Children
 Senegal
Project #10053

Hope for begging talibe children, St-Louis Senegal

by Maison de la Gare
Vetted
Issa with (l to r) Ben, Rose, Eyram, Mame Coumba
Issa with (l to r) Ben, Rose, Eyram, Mame Coumba

Fostering Understanding and Stopping Abuse - Davis Projects for Peace fellows make a difference

Four African students at the University of Rochester, New York were selected in early 2015 to receive the Davis Prize for Peace. Rose Mbaye had witnessed first-hand in her hometown of Dakar the extreme physical abuse and social marginalization of the begging talibé street children. She shared her determination to do something about this problem with her teammates at Rochester U., Mame Coumba Mbodji from Senegal, Zanga Ben Ouattara from Burkina Faso and Eyram Adedze from Ghana and, together, they received this prestigious award.

 Rose reports that the group contacted several Senegalese organizations working with the talibé street children, seeking both to understand the issues better and to identify a partner whom they could work with to effect change in a short-term project. They selected Issa Kouyaté and Maison de la Gare. From Issa's point of view, "We had discussions about the feasibility of this project over three long months. I shared the experience and ideas that have made Maison de la Gare what it is, working in close collaboration with our partners and with the world around us. And I expressed my conviction that, to succeed in this work, Maison de la Gare must work hand in hand with civil society and all of the organizations that work for the protection of children."

The main goals of the project were to promote awareness of the exploitation, abuse and stigmatization of the talibé children, and to collaborate with different local stakeholders to improve the conditions of material, educational and psychological deprivation in which these children live. The aim was not only to promote empathy but also to engage the children themselves, parents, spiritual leaders, youth service organizations, educators, public officials and ordinary citizens to take action for the betterment both of the children them and of society at large.

The project lasted from July 31 to August 26, 2015, and the team was assisted by 45 Senegalese volunteers, mostly university students, who had been recruited a few weeks earlier.

The activities planned during the four weeks included visits and clean-up of seven of the daaras where the boys live, renovation of three of those daaras, providing 18 vocational training workshops in gardening, pottery and artistic recycling, organizing eight collections of clothes, shoes, soaps, etc. in different locations around Saint Louis, and organizing awareness campaigns in three different communities. The volunteers also led French, English and basic computing classes as well as other educational and sports activities in Maison de la Gare's center. Volunteers were organized into four groups, and each of these worked in turn on each of the activities. This provided all of the volunteers with the opportunity to have an all-round experience of the project, and this contributed to maintaining their interest and commitment so that over 90% of them stayed for the full four weeks.

The activities were all a great success, and their completion was even more satisfying. Rose, Ben, Mame Coumba and Eyram received positive feedback about the project from marabouts, parents, the local media and other organizers. Over 500 talibé children were touched by the programs at Maison de la Gare's center and in their daaras. And the awareness campaign sensitized over 300 other stakeholders to the phenomenon of forced child begging, child abuse and the associated stigmatization.

On their return to university, Eyram, Rose, Mame Coumba and Ben summarized what they had learned:

"Through the conversations that we have had with different classes of Senegalese people on the issue of the talibés, it has become clear that it is human nature to refuse to take responsibility for social injustice. Fingers are always pointed at the government as the agent to rectify this issue. These conversations pushed us to think about our complicity in this system; we can't help but wonder how much responsibility we have refused to take on different issues in our lives and the lives of people around us.

This project reminded us that it is essential to take charge of the challenges we face in our lives. It takes a dedicated mind and heart to tackle a problem as complex as the exploitation and abuse of child beggars in Senegal. However, we believe that an idea, no matter how small, can make a significant impact if properly empowered. We must never underestimate the power of collaboration for a noble collective purpose, as the satisfaction one gets from addressing social injustice is worth more than a thousand words."

As for Issa, he summarized the project this way: "This project gelled quickly around all of the people involved ... Maison de la Gare, university students, talibé children, Quranic teachers and the authorities. Thus was born 'A New Beginning for the Talibé Children.'"

Project logo
Project logo
Planning the opening ceremony with Issa
Planning the opening ceremony with Issa
Opening ceremony in Maison de la Gare
Opening ceremony in Maison de la Gare's center
What it
What it's all about
Senegalese volunteers, ready to go
Senegalese volunteers, ready to go
An event in the population awareness campaign
An event in the population awareness campaign
Issa and Rose present award at closing ceremony
Issa and Rose present award at closing ceremony
Where it all began - winners of Davis fellowship
Where it all began - winners of Davis fellowship

Links:

Liem with talibe friends in MDG center
Liem with talibe friends in MDG center

Liem reflects on his two months with Maison de la Gare

Senegal can be a bit of an overwhelming place at times.  My morning walk from my homestay to Maison de la Gare’s center was an experience in itself.  The cacophony of sounds that fills the air is unlike any place I’ve ever been: the high-pitched honks of taxis trying to attract customers, the loud voices of chatting Senegalese women as they tend to their mango stands next to the road, enthusiastic vendors holding out souvenirs for sale and greeting you with an over-the-top, “Hello, my friend!!”, and little children yelling, “Bonjour, Toubab!” as they pass you on the sidewalk, pointing and giggling at your sun-burnt, sweat-covered skin.  "Car rapides" whiz by, so filled with passengers that young men hang off of the back, holding on for dear life.  It’s always a trip riding them - the buses have been aptly nicknamed “s’en fout la mort” – French for “don’t care about death”.

And, of course, wherever you are in the city of Saint Louis you will hear the call to prayers and sermons broadcasted in Arabic from the loudspeaker of the nearest mosque.  At this point, we’ve already heard four different languages on our walk – Wolof, French, Arabic, and English.  This is what makes Senegal so unique; the influences of French colonization, strong Islamic traditions and a tribal history have combined to create a complex and rich culture unlike any other.  For me, throwing myself into this completely new and complicated environment was extremely fascinating but also difficult at first.  Difficult because I really did not understand the culture when I arrived, and this meant I committed a lot of embarrassing and awkward faux pas, leaving me feeling a little bit out of place.

Maison de la Gare, however, was a place that I always felt at home – as it is for many talibés as well.  Part of it was the appearance of the center.  One can’t help but feel calm and relaxed sitting in the center’s quiet garden with its banana trees and grape vines, looking out at the colorful murals that cover the surrounding walls.  But, in addition to the garden, it was the people of Maison de la Gare who made me feel welcome and comfortable there from day one, regardless of the cultural mistakes I made.

The first morning, and every morning after, I was greeted by smiles and handshakes from everyone at the center.  I was accepted.  Then, it was the work I did that began to give me confidence and a real sense of purpose.  One of Maison de la Gare’s staff members, Noël Coly, immediately showed me how to take attendance electronically as the talibé children arrived at the center each morning.  With over 100 boys showing up daily, this was a great way to meet them and learn their names.

Other days I spent my mornings working individually with older talibé children who wanted to improve their English, French, or math skills.  These sessions were really helpful because, for every word I taught in English or French, the boys would teach me the word in Wolof.  Besides being helpful for my Wolof ability though, working with the boys was a very inspiring experience.  As I learned more about their stories, I was continually blown away by the motivation and character they possess despite their harsh circumstances.  One student named Abou would walk for two hours to get to the center every day, waking up at 4:00 am to fulfill his responsibilities at his daara before leaving.  There were many other stories like this one.  They humbled me and motivated me to work even harder, while reminding me why I had come there.

In the evenings I would return to the center for the nightly language classes.  I began working with Omar, a Peace Corps volunteer who led English classes for the older talibés (15 to 20 years old).  Our classes began at 6:30 p.m. and, because it was Ramadan, went until Ndogou at 7:30 p.m. – the time to break the fast.  The boys, despite not eating or drinking anything for 13 hours, were always positive, driven and focused during class, always wanting to learn more and asking questions.

When I arrived, I was nervous about teaching.  I had never taught a language before, and I had no credentials or certification.  When I started, my limited Wolof speaking ability made it sometimes hard to explain words or phrases.  But I was lucky to have Kalidou in my class, a talibé who spoke some English.  Kalidou was a translator, a teacher and a student, all at the same time – acting as a middleman between the boys and me whenever we had trouble understanding each other.  Over time, I learned some Wolof too.  The boys found it very amusing and entertaining when I would attempt to explain things using the Wolof words I knew.  Although embarrassing, using my Wolof brought me closer to the boys and erased a wall that could have developed between us.

Outside of the classes and work, I spent a lot of time at the center just having fun and talking to people.  Playing ping pong with Bathe and Abdou.  Finding a pizza place with Diodio and Issa.  Talking about school with Arouna.  Playing soccer video games at the local arcade with Kalidou and Samba.  Having these strong friendships gave me people to share my experiences with, making it slightly more bearable to deal with some of the sad and challenging aspects of working with the talibés.

I came to Senegal expecting to discover a new culture, gain experience teaching, improve my French and support a cause that was bigger than me.  Looking back on it, I gained so much more.  It sounds cliché, but being in Senegal changed me in a way.  Before coming to West Africa I, like many Americans, had little understanding of how the non-Western world works and struggles.  Being exposed to a different way of life and the realities of living in a developing country made me reflect and reconsider many aspects of my life at home.

There were cultural differences that I just couldn’t figure out when I first arrived, but over time they really became endearing.  Now that I’m back in the US, I kind of miss being able to eat rice with my hands and greeting people Senegalese-style every morning.

But more than anything, I miss people and relationships.  With Facebook I chat regularly with the boys and staff members to stay in touch, but it does make me sad to think that I may never see some of them again.

When I came back to the US, people often asked me, “Was it a good experience?”. It’s kind of a complicated question, and at first I had trouble determining what “good” really meant to me.  I’ve had some time to reflect on everything though, to put into words how I feel.  Now, I always respond, “It was challenging and difficult at times, but it was extremely rewarding”.

On the beach with Arouna and Abdou
On the beach with Arouna and Abdou
With Samba, who often helped register arrivals
With Samba, who often helped register arrivals
Liem corrects Issa
Liem corrects Issa's short story, Kalidou watches
With Assana, who always asked for more work!
With Assana, who always asked for more work!
Liem with host brothers Maniang (left) and Babacar
Liem with host brothers Maniang (left) and Babacar
Some of the hardest workers, who became friends
Some of the hardest workers, who became friends
With Abou, who walked 2 hours each day to class
With Abou, who walked 2 hours each day to class

Links:

Issa reading to talibe children by MDG library
Issa reading to talibe children by MDG library

RIGHT NOW is the perfect time to renew your support for the begging talibé street children!!

Maison de la Gare made its debut on GlobalGiving in April 2012 and, with your support, earned a permanent listing the next month.  Since this beginning, a total of 364 individuals have made donations in support of our programs for the talibé street children.  We are particularly grateful that eight of these people have become  recurring donors, making contributions each month.  However, most donors have contributed a single time.

TODAY, Wednesday September 16th, is the perfect time to renew your support of our work.  Starting at 9:00 a.m. Washington time this morning, GlobalGiving will match all of your donations at 30%, to a maximum of $1,000 or until the allotted funds have been fully committed. 

Your donations are making an incredible difference in children's lives.  The photos below give a flavour of our activities for them.  With your help, over 700 children are participating in our programs each month.  When you meet these children in our center, it is hard to believe the cruel lives that they live.  They live in "daaras", sleeping on the ground or on mats, often without shelter and with no access to running water or toilets.  Some are as young as three or four years old, and many do not see or have contact with their families for years.

But, when they come to Maison de la Gare they can discover what it means to be children and to have excitement and hope for the future.  Our nurses care for their many wounds and illnesses, the results of living in filthy conditions and passing their days in the streets in bare feet and without supervision.  In our center the children learn basic hygiene - how to care for their teeth, their clothing and their bodies.  Each morning finds dozens of them in the centre using the showers and washing their clothes. 

Many participate in basic French and math literacy classes, under the guidance of our dedicated teachers and volunteers.  Some are registered in formal schooling, becoming themselves beacons of hope for the younger children.  For others, Maison de la Gare's apprenticeship programs become the path to a productive life, teaching them tailoring or basic agricultural skills.  All of the children love the beautiful game, soccer, and lose themselves totally in the regular tournaments that we organize.  Excursions outside of Saint Louis give them a chance to see for the first time something of the real Africa.  In the nights, our team scours the streets for talibé children who have run from their cruel situations and, thanks to our new emergency shelter, cares for them as they heal and find a secure living arrangement.

None of this would be possible without your financial support.  Please take advantage of this Bonus Day to renew your commitment to these children.  Thank you.

MDG
MDG's centre, welcoming 700 children each month
Teacher Aida introduces street children to French
Teacher Aida introduces street children to French
A talibe child intensely committed to learning
A talibe child intensely committed to learning
Soccer is a wonderful interlude in the boys
Soccer is a wonderful interlude in the boys' lives
Kalidou - apprenticeship programs promise a future
Kalidou - apprenticeship programs promise a future
Street children discover a book for the first time
Street children discover a book for the first time
Children committed to the center
Children committed to the center's garden oasis
Mamadou and other talibes have become leaders
Mamadou and other talibes have become leaders
Excursions teach about Africa beyond cruel streets
Excursions teach about Africa beyond cruel streets

Links:

Gallo and Malick at MDG center, the next day
Gallo and Malick at MDG center, the next day

Three talibé children who ran from their daaras

Night rounds, and rescue - By day the neighbourhood of Langue de Barbarie, across the bridge from the island of Saint Louis, is bustling with activity.  The streets are filled with merchants, fishermen and their families, livestock, cars and horse-drawn carts and carriages.  But by night, the streets of Langue de Barbarie are quiet and dark.  Only a few lights remain on in the houses densely packed along the roadsides.  It was into this silence at 1:00 a.m. in the morning that I went with Issa Kouyaté, the president of Maison de la Gare, and his close associate Idrissa Diallo of Univers de l'enfant on a night walk in the search for runaway talibé children. 

Issa estimates that, on any given night, there are a hundred runaway talibé children sleeping on the streets of Saint Louis.  The reasons that the boys run away are numerous and complex.  It could be that they had not managed to meet their daily begging quota and were afraid of the repercussions from their marabouts (Quranic teachers), or that they were running from physical abuse in their daara.

On this particular night (and, sadly, on most nights) runaways were not difficult to find.  Early on our night walk, Issa and Idrissa found two boys huddled and sleeping in a small enclosure under a tarpaulin on the side of one of the streets.

The boys, 7 or 8 years old, wouldn’t move.  Issa gently pulled the first boy, Gallo, out of the enclosure.  Gallo was very surprised to be woken up in the night, but said very little.  The second boy, Rasoul, screamed loudly when Issa tried to retrieve him (I learned later that he was afraid of being returned to his daara).  Within seconds the street came alive with about twenty neighbours surrounding the scene, yelling and demanding to know what Issa and Idrissa were up to.  For myself as an observer not speaking much Wolof, it was a very tense scene.  I can only imagine how frightening the whole incident must have been to the two boys.

Issa and Idrissa explained what they were doing, and the crowd eventually dispersed and returned to their homes.  Issa and Idrissa reassured Gallo and Rasoul that they were not going to return them to their daaras and that they would bring them somewhere safe to sleep and eat.  Barefoot and in silent obedience, the boys walked back to Issa’s apartment through the again deserted streets.

Rasoul, Gallo and Malick- Arriving at Issa’s apartment, Rasoul and Gallo each chose a mattress and went immediately to sleep.  There was another young boy there named Malick who was already asleep.  Malick, approximately 6 years old, had been sleeping on the street for a week when someone brought him to Maison de la Gare.  The marabouts are required to contact the Ministry of Justice as soon as a child goes missing.  However, this is rarely done by marabouts who are aware they are mistreating the children and want to avoid investigation.

The next morning Rasoul, Gallo and Malick received new clothes at Maison de la Gare's center and then were brought to the AEMO office (Educational Action in Open Environments) of the Ministry of Justice to be registered and to begin inquiries into their cases.

Rasoul, we learned, came from Fouta in northern Senegal.   His parents were contacted after his daara had been identified and the reason he ran away had been established.  Rasoul's father arrived the next day to take him home.  His father appeared shocked to learn of the treatment that Rasoul had been subjected to in his daara.

Gallo was very quiet and we almost never saw him smile or express any emotion.  He seemed terribly serious and we could only guess what had led him to run from his daara.  Despite multiple attempts, he wouldn’t open up to anyone.

Malick in contrast had a spark in his eyes and frequently smiled with great enthusiasm.  Although he seemed happy, he had fresh wounds on his back from being beaten.  Malick took us to see where his daara was, but stayed hidden in a corner store with Issa while Idrissa went to investigate.  Malick was forthcoming with his story and explained that it was the junior marabout, 16 or 17 years old, who had been beating him. Malick did not want to return to live in his daara.

When Malick’s junior marabout was summoned to the Ministry of Justice for a formal investigation, we were shocked to learn that he was Malick’s biological brother.  This junior marabout was adamant that Malick should return to his daara and that their family not be contacted.

Malick had come to Saint Louis from the Gambia and, when the investigation was completed, his parents were contacted.  As Malick's desire to return home was clear, the Ministry of Justice prepared a decision ordering his return.  In such cases, Idrissa, Issa or a Maison de la Gare staff member will accompany the child to his home or the parents will come to get the child in Saint Louis.

Gallo’s time with Maison de la Gare did not have such a happy ending. Two days after we had found him in Langue de Barbarie, Gallo ran away from Maison de la Gare's center.  Issa and Idrissa went searching for him the following nights, particularly near the bus station where many talibés run to get transport to Dakar.  Gallo has not been found, and we never learned what he was running from.

Hope for the runaways - In Maison de la Gare's centre, it is easy to quickly forget the tough realities faced by the talibé children and to get lost in the moment when enjoying a game or a laugh.  For these boys, the center is a place of hope where they are able to seek refuge, be cared for and know that they are not alone.

However, the challenges of the talibés' lives are enormous, and even more so for runaways.  Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch documented the continuing abuses.  While the work to address the issues of talibé boys begging can seem insurmountable, the efforts and commitment of Maison de la Gare and many other national and international organizations are inspiring.  We invite committed volunteers to join us in this effort.

For a powerful video about Maison de la Gare's work on behalf of the runaway talibés, please click on this link.

Tireless advocates Idrissa and Issa, with Malick
Tireless advocates Idrissa and Issa, with Malick
Malick answers questions at Ministry of Justice
Malick answers questions at Ministry of Justice
Sample return order for a talibe child
Sample return order for a talibe child
Gallo
Gallo
Malick
Malick
Malick playing with Bathe and a volunteer
Malick playing with Bathe and a volunteer

Links:

Ambassador Zumwalt visits a Saint-Louis daara
Ambassador Zumwalt visits a Saint-Louis daara

James Zumwalt, the U.S. Ambassador to Senegal, visits Maison de la Gare

On Thursday, May 21, 2015, the American ambassador to Senegal continued a tradition.  As his predecessor Louis Lukens had done in 2014, Ambassador James P. Zumwalt honored Maison de la Gare with his presence, deeply concerned as Ambassador Lukens had been about the situation of the begging talibé street children.  This visit reinforces a cooperative relationship that has developed over the years with the strong involvement of Peace Corps volunteers in support of Maison de la Gare efforts, especially agricultural apprenticeship and recovering children sleeping in the streets in "night rounds".  Maison de la Gare's president, Issa Kouyaté, had previously been invited to participate in the U.S. State Department's International Visitors Leadership Program during the month of May, and so could not be present during the ambassador's visit.

The tour was organized by Ms Ndeye Diodio Calloga, a legal intern with Maison de la Gare.  It began with a visit to the daara Thierno Yoro Ba in the Diamagueune district of Saint Louis.  Once at the daara, the ambassador and his delegation were able to see the reality the talibé children's everyday life.  Maison de la Gare team members like Bathe Ndong and Abou Sy make regular tours of local daaras for cleaning, disinfection and repair.  The Thierno Yoro Ba daara has benefited from these services.

The Ambassador had an extensive discussion with the marabout, the person responsible for the daara, who explained that for him what is important is the children's well-being.  That is why he is not opposed to the help and the activities that Maison de la Gare provides for the children. The ambassador also spoke with the marabout at length about his working methods, his helpers and how he cares for the children, to better understand the daara system and the marabouts' perspective.

The tour continued in Maison de la Gare's center in Balacos.  Nurse Binta Coly presented the infirmary to the ambassador describing the services it offers to children, the most common diseases that are encountered and some of the more serious cases.  The ambassador then visited the library and computer room, the different classrooms and the emergency shelter.

To complete the visit, the ambassador and his delegation met with the entire Maison de la Gare staff.  Noël Coly made a presentation of the situation of talibé children in the Saint Louis region and of Maison de la Gare's work.  He also described the worst forms of abuse suffered by children.  Then the other team members presented the short and long-term projects which Maison de la Gare has planned to improve the lives of the talibé children and give them hope.

The talibé children were all very touched that the ambassador of the United States wanted to visit them, despite his busy schedule.  They expressed their pleasure and thanked Ambassador Zumwalt by their innocent smiles, full of life.  The discussions were very emotional, and the ambassador and his delegation were moved by the questions that were raised and by the drawings that they were given as a gesture of appreciation.

A sincere thank you to everyone who makes this work possible by your faithful financial support.

Nurse Binta presents Maison de la Gare
Nurse Binta presents Maison de la Gare's infirmary
The ambassador visits the new emergency shelter
The ambassador visits the new emergency shelter
Diodio presents senior talibe staff members
Diodio presents senior talibe staff members
Diodio presents teacher Bouri to the ambassador
Diodio presents teacher Bouri to the ambassador
Bathe shows MDG
Bathe shows MDG's garden to the ambassador
Ambassador Zumwalt with MDG team members
Ambassador Zumwalt with MDG team members

Links:

 

About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating.

Get Reports via Email

We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.

Organization Information

Maison de la Gare

Location: Saint Louis - Senegal
Website: http:/​/​www.mdgsl.com/​eng.html
Project Leader:
Rod LeRoy
Saint Louis, Senegal
$57,151 raised of $59,900 goal
 
 
689 donations
$2,749 to go
Donate Now
Donating through GlobalGiving is safe, secure, and easy with many payment options to choose from. Learn more.
Add Project to Favorites

Help raise money for this important cause by creating a personalized fundraising page for this project.

Start a Fundraiser

Learn more about GlobalGiving

Teenage Science Students
Vetting +
Due Diligence

Snorkeler
Our
Impact

Woman Holding a Gift Card
Give
Gift Cards

Young Girl with a Bicycle
GlobalGiving
Guarantee

Sign up for the GlobalGiving Newsletter
WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.