Katia and Mila with children in the classroom
(This report was scheduled for publication in March 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything. We are sharing it with you now as vaccinations are spreading and travel is beginning to appear possible again. Volunteers play a vital role in our support for the begging talibé street children, and we hope others will be inspired to follow Mila and Katia’s example.)
Mila Giraudon and Katia Figura share their experience volunteering together
My mother and I have been fortunate to travel around the world and to discover many cultures, at times seeing extreme poverty. We have wanted for a long time to get involved in a humanitarian project together, although we didn’t know what this could be or how we would do it. We therefore left home with the simple purpose of helping, of making ourselves useful within this organization.
Maison de la Gare gave us an experience far beyond our expectations, much more than a simple "project". We were able to get a feeling for the life of the talibés in all its facets … their everyday lives on the streets, their rudimentary needs (washing their clothes and themselves) and learning the rules of life in society, but also their physical and emotional wounds and their precarious living conditions in their daaras.
What a wonderful feeling to see them smile and to make them forget, if only for a moment, their lives on the streets, through creative play activities, songs and lessons in French or mathematics.
My mother (a mother of two) and I (a 17-year-old high school student) lived this experience differently ... but we shared it fully, together.
We were very moved by these children who only ask to escape their difficult lives through their desire to learn, to discover, to create and to show their pride in their beautiful drawings and other creations.
On the last day of our stay Abdou, a child to whom I had taught notions of poetry, wrote me a very powerful poem. He announced to me that he had just been accepted in a high school in Saint Louis, the lifelong dream of this self-taught child. It was a moment of emotion and pride. I felt like I had contributed a little to a "better life" for a talibé child. Teaching children basic literacy and reintegrating them in society is one of the priority missions of volunteers and members of Maison de la Gare.
I will remember the day of my birthday as both unforgettable and overwhelming because, for the talibés, it is a day like any other. These young children stood in front of me, singing and dancing, but none of them understood the meaning of the word "birthday"; most do not even know their date of birth!
Carrying out a humanitarian project like this brought my mother and me a lot closer and enabled us to support each other during certain trying times. On the last day, we agreed to accompany Maison de la Gare’s night-rounds team. That night we needed each other to overcome the images of children sleeping on the ground in the unhealthy and dangerous bus terminal. Abandoned, often mistreated, they preferred to flee their daara or their family, and they found shelter for the night at Maison de la Gare. The next morning, everything is set in motion to find the children’s families and to understand what could have pushed them to put themselves in such danger.
During these few days shared with the talibés, we became aware of the fundamental role of NGOs like Maison de la Gare that work night and day for the well-being of these neglected children. Beyond what we were able to do ourselves, it is Maison de la Gare’s values and its people that will always remain etched in our memories.
Our host Mama Touty was truly a welcoming "mother"; heart in hand, she welcomed us as her children.
We were the first mother-daughter duo to live this unforgettable experience and we warmly thank Maison de la Gare and everyone who is a part of it.
Mila treats the foot wound of an older talibe
Mila with her art class
Mila tutors Buaro, our karate leader
Katia helps a talibe student
Katia and Mila, very moved by a visit to a daara
Mila leading games in the courtyard of MDG center
A moment of celebration with MDG staff members