News from Maison de la Gare

The Contrasts of Habit

Volunteer Emmanuelle Pinet struggles to understand the situation of the begging talibé street children

This is Emmanuelle's second report, written while she was a volunteer with Maison de la Gare in May 2021. In it, she tries to develop some understanding of how it is possible that thousands of children beg on the streets while others in society, who see them every day, seem unaware of their plight and of the injustice that they live.

"I want to talk to you about contrast. Always this striking contrast, but this time more precisely about the talibés.

The contrast that struck me throughout my stay in Saint Louis concerns habits. Already, as the days are passing very differently from my daily life in Paris, some new habits are taking root little by little.

Taking my cold shower in the morning, a habit that I will appreciate from now on. The pipes warm the water up a bit, thanks to the sun. It’s not too cold here, at least not for me, although it’s not unusual to see some children shivering in the morning in the streets, either students on their way to school or the young talibés with empty stomachs who arrive in the city center to beg.

There too, my gaze gets used to it little by little. And theirs to mine too. Some of them come to Maison de la Gare’s center and, when I pass them in the street, they call to me and say hello with a wide smile and without asking me for anything.

I used to like to say that HABIT IS DESTINY, and I am not the only one. All the personal development books remind us of the importance of routines, routines that structure you, organize you and cause you to repeat a sequence of actions that will eventually become automatic. Then, motivation will take a back seat and will no longer be as essential to completing your tasks.

However, if habits can be beneficial, they also have the power to make people accept the unacceptable. And I am realizing this here, a wake-up call like a big slap in the face.

Hundreds of children who have no access to basic hygiene, who don't eat properly, who are dressed in torn and oversized clothes, who beg on the streets all day, this is the daily landscape of downtown Saint Louis and everyone has accepted it, again by habit.

People speak to me of tenacious beliefs, of ignorance, of ultimate solutions for feeding the children, of a scourge that cannot be stopped any more as there are so many new daaras being set up. I believe that these people do not realize the tragedy of their words.

Of course, there are the shopkeepers and sometimes some passers-by who will give a coin, or a small bag of rice. Here again is a habit that avoids questioning by helping with the most urgent, the most vital needs.

Among the social actors, those who work with the children, I have also seen some who, because they are used to being confronted with misery, pay less attention now to what is in front of their eyes every day. They sometimes forget the importance of their task, and the extent to which they have in their hands the power to change the future of these children who have been left all alone to face the very worst.

And finally, the worst of all, the most unbearable and difficult to see and describe, is the habit of misery for these children.

They have only known this, they are only in contact with this. They receive no education, no care, no attention... but they remain children who laugh, who dance sometimes and who are together with others, often from the same daara.

I believe that the first mission of a volunteer here, and by far the most important, is this …

Whoever he or she is, no matter his or her origin, education or skills, to remind us through their tearful eyes, through their constant astonishment, their dejected looks, their silences or their questions, that everything that happens here in Saint Louis is not normal, that it is not right, that it is not tolerable, and that we cannot stay and watch this scourge out of habit, but rather stand up and act!

There is nothing that can justify a child begging in the street without shoes, it’s that simple. Just imagine the dangers of all types that surround these vulnerable little human beings!

Finally, some photos, maybe not the best, but some images that touched me more than others, and then this contrast of course, between the beautiful tourist Saint Louis and the daily life of these young talibés."