News from Maison de la Gare

Looking Back on Precious Moments with the Talibés

Patricia Mehaffy reflects on her volunteer experience with Maison de la Gare

My life has more than considerably changed for the better thanks to my experience during the two months that I spent at Maison de la Gare as a volunteer. It will be impossible for me to forget all the lovely kids and adults I met at the center. My trip revolved around them and I will always be grateful that they made it as wonderful and lively as it was.

The talibé children in Saint Louis face a lot of hardships but, no matter what, they are brothers to one another. They laugh and play together. They also wrestle and fight like all kids. But there won't be a day when they won’t smile at you when you make a funny face. And working at Maison de la Gare meant leaning into that happiness and providing a space where the kids can be kids.

Through my experience, I was exposed to a totally new, totally different culture. As someone who has rarely had fewer than two jobs, spending two months in Africa has allowed me an immensely happy and calm season. In this brief moment, and for the first time, I wasn’t terribly worried about everything. I loved my job and I had friends who loved me; it was everything I could have ever asked for. Of course, the stay wasn’t comfortable like my life in the United States and there were things I could have done without, but I was so grateful to have the opportunity to be there in a strange place, surrounded by kind people and kids, without a thing clouding my mind.

As a student, I am determined not to waste the opportune environment I am in. I attend an excellent university full of extraordinary people, and such a position is scarcely attainable in most other places around the world. I have gained valuable experience working through a significant language barrier. I have gained cultural immersion in a foreign country and greatly expanded my ability to communicate and be courageous in new situations. With these new skills, I have new confidence and can expand my work prospects internationally with valuable experience already under my belt.

As a citizen, I am now capable of bringing a culturally educated voice to my life’s range of influences. I can raise awareness and contribute to refined views of certain types of social issues. Now, I can advocate for those that might not get a voice otherwise.

I will have to use incredible will to not let what I learned through my experience fade away. In the future, I will struggle to ward off my ingratitude, my self-destructive behavior and my temptation to place my own needs above those around me. Watching old habits return to my life terrifies me; I just hope the terror is enough to keep me from returning to my old lifestyle. In any case, in the future I will seize my opportunities to make known the reality I came to know in Senegal; the good and the bad, the personal and the public.

We invite you to read the full reports written by each of the former volunteers who are quoted above: Sam Kenney, Alessandra Battioni, Tommaso Arosio and Myah Freeman.