gare’s center both for personal hygiene and for the laundry that talibé children do every day.

Afterwards, the children went for a walk to visit the salt flats, where they learned how salt from the sea is concentrated by the sun’s energy so that it can be collected by community women.  And they visited the emblematic lighthouse that gives its name to the district of Pilote, whose history they learned thanks to the friendly lighthouse keeper who explained the critical role that this lighthouse has played guiding ships far out to sea.

There was also time on the beach for free play and rest.

Lunch was prepared by Maison de la Gare’s team with help from the teachers from the House of the Little Ones; there were sandwiches, juices and sweets for everyone, shared by children and adults … a perfect ending after so much activity.

In addition to the benefits of this day for the talibé children, it was also a day of networking and sharing for staff and volunteers from the two organizations, sharing their commitment to working for the common good of vulnerable children.

It was a different day, a special day for the almost 100 talibés.  The joyful faces, the smiles and the words of thanks make all our efforts worthwhile, and give us strength to continue fighting so that the daily lives of these children can be a little less difficult.

A ten for all the team members who participated in this event, from the organization of the event to the day itself, both the Maison de la Gare team, workers and volunteers and the Hahatay volunteers and staff including the teachers of the House of the Little Ones.

In conclusion, a day to repeat!

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Arouna (on left) and fellow marchers in the street
Arouna (on left) and fellow marchers in the street

Human Rights Watch reports on progress in stopping child begging in Senegal, and Maison de la Gare responds

On Tuesday, July 11th, Issa Kouyaté joined human rights activists from across Senegal at a press conference in Dakar at which Human Rights Watch presented their most recent report on progress in eliminating child begging in Senegal.  While this important report signals some progress, its sad conclusion is that efforts to date fall far short of what is needed.  Please click here to access the full text.

Maison de la Gare responded to this report by organizing a march through the streets of Saint Louis.  Arouna Kandé, a talibé staff member, writes: “As a talibé who has lived maltreatment in my daara, I do not want my young brothers to have to suffer the same fate as I did.  This is why I joined the march through the streets of Saint Louis, following a banner reading SOPPI NEKKINOU XALLE YE (Behavior Towards Children Must Change).

We set out on Charles de Gaulle Avenue near our center at about 9 a.m., marching for four hours with the members of our staff and of the NGOs Terres Rouges, Univers de l’enfant, Claire Enfance, Association Jeunesse Espoir (AJE) and many others.  Our route took us through areas of Saint Louis where the daaras which are ‘home’ to talibé children are concentrated.”

From the summary of the Human Rights Watch report: “Across Senegal, an estimated 50,000 boys living in traditional Quranic boarding schools, or daaras, are forced to beg for daily quotas of money, rice or sugar by their Quranic teachers, known as marabouts. Children in these daaras are often beaten, chained, bound, and subjected to other forms of physical or psychological abuse amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment.

In June 2016, the government demonstrated meaningful political will by introducing a new program to 'remove children from the streets' (known in French as the ‘retrait des enfants de la rue,’ or simply the ‘retrait’), intended to crack down on forced child begging. ...”

“In the month following the program’s launch, aid workers, rights activists, and government officials observed a dramatic drop in the presence of children begging in both Dakar and Saint-Louis.  However, the failure to investigate and prosecute abusive teachers ultimately led to a return of the status quo. ...”

“From May to June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Platform for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (PPDH), a coalition of 40 Senegalese children’s rights organizations, observed hundreds of children living in squalid, unsanitary daaras in Dakar and Saint-Louis.  Nineteen of the 43 current and former talibé children Human Rights Watch interviewed on the streets and in children’s shelters said that they are beaten if they fail to study, try to run away, return late to the daara, or fail to bring back daily quotas.  Several marabouts interviewed in Quranic schools admitted to beating their talibés for the same reasons.

In the northern city of Saint Louis, Human Rights Watch and social workers from the children’s shelter Maison de la Gare encountered a 9-year-old talibé hunched over in pain at the bus station around 1 a.m., his T shirt pulled over his head.  Tears streaked the child’s face as he described the severe beating he had received, administered by the Quranic teacher’s assistant, after failing to meet the daily quota.  ‘I didn’t give the grand talibé my payment, so he beat me with a stick.  He also did it to four other talibés,’ he said. Open wounds and scars from previous beatings marked the child’s back. ...”

“Senegal has ratified all major international conventions on children’s rights.  Its penal code criminalizes physical abuse and willful neglect of children, and a 2005 law prohibits forced begging and human trafficking.  However, a law drafted in 2013 to establish legal status and regulations for daaras had yet to be passed at the time of writing.

Human Rights Watch, PPDH, and other Senegalese civil society activists call on the Senegalese government to strengthen the 'retrait' program, investigate and prosecute abusive Quranic teachers, and pass the draft law to establish a legal framework to regulate the Quranic schools.”

 

Arouna shares his feelings after the march.  “This day was full of emotion and joy, but of sadness too.  I was very aware that we are no longer alone, standing with NGOs, associations and institutions … some of these branches of the government.  I was sad inside myself, being reminded of the bad experiences that I had lived in my daara.  But, I was very happy to be marching with everyone struggling to improve the lives of the talibé children.”

_________________

We are grateful to Lauren Seibert and Human Rights Watch for their permission to reproduce photos and text from their report.  And we are particularly grateful to them for their unrelenting determination to publicize and end child begging in Senegal, and to all of the individuals and organizations in Senegal and around the world who are committed to this goal and who make possible our continuing efforts in support of the talibé children. 

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A place where you can talk with everyone
A place where you can talk with everyone

Alessandra shares her experience at Maison de la Gare

A door always open, for everyone.  For the talibés, small and large, for the toubabs (white people) who are passing by, for the staff who perform their tasks perfectly every day, for the children of the neighborhood, for the people who make the night rounds, for others who just want to take a look.

An open door that reveals an entire world, a world of love, common purpose and mutual aid.  A world of heat, sweat, a whiff of the lime trees, dusty sand and the odor of disinfectant.

A world of looks full of hope and love, and soccer balls patched up with a bit of scotch tape because a soccer ball is always a soccer ball, and it is always time for a game.

A world of green and orange mats, which also serve as mattresses for some who woke up too early and are tired, and can rest here in the shade and in safety.

A place where you can talk with everyone from five-year-olds who want to cuddle to adults who want to exchange ideas, you who know very little French but, somehow, we still understand each other and we talk about everything.

A place where games are repeated endlessly without boredom and always with the enthusiasm of the first time; there are red and green jerseys, a ball, two bottles, a big circle and it is always game-on.

A place where everyone can receive medical care, where the infirmary is always open and where, in addition to curing wounds and ailments, there is always the respect, courtesy and caring of those who do this work with joy and love.  A place where the talibés can take a shower, always with a bit of soap for them, and where they can wash their clothes with their "Alessandra, madar!” (Madar is the soap they use).

A place where they can brush their teeth by lining up to the beat of the music of the djembe drums as they laugh and joke with friends.  A place where they can watch a movie sitting secluded from the forces that control most of their lives; but here, yes, here they can do it, and they can learn English without even realizing it, by simply singing.

A sheltering place at night for those who don’t return to their daara; in fact, people go out in the night and look for children and, with kindness and love, tell them that sleeping in the street is dangerous.  They offer them a bed and a safe place for the night, trying to understand their problems and their dreams. 

A place where food is not lacking for anyone, ever.

A place where there are offices with people who struggle with documents and Excel files so that things work, accounts are balanced, and everything is made possible.

A place where you feel at home, wrapped in love and caring.  Caring also sees dermatitis, infected wounds, bare feet, torn clothes; caring tells you that it is not easy, that the problem is endemic and the solutions difficult.  It is a place that enters into your heart to stay there forever, but also into your mind to seek solutions, to seek funding, to seek collaborations.  A place where children call you by the name of "Alessandra cards" and you play the umpteenth round of Memory so that the cards now are all damaged and you know that none of this matters, because it is our game.

You look around you one last time and you breathe in this spirit of mutual help, this desire to share, this common search for solutions, and you smile.  Happy with this happy experience, happy with each moment, infinitely difficult moments when you wanted to scream that it is unjust that a child should face certain things, and moments extraordinarily joyful and simply accepting.

And you thank everyone.  You turn to leave one last time (for this month at least, then who knows ... Insha'Allah) and you think that it is no longer just a place, but a part of you.”

  ___________

Our teacher Abdou Soumaré shared his response to Alessandra in a message shortly after she left: You were amazing with the kids.  Always next to them, you didn’t even have time to put your things away when you came into the center.  And, the trust that children have in you, screaming your name … Alessandra, Alessandra!  All of this is because you have a great heart; you are a beautiful person.  We are really going to miss you, but know that the kids will never forget you. Your life is beautiful!” 

These were Alessandra’s final words: “Jerejef (thank you in Wolof) for everything.  An incredible month full of emotion and smiles.  Jerejef for the games, for the words, for the smiles and for the Teranga (the warm Senegalese welcome).  I didn’t do anything; I just filled my heart with the love that the talibés know how to give every day.”

__________

“A child’s smile is the most beautiful thing.
And, to be able to make a child smile is the most beautiful gift.”

... to the beat of the music of the djembe drums
... to the beat of the music of the djembe drums
A place where everyone can receive medical care
A place where everyone can receive medical care
... where they can wash their clothes
... where they can wash their clothes
A place where food is not lacking for anyone, ever
A place where food is not lacking for anyone, ever
A place where children call you "Alessandra cards"
A place where children call you "Alessandra cards"
A place where you feel at home, wrapped in love
A place where you feel at home, wrapped in love
...it is no longer just a place, but a part of you
...it is no longer just a place, but a part of you

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Irene and Modou organize games, waiting for Ndogou
Irene and Modou organize games, waiting for Ndogou

Irene Sanchez, Samba Ndong and Modou Samb mobilize the community during a difficult period for the talibé children

Ndogou is the traditional meal at dusk at which the fast is broken during the month of Ramadan.  It is a time of great stress for the talibé children who are very affected by the period of fasting because of the near impossibility for them to find food during the days.  Maison de la Gare has always provided a Ndogou meal for children in its center, but this can only reach a small fraction of the thousands of begging talibé children in Saint Louis.

The Pikine area of Saint Louis has a particularly high concentration of daaras and talibé children.  This year, Maison de la Gare volunteer Irene Sanchez and staff members Samba Ndong and Modou Samb brought together a group of people determined to make this a better year for these children. 

The result was amazing!  The group provided the Ndogou meal to over 250 talibé children in Pikine every day during the month of Ramadan.  A time of stress and hardship was turned into a time of fun and hope for these children.

The team organized this campaign during a crazy week before Ramadan, working with Maison de la Gare staff members Abou Sy and Malick Bâ.  Abou's family in Pikine made their home available as a base of operations.  The group was supported from the beginning by Amadou Camara and five young women from Pikine: Marie, Racky, Fatima, Oumou and Codou.  Older talibés from Maison de la Gare's center also helped.

But how to fund this?  Feeding 250 children every day is very expensive.  The group raised an amazing $1,500 euros ($1,800) during the month to cover the cost, from door to door campaigning in Saint Louis, fundraising events by contacts of Irene in Spain, Association Jerejef (in Spain) and members of Association Hahatay Gandiol (near Saint Louis).

Association Jerejef's contribution made possible the highlight of the month, a very special event on the night of Laylatoul Xadr (the "Night of Destiny").  There were medical consultations for the children, games, distribution of new clothes for over two hundred talibés, and a very special meal of chicken and rice.

As Ramadan came to an end, the group was very satisfied with the results of their efforts.  In addition to giving relief to hundreds of talibé children, they felt that these children had learned a great deal: being involved in new activities and learning new habits.  In fact, the entire community was involved and we are certain that the impact will be long lasting.

Fundraising pamphlet circulated in Saint Louis
Fundraising pamphlet circulated in Saint Louis
Abou Sy and community women prepare evening meal
Abou Sy and community women prepare evening meal
16th day - Community women distribute evening meal
16th day - Community women distribute evening meal
A feast for Laylatoul Xadr, the "night of destiny"
A feast for Laylatoul Xadr, the "night of destiny"
New clothes for the children on Laylatoul Xadr
New clothes for the children on Laylatoul Xadr

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Xavier and friends in courtyard of MDG's center
Xavier and friends in courtyard of MDG's center

Xavier shares his experience as a volunteer with Maison de la Gare

Ever since I was a child, I have known that I wanted to be a nurse.  Helping my neighbor has always been a priority for me.  However, it was only when I was in my nursing course in college that the idea of humanitarian aid came into my mind.  But the opportunity never arose.  During my last year in nursing, we studied the Senegalese community and the care that is provided there.  It was then that I had the idea of making a humanitarian aid trip to Senegal, and I came across the website of Maison de la Gare in Saint Louis.  I knew that this experience was going to be quite a challenge.  I had already begun my preparations during my studies and it only remained for me to live the challenge.  So, I purchased a return ticket to Dakar and, only a few weeks after registering with Maison de la Gare, I was on Senegalese soil.

I faced a small cultural shock when I arrived.  I was no longer in my cool climate in Canada or in the comfort of my home.  Medical care was very different from the care I give at the hospital here, and the culture is very different.  The road trip from Dakar to Saint Louis was trying for me.  I looked out the window at small market stalls and houses at the side of the road; it was very different from Montreal.  It was then that I realized the extent to which this would be challenging.

I met my host family when I arrived in Saint Louis, and they helped me to feel comfortable in Senegal.  Everyone I met was very kind and open-minded with me.  Despite the fact that it was Ramadan for my entire stay in Senegal, my host family prepared meals for me for breakfast and lunch.  It was only at dinner, around 9 p.m., that we could gather to have the meal together.

On my first day I met Issa Kouyaté, the president and founder of Maison de la Gare, a remarkable man who is totally dedicated to his work.  I was actually very surprised to see how involved he was with the youth in Maison de la Gare’s center.  He is a man who puts the interests of others ahead of his own.  He showed me around the city and gave me a cell phone so that I could communicate with the center and even with family in Canada.  I became aware then of how this organization takes care of its volunteers and guides them throughout the experience. 

On a typical day I got up at 9 a.m.  I began by taking a shower with my friend Bernard the lizard, whom I shared my bathroom with, and my breakfast was waiting for me on a counter near my room.  Then I walked for 5 or 10 minutes to Maison de la Gare’s center to start my day at the infirmary which was open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.  The infirmary closed earlier than usual when I was there because of Ramadan.  In the infirmary, I had to re-learn my technique of applying bandages because, not surprisingly, it was very different from what I was used to.  My dear friend and colleague Abibou Fall was kind and patient in teaching me his technique.

I stayed at the center for the rest of the day talking to other adults and children.  Communication was sometimes difficult since I do not speak Wolof, but my dear friend Abdou Soumaré was there to help me with translation.  Then I went back home to eat the meal that was waiting for me on the counter near my room.  Because of Ramadan, the center was rather empty in the evenings.  Sometimes I would spend the evenings there, or else I would go for a walk in Saint Louis.  I also spent some evenings talking with my host family.

Unfortunately, Abibou was sick for two weeks during my stay.  As a result, I had to open the clinic myself.  This was a big challenge for me because, in Canada, nurses are not allowed to prescribe or to stitch up wounds, but such interventions can be necessary.  In those moments, I sometimes felt helpless and useless.   Also, the common diseases are very different from those in my country.  Treating scabies is rare in Montreal, but commonplace in Senegal.  And, it could be very difficult for me emotionally having to treat the children with this disease.  I was reasonably comfortable with wound care, burns and tetanus and I had some knowledge about the care of Cayor worms (subcutaneous myiasis) as well as about guidelines for preventing them.  On one occasion, I had to remove these worms from a child's shoulder; this time, I knew that I had really done something valuable for the child.

I was very surprised to discover how safe Saint Louis is.  It was far from what we see on television.  I could walk downtown or to the beach and take a taxi safely.  The Senegalese are very welcoming and many stopped to talk to me and to teach me more about their culture.  As I walked into town, I had to pass through a large market.  It was a bit scary at first because there are a lot of people, but sometimes I met young school children who would walk through the market with me and practice their French at the same time.  In addition, they took the opportunity to teach me more about Senegalese life.

Unfortunately, because of my nursing work schedule in Montreal, I couldn’t stay in Senegal for more than three weeks.  Of course, three weeks is a very short time to understand a culture.  I wish that I could have stayed longer.  I feel that I could have done more and benefitted more from the experience with a few more weeks.  

In the beginning, I questioned the value of my time in the center.  I felt that I wasn’t really making a difference in the lives of these talibé children.  It was only when I came back to Canada and told my older brother Dominique about it that he said, "You know Xavier, if you hadn’t been there, who would have been in the infirmary to treat these talibés?"

I realized then that I may not have changed the world but I did my best and, in the end, I made my contribution.

I totally recommend this experience to anyone who wants to try it.  It is an invaluable opportunity that helps us to have a different perspective on the world, to broaden our horizons and, above all, to learn more about ourselves and our limits.  I know that one day I will repeat this adventure.  Maybe I will go back to Senegal or maybe it will be in another country.  There is so much to see and learn in this world.

Providing medical care in the infirmary
Providing medical care in the infirmary
With Maison de la Gare nurse Abibou
With Maison de la Gare nurse Abibou
Xavier treating patients in the infirmary
Xavier treating patients in the infirmary
Anxious clients in the waiting room
Anxious clients in the waiting room
Xavier with his friend, the teacher Abdou
Xavier with his friend, the teacher Abdou

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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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