News from Maison de la Gare
How can the world allow this?
Watching him, his
energy, his involvement, his intelligence, his kindness,
you would think
he was an exceptional teenager. But he is a young child.
We thought he was six or seven years old. But, when Mame Diarra spoke with him about it, he
said that he is certain that he is only four.
Kalidou’s father is a farmer in the Saloun area in the south of Senegal. The family has many children and very limited resources. They sent Kalidou to Saint Louis to learn the Koran about one year ago, entrusting him to marabout Lamine Kâ at his daara in the Léona district.
Kalidou could not tolerate the conditions in the daara. Because of his young age, he was given a begging quota of 30 francs a day, about 6 cents US, compared to 300 to 500 francs (60 cents to a dollar) for the older boys. But the long hours on the street were hard for him. And the daara was filthy, without running water or hygiene facilities. Hardest of all, he was far from his family and had no contact with them or with any other nurturing adults.
So Kalidou ran. He slept for several days on the porches of houses, and in the morning often was given something to eat by the families. The police found him, and he was entrusted to Maison de la Gare. Arouna, a talibé himself who is a member of Maison de la Gare's staff, tried to take him back to his daara. They walked there, but when they got close Kalidou absolutely refused to go in. And his parents won’t take him back because they believe that he is better off in the daara.
So, for the moment, Kalidou is living in Maison de la Gare’s emergency shelter. Mame Diarra, the shelter’s house mother, cares for him and showers him with the affection that he has been starved for. And all of the Maison de la Gare staff treat him like family. He insists on joining the karate classes, and participates actively in Abdou’s beginning French classes. Kalidou does not want to be left out of anything.
Like so many talibé children, Kalidou has a heart of gold. When one is short on his begging quota, another who has excess will share it. It is the same with any food they are given. Some Canadian volunteers took Kalidou and another boy from the shelter to a Senegalese restaurant for a simple meal, and they reported an extraordinary example of this generosity. After the meal, the boys wanted to take the left-over rice, chicken bones and other food, so the restaurant provided some small plastic bags. Outside the restaurant as they were leaving, they saw a homeless man who had been there for several days. Without a thought, Kalidou took his bag and the other boy’s and gave them both to the man, who immediately started eating. Little boys with nothing ready to give whatever they have!
It is hard to know what the future holds for Kalidou. His situation is unconscionable. Subsequent to the preparation of this article, he has returned to his daara. Mame Diarra and other members of the staff visit regularly to provide emotional support and to ensure that he is being well treated. Longer term, Maison de la Gare will work with Kalidou's family to get them to accept him back and will support them in finding a way to integrate him. We believe that this is the only viable solution for Kalidou.
But change must come. We won’t stop until it does.