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

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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Skits dramatize difficult lives of talibe children
Skits dramatize difficult lives of talibe children

Maison de la Gare acts to stop the evil of talibé begging at its source

The begging talibé children of Saint Louis do not, for the most part, come from this region.   They are mainly from the areas of Matam, Kaolack, Tambacounda and Kolda.  Others come from neighboring countries, in particular Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Gambia and Mauritania.  Thousands of families continue to send their young children to Saint Louis to learn the Koran, usually in total ignorance of the fate that awaits them there.  To make any progress at all in the struggle to end child begging, we must make these families aware of the lives to which they are condemning their children.

Our goal is to reduce the number of begging talibé children in Saint Louis by at least a quarter by the end of the year 2019.  It was to have a measure of our success towards this goal that we undertook the first complete census of begging talibé children in Saint Louis in early 2016.  The result revealed 14,779 begging talibé children living in 197 daaras.  We will redo the census at the end of 2019 in order to measure the progress that has been made.

We have carried out three major awareness campaigns so far, each of them with day-long stops in several towns or villages.  For the first, we organized programs in the towns of Louga, Rosso and Bokhol in northwestern Senegal.  These campaigns were mainly aimed at local marabouts and ndéyous daaras. (The term ndeyou daara refers to unofficial “godmothers” who take one or more talibé children under their wings.  The difficult living conditions of the children in their daaras have led to the formation of groups of these women, full of good will, in specific areas of their towns.)

The exchanges were very productive.  Indeed, some well-organized marabouts shared how they try to strike a balance between, on the one hand, their obligation to maintain and feed the hundreds of children entrusted to them despite their low incomes, and on the other hand their awareness of the need to stop forced begging.  With the help of the ndéyous daaras in their areas, many of the children receive three meals a day, clothing and some supplies such as soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste.  For these lucky children, they can pursue their Koranic studies without spending hours in the street.

This is how the on-line newspaper Ndaractu reported the first session of the first campaign in Louga:

"This Thursday morning a large contingent from Maison de la Gare descended on the Louga region to mount an awareness campaign with the objective of changing behaviour towards children.  It was led by Diodio Calloga, the coordinator of the project to improve the living conditions of talibé children, street children and children in vulnerable situations.  The choice of Louga was far from random as there are a great many daaras in the region with children living under vulnerable conditions that most people are unaware of.

A vigorous debate on the theme of the day ensued at the Serigne Sam Mbaye Cultural Center, after the theater troupe’s performance highlighting the problems that children face.  This rich day of teaching was also an opportunity for the project to donate mosquito nets, detergent, bowls, soap and milk to the daaras.  The initiative was welcomed by the spokesman of the national federation of daaras, Thierno Kâ, who acknowledged - with good reason - the efforts of the project organizers.  He declared that: ‘Coming to Louga, the project coordinator has involved us in all of the preparations to make this day of awareness a success.’

Even better, in the course of the day the ndéyous daaras, the marabouts and the other participants explored ways to change people's behavior towards children, so as to respect and reinforce the government’s decision to get begging children off the streets."

In Rosso, the initiative was welcomed by the city government.  Here is the report from Ndaractu:

"It was in the heart of the municipality of Rosso, Senegal, that the activities of the caravan dedicated to raising awareness and changing behavior towards children took place.  Deputy Mayor Abdou Diagne declared that children’s situation is generally acceptable, but the fact can’t be hidden that there are some who are in difficulty.  Welcoming the government’s decision to remove children from the streets, he asked everyone to behave responsibly towards these children while saying: 'Rosso is a transit zone where the authorities have taken all necessary steps stop those who want to harm children.'  The Deputy Mayor welcomed Maison de la Gare’s efforts and the support offered by ASC Daradji (the Sports and Cultural Association that welcomed us and organized the events in Rosso)."

The second series of campaigns, in August, focussed on the Kaolack region (Thiolongaane, Kaolack commune, Latmingue, Thiofyoor, Ndiaafat) and the third series in November on Fouta (Tarédji, Djoum, Guédé).  The choice of these regions was not arbitrary.  Indeed, we know that they are major sources of begging talibé street children.  Most of the children found living on the street in Saint Louis and returned to their communities of origin come from Saloum or Fouta.  These awareness sessions gave us the opportunity to make the people of these areas aware of what most begging talibé children must endure.  Using photographs and brochures, theatrical skits and questions and answers, we succeeded in focussing people’s attention in the villages where these children come from on the reality of their lives.  On the fact that children sent to learn the Koran are often victims of many types of abuse and exploitation.

The truth is that children sent to Saint Louis to study the Koran usually become victims of one of the worst forms of contemporary slavery, spending most of their time begging.

We learned a lot from these first awareness campaigns.  We plan to mount at least twelve new campaigns in 2017 and twelve more in 2018.  We will do everything in our power to help communities that entrust their children to Saint-Louis marabouts and daaras to understand the impact of their actions on their children, and to find better alternatives.

Children begging in the streets must stop!

Diodio addresses the crowds in Rosso
Diodio addresses the crowds in Rosso
Ndaractu, published July 28, 2016
Ndaractu, published July 28, 2016
Ndaractu, published July 29, 2016
Ndaractu, published July 29, 2016
Our team
Our team
An awareness session ... there is great interest!
An awareness session ... there is great interest!
Off to go door to door
Off to go door to door
A stop on the door-to-door campaign in Bokhol
A stop on the door-to-door campaign in Bokhol

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Organization Information

Maison de la Gare

Location: Saint Louis - Senegal
Website:
Project Leader:
Rod LeRoy
Saint Louis, Saint-Louis Senegal
$145,549 raised of $154,500 goal
 
1,872 donations
$8,951 to go
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