News from Maison de la Gare
Karate Still Kicking at Maison de la GareTweeter
Talibé youth celebrate what they have achieved
On a recent Saturday 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
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 Kouyaté and Noël Coly of Maison de la Gare and, finally, by Ignéty Bâ, 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 Kandé, and green belts for Oumar and Mamadou Bâ.
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 Hughes 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.