News from Maison de la Gare
A Child at Heart Becomes a Leader of Children
Souleymane first arrived at
Maison de la Gare in 2010 when he was about 14 years old. After receiving help
de la Gare when he was sick, he became a familiar figure at the
centre. It soon became apparent that Souleymane, sent from his home in The
Gambia to a marabout and forced to beg for a quota of money at an early age,
had been cheated of his childhood. At Maison de la Gare he made up for lost
time. As a teenager, he learned to play. And, he discovered education. Now,
as an older talibé with responsibilities at the centre, and freed from his
marabout, Souleymane is helping other talibés find their way to better lives.
Souleymane had initially heard about the centre by word of mouth from other talibé children. He would appear from time to time for food and respite from his daily begging. He became curious about the classes. Then, in 2011, Souleymane began to have trouble in his daara. He became sick and his marabout failed to provide any care. Maison de la Gare took responsibility for his healthcare and Souleymane was hospitalized until he was well again. He was required to submit 600 francs of begging proceeds (about one US dollar) every day to his marabout. Even when he was in hospital, his daily quota accumulated. Maison de la Gare intervened to assist Souleymane through these troubles.
Once Souleymane's health was restored, he began to attend literacy classes at Maison de la Gare on a regular basis. It was his hope to be able to go to regular school some day.
Even as a teenager, Souleymane had the heart of a child. At a series of celebrations organized for talibé children at the centre, Souleymane spent hours coloring and drawing alongside children half his age. He would spend as much time as possible participating in every game, always with the younger kids. He loved the sack races, and learning to skip rope. The opportunity to play the djembe drums also captured his imagination. Souleymane loves a good joke and he is always quick to tease. Wherever there is fun, to this day Souleymane is sure to be on the scene.
In 2015, when then 13 year old Robbie Hughes, a karate black belt, arrived from Canada with his family to help begin a karate program at Maison de la Gare, Souleymane was interested right away. Robbie and Souleymane became close friends. Robbie taught him to love karate, and Souleymane taught Robbie to play marbles and to make a perfect pot of ataya tea.
Souleymane continued to study karate at the centre and at the dojo Sor-Karaté. As he progressed, his discipline and sense of responsibility increased. There was a time when Souleymane may have been as likely to be napping behind a market stall as to be at class on time. But now, the discipline of karate and his pride in responsibility seem to have had a transformative effect. Souleymane leads the warm up for the karate class at the centre twice a week, and trains at the dojo most nights. He helps orient the newly registered "dojo talibés" in the karate program, ensuring they are on time. And, he helps the kids just starting karate to find a gi (the karate kimono) that fits. He now also competes in kata and combat for his dojo. Souleymane has found passion and leadership in karate.
As Souleymane transitions out of the talibé life he continues to work with Maison de la Gare, not only leading karate classes, but supporting the hygiene and health care project. Most days he leads the talibé children in brushing their teeth. Among other projects, Souleymane also leads a group of four other talibés in cultivating a garden plot of okra at Maison de la Gare's property in Bango.
Meanwhile, Souleymane still yearns for an education, attending Maison de la Gare classes faithfully. And, if fun is afoot, Souleymane will not be far away.