Children
 Senegal
Project #10053

Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal

by Maison de la Gare
Our raison d
Our raison d'etre

A first-ever comprehensive census answers the question,
“Who are the talibé children?”

Baye Ndaraw Diop was for many years the director of the Saint-Louis office of Educational Action in Open Environments (AEMO), the Ministry of Justice’s agency that deals with talibé street children.  Following his retirement from this role in 2015, Mr. Diop joined Maison de la Gare to lead our vastly expanded efforts to find, take charge of, return and follow-up on children living in the streets.  He shares with us here his understanding of the “talibé” phenomenon, as well as the results of the first complete census of these children, which he led.

"Senegal’s first school was established in Saint Louis in 1857.  Since then, the government has made continuing efforts to increase the number of schools and the quality of educational infrastructure.

Saint Louis is also one of the gateways of the Muslim religion.  With the arrival of Islam, Koranic schools (daaras) were established in almost all the districts of the city.  Since that beginning, the Koranic masters (marabouts) have continued to migrate to Saint Louis with their talibé "students" and to settle in provisional shelters and houses under construction.  Understandably, the presence of thousands of young talibés has become a major concern for the community and for local authorities.

It’s important to remember that, along with the family, French and Koranic schools play a central role in children’s education, allowing the acquisition of knowledge in many areas of life.  Such French and Koranic teaching thus enjoys great prestige, and every parent has the freedom to choose the type of education that they wish for their children.

However, the overwhelming presence of the talibés accompanying their marabouts poses serious problems for the care of these children.  Despite the strong tradition of hospitality of the people of Saint Louis, with their system of helping particular talibé children as informal Godparents, unfortunately child begging has taken on very worrying proportions.

Mostly under 15 years of age, these begging children are very poor and live in extremely precarious circumstances. Often cruelly exploited, many are victims of child trafficking, sexual abuse and many other forms of maltreatment.

The number of children (talibés and other street children) involved in begging in the city of Saint Louis is very hard to estimate because of the clandestine nature of this phenomenon and the different situations and forms in which it develops.   Trafficked children in Saint-Louis are mainly begging talibés who are particularly vulnerable because they are exposed to physical and psychological abuse, emotional shock, sexual violence and trauma of all kinds, and most of them are separated from their parents.

The purpose of this census was to catalogue ALL of the daaras in the commune of Saint-Louis.  For each daara, we obtained the marabout's name and contact information along with the number of talibé children in the daara and their status (internal - living in the daara, or external - living with their family). 

We can't truly make progress on improving the lives of talibé children, much less eliminating the phenomenon of begging children, if we do not know the basic facts about the Koranic schools and the begging street children.  This is why it was so critical for Maison de la Gare to carry out this census.

The work was carried out by a team of ten field investigators supported by five marabout-facilitators and five supervisors.  Some problems were encountered with marabouts who did not want to collaborate on the pretext that they been abused by investigators in the past.  With the help of meetings between facilitators and the marabouts, it was possible to iron out most of these problems.  In the end, 187 of the 197 daaras identified as having begging talibé children, 95% of the total, collaborated in providing census information.

The result of this census is that the number of begging talibé street children in Saint-Louis is fourteen thousand, seven hundred and seventy-nine (14,779).

The talibé children are very young, typically between 5 and 17 years old, with an average age of around 12 years. The vast majority of talibé children do not originate from the Saint-Louis region, coming instead from other regions and neighboring countries.

Our field investigators saw again and again in their visits how the talibés live in very precarious housing and hygiene conditions with inadequate nutrition, and how the marabouts who act as their guardians subject these children to forms of extreme maltreatment, neglect and exploitation.

The results of this census have provided us with much improved knowledge of the daaras of Saint Louis and of the talibé children's living conditions, a critical starting point for appropriate measures to improve the lives of these unfortunate children."

____

We are grateful to all of our donors on GlobalGiving and elsewhere who are making it possible for us to tackle the challenge of talibé begging in a way that can bring about real and permanent change.  Thank you for your interest and for your support.

Ndaraw gains collaboration of grand marabouts
Ndaraw gains collaboration of grand marabouts
The wages of misery
The wages of misery
Ndaraw explains the census plan to the marabouts
Ndaraw explains the census plan to the marabouts
This must end
This must end

Links:

Proud participants in karate award ceremony
Proud participants in karate award ceremony

Talibé youth celebrate what they have achieved

On a recent Thursday afternoon, visitors to Maison de la Gare's center were greeted by an astonishing sight.  The sand which covers the open spaces in the center was covered with bright blue and green interlocking foam mats.  And twenty very confident looking martial artists in smart white kimonos were arrayed on the mats.  Over a dozen talibé karate students, several sensei (karate masters) and a long-term volunteer (Mame Diarra) demonstrated karate sequences and combat moves under the watchful eyes of a crowd of talibé children and others from the local community. 

The students and their supporters were addressed by the representative of the Ministry of Youth and Sport, the president of the Saint Louis karate league, Issa and Noël of Maison de la Gare and, finally, by Ignéty, their trainer at Sor-Karaté.  The dignitaries and the talibés' mentors remarked in their speeches on how important a gift karate has been to the children.  They pointed out that the evidence was clear; karate has helped them to develop, along with their martial arts skills, discipline, leadership and confidence ... amazing accomplishments for talibé street children.

And then the crowning moment ... the awarding of new belts earned by seven of these students: yellow belts for El Hadji, Tidiane and Mame Diarra, orange belts for Souleymane and Mamadou K., and green belts for Oumar and Mamadou B.

This ceremony was the culmination of twenty amazing months since karate was first introduced to the talibé children of Maison de la Gare by Robbie and his mother Sonia (please click on this link to learn more about this story).  Sonia shares here some of her experiences with these youth a few weeks before the award ceremony:

"Knowing that this day there would be a karate class at the center, I was apprehensive because it is so hot and humid.  I don't do well in the heat. But, I DO do well with inspiration.  So, when the talibés put on their gi (the karate kimono), so did I.  Apparently the word got around that I would be helping with karate at the center, and many extra talibés gathered along the walls to watch.  There was much giggling and pointing whenever I kiaied (kiai is a traditional karate shout).

Two new students joined the morning class.  They had been waiting to join since my previous visit, but none of the unclaimed gi at Maison de la Gare fit them.  Happily, I had two more perfect for the job in my luggage.

Souleymane led the warm up before the sensei from Sor-Karaté took over.  Then, at the end of class Souleymane and I demonstrated a few intermediate katas for the class, to the delight of our little fan club.

When my son, Robbie, first began the karate program at Maison de la Gare, Souleymane was shy but curious about this karate business.  Today, Souleymane is a leader of Maison de la Gare's karate program and he is competing for the Sor-Karaté dojo where 27 talibés are now registered.  He warms up the class at the center with confidence and skill.  As we prepare to demonstrate his tournament kata together, his shyness returns, only to be replaced by pride as we complete the kata, nicely in sync.  Robbie would be proud to see this.

Souleymane helped me make a list of the morning students attending lessons regularly at the center whom he felt were ready for the dojo, and who wanted to join.  Many had been hopefully waiting since my previous visit for their chance to become a "dojo talibé".

As we gathered to walk to the dojo for the evening class, it became apparent the evening meal at Maison de la Gare would not be ready in time for the kids who needed to arrive early to be registered.  I could see the concern build as stomachs growled; then awareness settled in that this chance of becoming part of something wonderful could not be missed.  So, we went with Souleymane leading five hungry talibés.  Souleymane helped get the new kids oriented at the dojo, and then they lined up nervously for registration.  I guaranteed payment of their fees, knowing generous karate families back home at my own dojo in Ottawa would be willing to help.

Karate has transformed these kids.  Or, more likely, it has brought out their best selves.  They are developing an important and respected skill.  They belong to something not many people are part of.  They feel special, and they understand the opportunity.  Another thing that struck me as I watched was the equality in the room.  Talibés practiced alongside kids from regular families, families that could afford these fees.  Everyone wears the same uniform in the dojo.  There are no begging street kids in this class, just martial artists.

No wonder kids who beg to survive are willing to forgo a meal for this. For them, karate is a chance at really living."

Without a doubt, many more award ceremonies lie in the future for these remarkable youth.

MDG karate students prepare to show their stuff
MDG karate students prepare to show their stuff
White belts demonstrate their katas
White belts demonstrate their katas
Mamadou receives his new orange belt
Mamadou receives his new orange belt
Students with proud new belt holders
Students with proud new belt holders
Sonia, now a brown belt, leading class in the heat
Sonia, now a brown belt, leading class in the heat

Links:

2010 - Rod with talibes and their marabout
2010 - Rod with talibes and their marabout

Maison de la Gare’s development has been a team effort.  A group of dedicated Senegalese, inspired and led by Issa Kouyaté, has received support over the years from committed international partners who have made crucial contributions.  Issa asked Bintou Niang, a communication intern from Saint Louis’ Gaston Berger University, to interview one of these partners, and he added his own words.

______________

Rod LeRoy met Issa Kouyaté on a trip to Senegal in 2008, where he was visiting his youngest daughter, Lisa, who was teaching French in the old railway station as a volunteer.  Issa headed an organization dedicated to improving the lives of vulnerable children.  As the head of a charitable foundation in Canada, Rod quickly joined forces with Issa and his team of ten young Senegalese who were working to help talibé children find a way out of their ordeal.

With the loss of the station a few months later, it was urgent to find a new site for welcoming the talibés, a site that would become the Maison de la Gare of today.  Issa and Rod committed themselves to finding a way forward.  Thanks to his experience, and partners in Canada and elsewhere, Rod managed to secure funding to make it possible to meet the challenges that Issa and his team were facing.  Thus, Maison de la Gare's welcome center was launched as a haven where vulnerable children could be safe and have opportunities to improve their lives.  This center now has classrooms, a computer room, a library, an infirmary, an emergency shelter and, more recently, an agricultural apprenticeship program which has been launched in nearby Bango.

Rod spoke to us about his vision for the organization, with his most heartfelt goal being to reduce the number of begging children.  Rod echoed Issa's vision of informing and educating parents about the dangers their children face on the streets when they are entrusted to distant marabouts.  Rod deplores that these Koranic teachers do not provide food for the children and that they do not hesitate to beat them.  These marabouts demand that the children pay them a daily quota of money.

Concerning Maison de la Gare itself, Rod believes that great progress has been made little by little and that staff members are sincerely committed to the organization's vision.  The children served by the center are benefiting very much from the education and support that they receive.

Rod shared several anecdotes about what he has learned from Maison de la Gare, in particular about Arouna Kandé, whose situation has touched him deeply.  Arouna was entrusted to a marabout at a young age and was savagely beaten.   Arouna still has no identity papers, but Issa managed to enroll him in formal schooling where, in spite of many obstacles, he has succeeded very well.

Rod also spoke about Senegalese president Macky Sall's recent decision to order an end to organized child begging.  Rod feels this is a decision to be encouraged and supported.  It is important that the state accept responsibility for this situation.  There are enormous numbers of talibés at risk in Senegal.  We recently carried out a census in Saint Louis and counted more than 14,700 begging talibé children.

Issa adds his reflections: "I met Rod through his daughter, Lisa, who was volunteering in a local preschool.

What I would like to say about Rod could not be covered in a single book.  It would take volumes and volumes to adequately describe this person with his natural talents enriched by his life experience.  I was really lucky to meet him just when I was ready to return to my hometown, Dakar,  to start my life again there.  Just to say that, in life, nothing happens by chance.

People say that life is divided into three parts: work, leisure and sleep.  I can assure you, however, that Rod has only two lives: work and work.  Understand what I'm saying.  We had a discussion about this "risky" project, as he said.  As I explained to him my vision of establishing a welcome center for the talibé children, he was already writing down my ideas in a notebook.  From this, Maison de la Gare has become an oasis for all of the children who feel menaced by society.

Beyond this, Maison de la Gare has become an international focal point, and we owe it to this man whose appeal I have trouble expressing.  We have worked together since 2008 on concrete projects to make it possible for vulnerable children to have healthy and stable lives.  We have been able to stabilize the lives of thousands of children from disadvantaged families, to combat child begging and exploitation, to return children to their families in the most remote regions, and to integrate young people into professional occupations so that they can become independent.

There are so many other projects I've put together with Rod, but the most important thing I've learned from him is to never get discouraged.  I have sacrificed much of my life for the cause of abused talibé children, and Rod has really understood what has been driving me.  We cannot thank him enough for all he and his family have done.  At the very least we can share his thoughts and generosity with the rest of the world.  I know that a day will come, and that day will be ours, when all children will be fully considered as children.  A day when parents will accept responsibility for their own children, and when justice will convince society of the danger of exploiting children.  A day when society will demand that authorities enforce the laws.

I say Thank You to Rod, to his family and to all the communities that have so generously helped Maison de la Gare to become the effective force that it is in supporting talibé children at risk."
____________

Maison de la Gare is only able to continue its work for the begging talibé children thanks to the commitment and support of every one of our partners and donors.  Thank you for your contributions that make it possible.

2008 - Lisa playing with talibes in old station
2008 - Lisa playing with talibes in old station
2014 - Issa and Rod at site of emergency shelter
2014 - Issa and Rod at site of emergency shelter
2015 - Meeting of MDG
2015 - Meeting of MDG's Board of Directors
2016 - Rod and Issa at Bango agricultural property
2016 - Rod and Issa at Bango agricultural property

Links:

NODETA volunteers, proud of a job well done
NODETA volunteers, proud of a job well done

A New Start for Talibé Children

Most residents of Senegal have lived near begging talibés all their lives.  And, to many, the talibés are just part of life, not thought of as individual children with human rights, hopes or dreams.  But this summer that all changed for a group of one hundred and thirty-five local university and high school volunteers in the city of Saint-Louis.

NODETA (Nouveau départ pour les enfants talibés) is a student led volunteer organization with the objective of involving all stakeholders in finding a solution for Senegal's notorious talibé issue.  Rose M'Baye and Boubacar Diallo, NODETA's coordinators, are Senegalese students who have just graduated from the University of Rochester in New York.  Returning to Saint-Louis after having secured a grant from the US embassy in Dakar, Rose and Boubacar partnered NODETA with Maison de la Gare to work with talibé children, parents of talibés, marabouts, the government and local community members to raise awareness about the talibé situation and to improve their conditions.  This summer NODETA's second campaign was launched, lasting six weeks.

The local volunteers were divided into groups of approximately twenty-five, each having a team leader.  The volunteer teams went door to door in the community, fundraising and obtaining donations of clothing, shoes, mattresses, mosquito nets and other supplies for the talibés.  Nearly 500,000 francs were collected (about $800 US) along with over seven hundred items of clothing and materials and cleaning supplies to help improve living conditions in some daaras.  The money was used to renovate four particularly run down daaras.  The groups visited twenty daaras to distribute donations of supplies.  The community fundraising and many daara visits led the volunteers to many parts of Saint Louis that they had never before seen.

Through working with the marabouts, the volunteers soon came to learn that many of them do not always act in the best interests of the children.  Marabouts would often try to deflect attention from evidence of abusive conditions suffered by the talibés under their "care".  Or, they would try to extract a personal benefit.  The volunteers found they had to use diplomacy in order to facilitate discussions with marabouts.  Even then, they were sometimes discouraged that some marabouts would fail to take advantage of the improvements offered for the talibés, if it gave them no personal benefit.

Another plank of the NODETA program was vocational training.  Over the course of the campaign, forty-three talibé children received training in gardening, recycling, and pottery.  Rose noted that many more children could have benefited from vocational training if their marabouts had been more willing to cooperate.

The NODETA students also surveyed one hundred and fifty people in the Saint Louis area to learn about their attitudes toward talibés, forced begging and the daaras that control these children.  The survey results provided some important insights into the talibé situation in Senegal.  Some people refuse to help talibés, thinking of them as bandits or thieves.  Others do not consider talibés to be their responsibility as many of the children are foreigners, trafficked from other countries.  It was clear that talibés are thought of as different, apart from Senegalese society.  Talibés are defined by many as beggars and not as children.

But, for NODETA volunteers, these attitudes have been forever altered.  Having learned who the talibés are, where they come from and how they really live, the students' eyes have been opened.  Talibé children are now seen by these young agents of change as who they really are, as children with all the same needs, dreams and potential of any other children.  The students all feel that a sense of individual responsibility toward the talibés has been awakened in them. In the words of one team leader, El Hadj Malick Wade, "We must make the choice ... between what is right and what is easy."

If this grassroots movement of young, educated people is any indication, then positive change, indeed, must certainly lie ahead for the talibé children of Senegal.

______________

We express our sincere thanks to the American embassy in Dakar for their financial support which made NODETA 2016 possible, and to all of our generous donors on GlobalGiving who support Maison de la Gare's work for the talibé children every day.

A volunteer reads with children in the library
A volunteer reads with children in the library
Volunteers distribute clothes and gifts in a daara
Volunteers distribute clothes and gifts in a daara
A volunteer and his student with pottery creation
A volunteer and his student with pottery creation
Major clean-up of a Saint Louis daara
Major clean-up of a Saint Louis daara
Volunteers make major renovations in some daaras
Volunteers make major renovations in some daaras
Rose and Issa answer press questions about NODETA
Rose and Issa answer press questions about NODETA
NODETA
NODETA's slogan

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Teacher Abdou leading singsong in MDG center
Teacher Abdou leading singsong in MDG center

Dear friends of Maison de la Gare,

With your help, we have made enormous strides in improving the lives of the begging talibé street children.  Earlier this year we carried out a full census of the daaras of Saint-Louis, the first time that this has been done.  The astonishing result ... 12,528 boys living in 187 daaras under abysmal conditions and begging in order to support themselves and their marabouts!

Over 1,000 of these boys visit our center each month, taking basic literacy classes, exploring arts and crafts, learning rudimentary computer skills, playing soccer, learning karate and, in general, having a chance to play and to be children.  Our nurses treat over 300 of these boys each month in our infirmary.  So far this year close to 300 boys whom we have found sleeping in the streets have passed through our emergency shelter as we worked to reintegrate them into their daaras or their families in their home communities.

But what happens to the older boys?  For many, they aspire to become marabouts themselves, the main adult role model they have known.  Others, unable to read or write and with no marketable skills, drift into marginal lives in the streets.  We are striving to help them find better ways.  For the younger boys, education offers a way forward.  But, for the older boys it is harder.  We have taught tailoring skills and, since last year, have offered a basic agricultural apprenticeship opportunity at our new property in Bango for up to 25 boys at a time. 

Our objective at Bango is to prepare the boys to become autonomous over a period of one to two years, for reintegration into their home communities or elsewhere.  Their response has been enthusiastic.  As they have become more familiar with what is possible, our ideas about how to organize the project have evolved.  We have divided the property into seven sections with one older talibé responsible for each.  Each of these leaders has several younger talibés working with him.  This seems to be working very well as it gives each child a clear idea of what they are accomplishing and also provides a certain competition among the boys which is motivating for them.  They are growing and selling avocado, basil, papaya, citronella (used for tea), mint, peppers. mango, okra, oranges, hibiscus (the flowers of which are used to produce the popular Senegalese drink Bissap), tomatoes, guava, plums and bananas.

We want to expand these opportunities, and have identified two new properties to do this.  One, close to Bango, will be for raising poultry.  This has the potential to greatly increase the revenues from these apprenticeship programs and to provide the boys with very valuable additional skills.  The second property is about 10 km from Saint Louis and is well suited to growing bananas, which have been very successful in our Bango property but consume much available space as they grow.  We have defined a project which would involve about 40 boys and should be fully self-supporting after the first year.

You can help us to kick off these new projects.  Tomorrow, Tuesday November 29th, is GivingTuesday and, starting in the US at 12:01 a.m. Washington time, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will add 50% to your donation.  Matching in the UK starts at 12:01 a.m. London time.

This the perfect opportunity to renew your support.  Please donate early in the day, while matching funds are still available.  Thank you.

Kalidou learning to sew at Maison de la Gare
Kalidou learning to sew at Maison de la Gare
A corner of MDG
A corner of MDG's Bango agricultural property
Arouna and Imam drawing water for the garden
Arouna and Imam drawing water for the garden
Issa proudly showing off new tomatoes at Bango
Issa proudly showing off new tomatoes at Bango
Mamadou with thriving Bango banana trees
Mamadou with thriving Bango banana trees
 

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Organization Information

Maison de la Gare

Location: Saint Louis - Senegal
Website: http:/​/​www.mdgsl.com/​eng.html
Project Leader:
Rod LeRoy
Saint Louis, Saint-Louis Senegal
$65,361 raised of $69,900 goal
 
783 donations
$4,539 to go
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