News from Maison de la Gare
Talibé Day - A Time to Celebrate, Even in SadnessTweeter
Sonia LeRoy shares her impressions and feelings from an incredible day
"World Talibé Day is celebrated
all over Senegal, and it was certainly well celebrated by
the talibé children of Maison de la Gare.
Talibé Day is a holiday for the forced begging street kids of Senegal. Not for profit organizations, including Maison de la Gare, put on special programs for the kids to enjoy, including games to play and food to eat. A few demonstrations were organized by some associations to raise awareness about the plight of the talibés. But, for the hundreds of talibés at Maison de la Gare’s center on this day, it was a chance to relax and enjoy a party.
The day began as most other days. Not long after Maison de la Gare’s doors opened, kids started to trickle in. The trickle soon increased to a regular stream. At about ten o'clock, karate kids started to arrive and put on their gi's in preparation for the Friday morning class. As the kids gathered on the sand with Sensei, board games were beginning under the grape vine arbor in the garden while other boys climbed the vines as a jungle gym. Some kids made their way over to the infirmary for treatment of their ailments and some TLC from nurses Abibou and Awa.
I had not realized it until this day but, terribly, the tiny malnourished talibé living in the emergency shelter, Seydou, had disappeared the night before. A frantic search of several hours around the neighborhood revealed nothing. A report was made to the police, but there is not much hope of finding him that way. Why would he have run? Seydou was developing a close trust relationship with a Belgian volunteer and seemed happy to be at Maison de la Gare. Could he have been taken? Did something spook him? How can we know, and how can we find him? He could not possibly survive for long on his own given the weakened state he was in. Such a disaster at home would be all consuming, bringing life to a stop. Here, it seems to be another sad but not uncommon African tragedy. Hopefully, Seydou will be found and returned to this safe place.
Meanwhile, children continued to arrive. Many watched the karate training in action. One adorable little boy on the sidelines practiced his own version of oizuki, a future karateka perhaps. Other talibés began an enthusiastic game of soccer. As the soccer ball disappeared over an eight-foot wall, soon too did a tiny little talibé boy hoping to retrieve it, which he did.
In the afternoon, even greater numbers of kids arrived at the centre. Both classrooms were full of students concentrating on their studies while outside the party was ramping up. Maison de la Gare teacher Abdou Soumaré organized music broadcast through loudspeakers while he and older talibé leaders took turns with the microphone acting as Em Cee to the joyful crowd. Amazingly, the students in the classrooms continued to devote themselves to their studies throughout the commotion and excitement happening just outside the window.
Lala Sène, a regular volunteer at the centre and a member of the national women’s soccer team, led a soccer tournament while a dance party started up in the sand nearby. Whenever a team scored, everyone erupted into wild cheers and applause. Then the game and the dancing would resume. As the classes and games progressed, Oumou, Maison de la Gare’ cook, prepared a nutritious mixture for the sandwiches that would feed the crowd. Older talibés assisted in chopping peppers and other ingredients to add to her pot.
Abdou took over the microphone, leading the kids like the pied piper around the Maison de la Gare compound while the staff and older talibés helped out frantically preparing sandwiches for hundreds of hungry celebrants.
Eventually the soccer winners were declared, the grand trophy was awarded and circulated around the centre in a victory lap and the winners were properly adored and celebrated by the crowd.
Then the dinner line formed. It seemed impossible that there could be room for everyone, or that the meal could be handed out in any kind of calm or order. But, the seasoned Maison de la Gare staff had done this before and all were fed, at least this time.
As the last sandwiches were served, Abdou ramped up the music once more and dancing resumed despite the late hour and the dark. Even my Dad went a little crazy, dancing like a teenager. This was a time to let some of that pent up emotion out. Understandably, no one wanted this magical party to end and volunteers, staff, and talibés alike set aside their worries for a moment and joined together to just celebrate life for a little longer.”