News from Maison de la Gare

Where Are They Now?

The stories of three talibés who refused to give up on their dreams

Maison de la Gare is a haven for the talibé street boys of Saint Louis. The organization’s center and its caring staff offer hope through education, and an oasis from the daily grind of hours upon hours of forced begging and from having to figure out a way to survive on the streets.

The hope, through education, is real. This report will provide an update on three exceptional boys who, despite years of forced begging and facing unimaginable obstacles, chose to persevere in pursuit of education.

The street boys of Saint Louis are rarely from the local region. With no parental support and no money, and subject to daily begging quotas of the marabouts who control them, formal education is barred to them. In most cases, the children lack the documentation that could otherwise entitle them to register for schools and write exams.

Arouna was Maison de la Gare’s first great success in formal education. Passionate about the possibility of becoming educated, Arouna did have Senegalese national identification (he is from the distant region of Kolda), and Issa Kouyaté, the founder and director of Maison de la Gare, negotiated with Arouna’s marabout to reduce his begging quota on certain days and allow him to be registered in school. Maison de la Gare fed him, so he would not have to spend time begging to eat, allowing more time for study. Issa and the staff teachers helped Arouna with homework, paid his registration fees and purchased his school supplies. Arouna’s journey through the formal education system was long and challenging. He faced countless incidents of discrimination and overcame multiple attempts by authorities and his marabout to derail his education.

Arouna was held back many times, in primary school and middle school, but he persevered. Eventually it came time for Arouna to write exams that would allow him to advance to high school. Alas, in an effort to continue to control him, his marabout refused to relinquish his national identity papers. During the years it took for Maison de la Gare and Arouna to obtain duplicates (nearly impossible given that his parents were both deceased and did not have death certificates, as Arouna was a child talibé at the time and unaware they had died until years later), Arouna took high school courses to prepare for what lay ahead, and refresher classes to help him prepare for the exams he hoped he would soon be able to write. All the while he lived in a daara with no access to electricity or running water, packed in with dozens of other talibé boys.

Arouna began high school in classes with much younger children, but with much hope in his heart. Again, he faced discrimination and was held back, extending his time in school. As he was beginning to repeat his final year of high school, disaster struck his family once more. His older sister died unexpectedly, and her young son became Arouna’s responsibility along with his two younger sisters. Not one to give in to despair, Arouna worked at Maison de la Gare between school hours to support his sisters and Issa took in his young nephew, registering him in formal school to allow Arouna the relative freedom to continue his education.

This year Arouna was due to graduate. But, just months from exams schools in Senegal were closed due to Covid-19. Despite his familiarity with challenge, Arouna was devastated when it was announced he would need to repeat his final year of high school yet again. But, along with challenge comes hope. Arouna’s younger sister was married this summer, lessening his burden of support, and allowing him to double down on his studies. Today, in his early 20’s, Arouna has enrolled in his final year of high school (for the third time) and is committed to putting everything into his studies in order to give himself the best possible chance of advancing to post-secondary studies. Hope and perseverance define this fine young man.

Tijan is another talibé who continued to be driven by his passion to obtain an education. After leaving his home in Gambia to come to Saint Louis as a talibé, Tijan studied in Maison de la Gare’s literacy and math classes for years. He was finally able to return to Gambia, with Maison de la Gare’s support, to enroll in high school. A year ago, he graduated from high school, an extraordinary accomplishment for one who had spent many years as a talibé. He was very keen to apply to and begin university. But, despite sufficiently high marks he was not accepted. There were “irregularities” with his application; perhaps he had chosen the wrong program, or did not have the right prerequisites, we cannot really know the reason.

Determined not to give up on his education, Tijan spent the past year taking additional business courses that he felt would better prepare him once he was accepted to university. He applied again this spring and has recently received news that his application was successful this time. He is scheduled to begin studying management and business at the University of The Gambia in September!

A year ago, while waiting to receive news about his initial application to university, Tijan travelled back to Maison de la Gare to receive a computer that would help him continue with his higher education. While in Saint Louis, other talibés were astonished to learn he had actually graduated from high school. Tijan had become a superstar, a shining beacon of hope. Sulayman was one of those talibés whose eyes and heart were opened to the possibility of returning home to school thanks to Tijan’s example.

Sulayman had been a talibé for many years. Like Tijan, he was originally from Gambia and had national identity papers which entitled him to register in school in Gambia. But, as a talibé, the idea of education seemed impossibly remote. He did have an unspoken dream of becoming educated and had always worked to complete his begging responsibilities early to be able to attend Maison de la Gare’s classes. After years of forced begging, Sulayman left his daara due to intolerable conditions there. Even while continuing to beg and do odd jobs to survive, he continued to study in Maison de la Gare’s classes. When Sulayman encountered Tijan, his hope for an education was reignited.

Issa and other staff sat with both Tijan and Sulayman to offer advice and support in preparation for their return to Gambia. Sulayman was eligible to enroll in high school. Despite his age of 21, he was excited at the prospect of the next four years of study - in a real school! Planning to start school in January 2020, Sulayman and Tijan left Maison de la Gare together - headed toward a new future based on the educations they were about to pursue.

When Sulayman arrived home, he was welcomed by relations of his family who lived near the high school he hoped to attend. He was accepted into the school and enrolled in a math tutoring class to get up to speed as quickly as possible. Sulayman is now a high school student looking to the future!

The hope is real, indeed!