Jerejef logo painted on the wall of MDG's library
Lydie reports on the extraordinary contribution of Asociación Jerejef
They only stayed a week, but what a week!
When Amaia Alonso contacted us to say that she had seen Maison de la Gare's work and that her association would like to support us, we couldn't imagine how this proposal would mark the everyday life of the center and especially of the children.
The association's name, "Jerejef" (thank you in Wolof), could not have been more appropriate as we can't thank them enough for their physical, psychological and emotional support.
They arrived on a Monday morning like a hurricane, renewing the energy level in the center. After a brief meeting where the volunteers asked a thousand questions about the street children's situation, we defined the plan of work and distributed the tasks.
They got to work and involved everyone. There were fifteen of them, fifteen Spaniards working in the center; the word "solidarity" has never had more meaning. It was a bit difficult in the beginning because they were animated by a "toubab" approach but, in Senegal, things are more "nank nank" (gently). You have to know in Senegal how to pace yourself without getting stressed. The children got more and more curious as they saw the volunteers dig in and, as they love to feel needed, they were delighted to be able to help.
The infirmary was turned upside down and moved temporary into the entrance hall of the emergency shelter. Awa, the nurse, was blown away. Volunteers who treated the children did an extraordinary job; they cared for children from morning to night with tenderness and good humor, without flinching. The infirmary is one of the hardest places to work in the center; it is in healing their wounds, scabies and other ailments that you can really see the suffering that these children endure.
Most difficult and heart-wrenching for the volunteers was the "night round" they went on with Bathe, looking for runaway children. They were able to see the enormous work that Maison de la Gare is carrying our finding and taking charge of these children, bringing them to the security of the center's emergency dormitory. It is a very traumatic experience to see young children choosing to sleep in the streets where they are exposed to great danger, instead of returning to their daara for fear of being beaten.
Teachers Abdou and Aunt Aïda, and especially the children, were delighted to have improved lighting in the classrooms. I have to say that the volunteers were outstanding do-it-yourselfers! They repainted three workshop rooms with the children's help. The children left proud of themselves and a little stained with paint, but very happy.
The center was abuzz. There were toubabs everywhere hard at work with the children, and many friendships were born. The carpenter worked tirelessly side by side with one of the volunteers; they learned a lot from each other.
Imam went to Bango every day with two volunteers, to the property where the older talibé children are caring for a garden. The volunteers taught Imam how to grow the wormwood plant and to appreciate its qualities. The two women laughed a lot because Imam is a born comic, and I think that he found in them the aunts that all children should have close to them.
And, despite all the work that they did every day, each of the Spanish volunteers found time for children, to play football, to attempt Senegalese wrestling, to dance to the sound of the djembe, or just to talk with them ... although they did not speak the same language, they communicated easily with each other with the language of the heart.
It was an unforgettable week for the volunteers, the children and Maison de la Gare's staff, a week of solidarity, friendship, good humor and sharing. The day of the celebration organized for the volunteers was one that we will not soon forget. The children took charge. There were many of them at the center that day and they wanted to thank their friends for everything they had done, and to say goodbye to them. Everyone danced in groups to the sounds of the djembes and laughed together; the atmosphere was more than magical. There are no words to describe this moment.
Each member of the center's staff presented a diploma to the volunteer whom they had worked most closely with during the week. It was a surprise. People do not often show their emotions in Senegalese society but, that day, everyone shed a few tears. Awa came and snuggled in my arms to try to hide her emotion, trembling and weeping warm tears. She was overjoyed with the renewal of the infirmary, with all the medical supplies that the volunteers had brought, and especially with the new treatment table for the children.
The climactic moment was when the fire eater put on his show. The children's eyes were literally ready to pop out of their sockets; they could not open them more. They were stunned and motionless, normally an impossibility for them as anyone who knows them can tell you! We all had tears in our eyes. When you know what the lives of these children are like and have the chance to see them happy, if only for a moment, emotion runs very deeply.
No one wanted the evening to end; it was so beautiful and moving. But the children had to return to their daaras. Otherwise they would be punished. The hardest part was bursting the bubble of happiness and making them leave against their wishes.
Children kept talking about the toubabs and asking after them long after they left. When they look at the Jerejef logo on the wall or at the benches they painted together, there is a smile on their faces. These children do not forget; they are very grateful ...
Nurse Awa with donated medical supplies
Volunteers offer health care - temporary infirmary
Restoring one of the center's murals
Volunteers repair the library's thatched roof
Children gather for thank you celebration
... amazed by the fire-eater
The Jerejef team - Mission Accomplished!