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
MDG team arrives in Kaffrine for the 1st campaign
MDG team arrives in Kaffrine for the 1st campaign

Mamadou shares his experience of Maison de la Gare's campaign in the Kaffrine region to stop child begging ... and its amazing aftermath

"Maison de la Gare recently organized the fourth phase of its awareness campaigns aiming to change behavior towards children in the areas from where the talibés are sent to Saint Louis.

Our team of community workers and facilitators left Saint Louis for the town of Kaffrine in central Senegal where we were met by the regional coordinator of AEMO (Education Action in Open Environments, Ministry of Justice).  AEMO's coordinator, a very dynamic and devoted woman, took us to meet neighborhood representatives under the baobab, to plan our program together.  Afterwards, we went with teacher-guides who volunteered to accompany us door-to-door as we visited fifteen houses, a group of young people, elders, and laundry women.

In each meeting, it was clear that the groups we met with strongly supported our efforts to eradicate the phenomenon of begging street children.  The day ended with an information meeting that attracted many people.  Much information and many testimonials were shared over two and a half hours, and participants were particularly taken with our images depicting the lives of talibé children in Saint Louis.  

The next day we left Kaffrine for the town of Koungheul where we were received by the youth services officer who introduced us to the mayor of that city.  Afterwards, we went with volunteers and a local reporter to a nearby area from which many children are sent to become talibés in Saint Louis daaras.  We were well received going door to door and met with women around a well, students, and a religious leader of the village.  We told these people about the living conditions of children entrusted to the daaras of Saint Louis, and they were all very sympathetic.

That evening we held a rally attended by the deputy mayor of the city, elected representatives including the local member of Senegal's National Assembly, the local director of AEMO and other community development personnel, religious leaders and the local media.  Many people from the community attended this rally including particularly parents of talibé-aged children.  Testimonials were shared and members of Maison de la Gare's team illustrated the situation of children living in Saint Louis daaras with theatrical skits.  The rally ended with a meeting with the Prefect of Koungheul, who received us at his home.

The third day was the turn of the town of Nganda.  We were received by the sub-prefect, a very knowledgeable authority on the phenomenon of talibé children.  After a few minutes of discussion, the team went to three villages which had been selected for door-to-door campaigns.  Again, we visited households, religious leaders and village chiefs who also informed us about the situation in their commune.  A well attended rally followed in the market place, led by the deputy mayor.  We particularly appreciated the presence of the village chiefs and of religious leaders who offered prayers for Maison de la Gare's work.

Finally, it was the turn of the Commune of Malème Hodar.  Following visits to homes and the market, we travelled to the nearby village of Sagna where we met the deputy mayor in charge of youth.  The rally was organized in the town hall and was very well attended by women and religious leaders.  In this village, we visited daaras that function without begging, but also some marabouts who were hesitant about stopping the children from begging on the streets.

Very satisfied with what we had achieved, we left Kaffrine to return to Saint Louis." 

A remarkable event occurred three weeks after this campaign.  Many of the children sent from Kaffrine to Saint Louis are entrusted to the daara Serigne Eumeu Ndao.  A group of fifteen parents and religious leaders descended on Saint Louis to see for themselves the living conditions of their children in this daara.  They were shocked by what they saw, and demanded change.  They elected Maison de la Gare's Mamadou Guèye to be "president" of the daara, working with the marabout who has been very cooperative.  Maison de la Gare has since supported dramatic improvements in the living conditions of the children in this daara.  

Truly, a crack in the dam.

______________

Our sincerest thanks to all of our donors, who have made possible these campaigns to stop the scourge of child begging in Senegal.

Mamadou (right) and Idrissa lead door-to-door team
Mamadou (right) and Idrissa lead door-to-door team
A stop in the door-to-door campaign
A stop in the door-to-door campaign
Talking with women around a well in Koungheul
Talking with women around a well in Koungheul
Children attracted by the theatrical skits
Children attracted by the theatrical skits
Idrissa with community leaders in Koungheul
Idrissa with community leaders in Koungheul
Religious leaders listen to the group in Sagna
Religious leaders listen to the group in Sagna
Prizes are offered in question and answer sessions
Prizes are offered in question and answer sessions

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Omar's Story - Spanish journalist José Naranjo tells the story of a child found living in the street, and of Maison de la Gare's work to stop this horror

It is night.  There is a black chill, a chill that sneaks into the crevices of the soul.  At the Saint Louis bus station, the last travelers of the day wait for their buses while clinging to the minimal heat from a cup of coffee.  A small human bundle is visible beside the counter of a store selling toys, soda and treats.  It is Omar, about ten years old, sleeping in his black striped t-shirt, overcome by exhaustion.  Everyone looks at him, nobody sees him.  Like him, about 15,000 children wander each day in search of alms in the streets of this city, trapped in a spiral of tradition, poverty and the most crude child exploitation that for Senegal, a tolerant, stable and growing country, represents both a shameful practice and one of its greatest challenges.

Modou Samb and Samba Ndong approach Omar, wake him gently, tell him that it is not safe to be there, and encourage him to go with them.  Omar looks up and watches them, sleepy and surprised.  His first reaction is to flee, scared, but he listens to what they say.  They talk about a bed, a shower, new clothes.  Above all, a night of respite.  How to resist after a week of wandering aimlessly, taking refuge in any corner?

Downcast, terrified, confused, Omar walks along with his rescuers from Maison de la Gare, three figures scarcely visible in the gloom of the night among the rickety stalls.  The child hardly speaks, only muttering some words in a low voice.

Coming from Keur Momar Sarr, a small village near Louga, Omar has been away from his daara for a week.  He had been there for five years, but fled when his marabout beat him for being late one day.  He has been earning a few miserable coins driving a cart in the bus station.  When they arrive at Maison de la Gare, Omar lies down on a bunk bed and is covered with a blanket.  A roof and a little affection, after all.

There are about 50,000 begging children in Senegal.  They come from villages in the interior or from neighboring countries like Gambia and Guinea Bissau, sent by their parents to the city to study in Koranic schools or daaras, where they are forced to beg for money in the streets.  What was once a system of learning of the Koran has now become pure exploitation.  Although not all Koranic schools make their children beg, the reality is hard to hide: the talibés are the backbone of this army of small beggars who fill Senegalese cities every day, and the money they collect sustains their exploiters, marabouts without scruples who take advantage of the poverty and illiteracy of rural families that entrust the children to them.

What was once a system for learning the Koran has become pure and brutal exploitation

As the new day dawns and Omar enjoys the warmth of his unexpected bed, thousands of dirty children dressed in rags take to the streets with their begging bowls.  There are 20,000 talibés in Saint Louis alone, of whom about 15,000 are forced to beg every day.  If they do not meet their daily quota of money or if they do not learn their lesson, they are subjected to corporal punishment and mistreatment.  Every day dozens try to escape their abusers, who sometimes lock them up or chain them in shackles to prevent it.

At Maison de la Gare, Omar is woken up after having spent his first night indoors in the last week.  Modou enters the room and helps him dress in new clothes.  On the outside he looks like any other child, but the shadow of fear and sadness is still there.  Maison de la Gare's social worker Thiéck Aw interviews him.  She wants to know why he ran away from the daara; a decision must be made.  "We cannot leave him in the street," Modou says, "and if we take him to his village, he will probably be back here in three days.  In this case, we see no evidence of corporal punishment or physical ill-treatment.  We think it is best to return him to his marabout and then to follow the case to prevent it from happening again.  It is not good for him to continue at the bus station.  Bad things happen there."

Back at Omar's daara, in the Pikine area of Saint Louis, his marabout Thierno Sadibou takes charge of him.  "We do not hit the children," he says.  Abou and Modou talk with him and warn him that they will visit every week, and that if they see any sign of violence, he will be denounced.  In recent years, Maison de la Gare's team has managed to close seven daaras that did not meet minimum standards, and their efforts have led to four marabouts being condemned to prison.  Some resist, but most collaborate.

______________

Our sincere thanks to Alfredo Cáliz for the dramatic photographs illustrating this report, and to all of our supporters for making Maison de la Gare and its work possible.

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Spanish journalist José Naranjo discovers Maison de la Gare

Maison de la Gare in Saint Louis, Senegal, rescues and welcomes street children who have run from their Koranic schools, where in many cases they are mistreated and exploited.

Ten years ago, Issa Kouyaté worked as a cook at a famous Saint Louis hotel.  Despite being born in Dakar, despite being Senegalese, the drama of the talibé children in this city shocked him.  Kouyaté recalls: "No matter where you go, no matter where you look, they are everywhere.  So I decided to do something.  At the hotel, we had to throw away the food that was not used in 48 hours, so I picked it up and took it to the boys who had escaped the daaras, who gathered at the old train station at night to sleep."  However, in 2009 the city government decided to turn the station over to the neighbouring market and the children were left without their night refuge.  In that moment of darkness, Maison de la Gare's project began to have light of its own at a nearby site.

"It was a garbage dump," continues Kouyaté, "but we worked hard and made it a home."  Today, Maison de la Gare has three classrooms for literacy classes, an infirmary, showers and toilets for the kids, a library, a large play space and an eight-bed emergency shelter, thanks to the support of international organizations such as The Global Fund for Children, the United Nations and the European Union, hundreds of individual donors around the world and, above all, the energy and idealism of dozens of volunteers.  Last year, Kouyaté was named "Hero" of the fight against human trafficking by former US Secretary of State John Kerry.  But the cold, hunger and hardship suffered by the small talibé children of Saint Louis still persist.

Maison de la Gare is a refuge, a safe place, a space where children find everything they do not have.  Abdou Soumaré, teacher and facilitator, teaches notions of computer science and  literacy in the sand-filled yard.  Meanwhile, nurse Awa Diallo heals the visible wounds of children ... the invisible wounds are another story ... especially burns, cuts and scabies.  A couple of nights each week, Abou Sy, Modou Samb and Samba Ndong, sometimes with the Issa leading, are in charge of the "night rounds".  They look for runaway children in every corner, under each upturned fishing boat, among the street stalls, behind the pillars of the bridges, under balconies and on abandoned prayer rugs.

"The sad thing is that a part of society takes advantage of them, uses them as cheap labor to run errands, drive a wagon or clean up," adds Kouyaté.  "When you stand next to a talibé and care about him, people look at you in surprise.  It is as if the talibé children don't exist, as if they are objects.  We know that we are swimming against the tide, that we are facing a very strong power; they have threatened us, they have called the police, they try to turn people against us.  But we believe that we are changing things, as these children have understood that there is a life beyond what their marabout says. "

______________

Our sincere thanks to Alfredo Cáliz for the dramatic photographs illustrating this report, and to all of our supporters for making Maison de la Gare and its work possible.

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Kalidou now, in Maison de la Gare's center
Kalidou now, in Maison de la Gare's center

A talibé success story

Sonia has known Kalidou since 2010.  She interviewed him recently, and shares this report:

"Kalidou's story with Maison de la Gare began in 2008.  He was 6 or 7 years old at the time, he's not sure.

Kalidou and his two older brothers were sent together from Kolda in the Casamance region of Senegal to his marabout to be talibés in Saint Louis, to learn the Quran.  There, they begged for their own living as well as for a quota of money for their marabout.  Kalidou's younger sister remained in the village with his parents.  His family are farmers, and he remembers that their life was very hard.  Last year, Kalidou returned to his village for the first time since leaving in 2008 ; his older brothers had returned in 2011.  Kalidou had finally completed memorizing the Quran himself, and it is tradition to return to one's village at this time.  He says he did not recognize anyone but his mother, and they also did not recognize him.

When Kalidou saw how much his village and the people he knew as a child had changed, and how difficult life there remained, he realized his home was now in Saint Louis and his family is Maison de la Gare.  Nevertheless, he will continue to send money to his parents when he can.  Kalidou hopes to someday be able to bring his mother and father to Saint Louis to live with him, as he does not know how they will survive as his father ages and can no longer live the difficult life of a farmer. He also hopes to marry a girl from Casamance (of his parent's choosing) and to bring her back to live in Saint Louis.

When Kalidou first arrived in Saint Louis, he was lucky to meet Issa Kouyaté and Maison de la Gare.  He attended French classes at Maison de la Gare's original location, in the old, run-down train station near the Faidherbe bridge.

My sister Lisa and a fellow volunteer, Zoë, encountered Kalidou at Maison de la Gare in 2008 when they were teaching French.  Each time I return to Saint Louis, Kalidou asks me if I have news of Zoë.  He remembers her fondly as his first teacher, and he thinks of her and misses her to this day.  Last year, I suggested to Kalidou that he send her a video message.  He prepared his remarks for days, thinking carefully of what he wanted to tell her.  Kalidou is very shy, but sending Zoë a greeting was clearly very important to him.

Kalidou remains shy and humble to this day.  But, his confidence is growing.  Kalidou is a member of Association Maison de la Gare.  At the recent annual general meeting, when called upon to comment he addressed the large group with eloquence.

Kalidou learned French and quite good English at the classes offered by Maison de la Gare.  Several years ago, Maison de la Gare arranged for Kalidou to begin to learn the craft of sewing, and later to apprentice as a tailor.  He has been working for the past year with the tailor Baka, at Baka Fashion.  Baka tells me Kalidou should complete his apprenticeship in about one year, ready to become a tailor in his own right.  Indeed, Baka says Kalidou is ready to start to transition and could earn money by having a sewing machine of his own at home.  Kalidou spends about three hours each day apprenticing.

After his work at Baka Fashion, Kalidou visits his daara to study the Quran with his marabout, Serigne Mansour.  Although Kalidou has memorized the Quran already, he still feels he has much to learn about being a good Muslim.  Personally, I think he is already one of the best I have met.

When Kalidou is finished at his daara he comes to Maison de la Gare, where he is now working in the role of assistant teacher, instructing English.  He also spends the weekends with Maison de la Gare, helping out however he can.  He is an example to other talibés and demonstrates by his example that there is hope that talibés can realistically aspire to better lives.

When asked what Maison de la Gare has meant to him, Kalidou says he was really helped in learning English and French.  Maison de la Gare has allowed him to remain in Saint Louis and to train for a trade.  To Maison de la Gare, Kalidou says: 'Thanks for my life. It is good.' "

... and, thank you, every one of our precious supporters, for Kalidou's life and so many others!

In Zoe's classroom in old railway station, in 2008
In Zoe's classroom in old railway station, in 2008
With Issa in the market in 2009
With Issa in the market in 2009
Kalidou speaking at MDG's annual general meeting
Kalidou speaking at MDG's annual general meeting
With his apprenticeship mentor, the tailor Baka
With his apprenticeship mentor, the tailor Baka
Teaching an English class for other talibes
Teaching an English class for other talibes
Kalidou at his sewing machine at Baka Fashion
Kalidou at his sewing machine at Baka Fashion

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Samba weeding lettuce plantation, AJE Saint Louis
Samba weeding lettuce plantation, AJE Saint Louis

A problem teenager finds his direction in Maison de la Gare's agricultural apprenticeship program

Maison de la Gare took charge of a total of 342 children and teenagers who were found living on the street in 2016, during "night rounds" by our team.   Each of these cases is different and requires different follow-up.  Issa shares one of these stories here.

_______________

"Young Samba was found on the outskirts of the Sor market during a night round by Maison de la Gare's team.  It was two o'clock in the morning when our team, close to a dozen people with flashlights, appeared unexpectedly.  This was one of our routine searches for children sleeping on the street, typically between midnight and four in the morning.

Samba is the real name of a talibé child who comes from the Tambacounda region of Senegal.  He was just seventeen years old at the time but seemed much younger.  In our investigation after he had been removed from the street by our team, we discovered that Samba had run away from his daara many times to the dangerous life on the streets.

Samba had gone to school when he was younger and could read and write, but his mother had decided to send him to a daara far from his home town to acquire religious knowledge.  The young Samba could not bear this, especially since he wanted to learn French and to earn diplomas like his childhood friends.

Samba's father divorced his mother when Samba was young and took another wife.  After this divorce, Samba's father no longer took care of his children and he subsequently left the conjugal home with his second wife.  Samba, neglected by his mother, had fled from his village with some friends to settle in the city of Tambacounda.  His mother felt that she could no longer manage him, and she convinced Samba to move to a daara in Saint Louis.

After completing his Koranic studies, Samba wanted to continue his French schooling but this did not go down well with his Koranic teacher, his marabout.  He ran away repeatedly, only to be caught by the older children from his daara and returned.  After several such episodes, Samba was becoming a very troubled young man.

Because of Samba's instability, Maison de la Gare convinced him to register in an apprenticeship program which he chose himself.  He had previously worked in the fields in his home village with his elder brother, to help his grandfather, and it was this background that led him to choose agriculture as a direction for his future.  Samba demonstrated a real aptitude for horticulture, so we registered him with other problem youth in a program managed by our partner Association Jeunesse Espoir ("Hope for Youth").

We also made a trip to Samba's home village of Koungheul to plan with his family for his eventual return.  However, his mother was unwilling to consider this, saying that she could no longer handle him or take care of him.

Since this time, Samba has been under Maison de la Gare's care.  We are responsible for integrating him into formal schooling and also for giving him the opportunity to continue his agricultural training.  He will soon start working with our apprenticeship program at our agricultural property in Bango.

There are many young people who end up as social misfits because of being rejected by their families.  This is why Maison de la Gare is so aware of its responsibility to provide support for vulnerable young people as long as they need it."

____________

We are grateful to all of our generous donors for the financial support that has made possible our regular night rounds, giving hope for a safe and productive future to so many young people in desperate circumstances.

Samba in Maison de la Gare's Saint Louis center
Samba in Maison de la Gare's Saint Louis center
Our partner from AJE arrives in Samba's village
Our partner from AJE arrives in Samba's village
Location of Koungheul and Saint Louis in Senegal
Location of Koungheul and Saint Louis in Senegal
The village, a mix of straw and brick houses
The village, a mix of straw and brick houses
MDG social worker Thieck (rt.) with Samba's mother
MDG social worker Thieck (rt.) with Samba's mother

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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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