News from Maison de la Gare

Making a Difference

Former talibé Arouna Kandé reflects on the impact of French students’ visits to Maison de la Gare

"Once again, I want to tell you how valuable it is to be a volunteer with Maison de la Gare. If you make a commitment as a volunteer, you will have the chance to face challenges that you never would have been exposed to in your work or school environment. You will experience a positive impact on all your future activities.

A group of seventy students from ISEFAC Alternance University, based in the cities of Lille and Paris in France, visited us in Saint Louis, Senegal, to help the young talibés at Maison de la Gare’s center. They were faithful to their school’s name; ISEFAC stands for ‘European Institute of Higher Education through Action’.

They understood the value of mutual help and sharing. That is why these young students collected and brought for the talibé children clothes, medicines, school supplies and sports equipment. They came with love and the joy of living. This visit allowed them to understand not only the situation of talibé children, but also what a daara is and the meaning of the word marabout.

The purpose of this visit was, first and foremost, to participate in Maison de la Gare's programs while providing valuable assistance to the center’s staff in their daily work. It was also to learn about the talibé children with whom the students shared a day-long workshop which prepared them for daara visits, teaching French classes, cleaning daaras and the center, and helping with hygiene and medical care, leading sports activities and gardening.

The idea was to experience cultural sharing and social learning, to allow the students to be more open and sensitive to disadvantaged children. They where able to understand that these young talibés feel oppressed, invisible, alone and abandoned by their parents, society and the government. The government has not established any programs to make it possible for them to learn to become independent and lead wholesome lives.

After visiting daaras, the young French students spent long hours in the streets meeting talibé children who suffer from malnutrition and skin diseases. Indeed, the daaras are unhealthy and the children have little medical support; because access to water is very limited, they can not wash every day. The daara system, which should be providing a good religious education, has become a child-exploitation business.

It was an emotional visit for talibé children, with wonderful sharing. The children were open with the students as if they were from the same family. The students hope to keep in touch with Maison de la Gare, and they want to return to join us in this fight against injustice.

As one of the students, Edwige Gambier, put it so well:

‘We have discovered a country of tolerance, smiles and solidarity.

The experience we had at Maison de la Gare is magical. We all felt this indescribable reaction to the children’s difficult living conditions and, at the same time, an immense joy from being able to share extraordinary moments with them. We had collected clothes, medicine and books in France to help Maison de la Gare, for these children and for their education. We saw wounded, disease-carrying children with unique stories, but every one of them had a wonderful smile responding to the time we spent together.

We want to thank all the members of Maison de la Gare. We support their cause. This association’s core values are welcoming and solidarity. We met extraordinary people showing unparalleled kindness. Thank you for allowing us to help you. Thank you for making us grow. Thank you for sharing moments of joy and happiness.’

This collaboration with Maison de la Gare has helped the students to understand the suffering of the young begging talibés and has given them the chance to explore possible solutions for denouncing this unthinkable situation and for eradicating this modern plague.

On behalf of all of Maison de la Gare’s members, we express our deep gratitude to these students. They spared no pain or effort in bringing their support to the talibé children. We are very happy to have them as part of the Maison de la Gare family and to have benefitted from their generosity.

Thank you for dedicating your time to Maison de la Gare’s talibé children.

Finally, we appeal to every person of good will. Everyone wanting to defend children's rights must mobilize to demand that Senegalese authorities act to implement legislation on the protection of these rights."