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
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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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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Organization Information

Maison de la Gare

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