News from Maison de la Gare

Portrait of Hope for the Talibé Children

Ndèye Diodio Calloga shares Maison de la Gare’s remarkable story as a beacon of hope for the talibé children over the past four years

A little over four years ago, we reported on “A New Chapter for the Talibé Children”, a four year grant from the European Union which made it possible to strongly reinforce our educational, health and hygiene, sports and arts programs for the begging talibé street children, to dramatically expand our efforts to take charge of children found living on the street, and to raise awareness in the children’s communities of origin of the dehumanizing conditions that they are subjected to when they are entrusted to marabouts in distant cities.

This grant ended in December 2019. This report is the first of a series of three that will look back at what has been achieved over the four years and highlight the challenges ahead.

Talibé children come to Maison de la Gare’s welcome center to benefit from the health and hygiene programs, educational, social and sports activities, and much more. Over the four years from 2016 to 2019, an average of 855 different children visited the center each month, a total of 3,165 visits per month. Most of these children (60%) were between 10 and 17 years of age, while 27% were younger, as young as 4 years old, and 13% were older. 64% of the children are from different regions of Senegal, the rest having been trafficked from neighboring countries - Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, and Mali.

Medical Assistance - Maison de la Gare offers medical assistance to talibé children participating in its programs, as well as to talibé children in their daaras. On average, 427 children per month were treated in the infirmary and in daaras over the four years. The main pathologies include acute respiratory infections (cough, cold), abdominal pain (constipation, diarrhea, parasites), dental diseases, conjunctivitis and other eye conditions, and skin conditions such as scabies. Also, cuts, abscesses, headaches, infections, and burns are common.

We are increasingly convinced that prevention is key to health care. Many of the children use the hygiene facilities in our center to shower, wash their clothes and brush their teeth. We established a major program for the prevention and treatment of scabies in partnership with the Saint-Louis health district and the Red Cross. And we have completely treated and renovated certain daaras where the children’s living conditions were particularly unhealthy.

Education - Our educational programs, through literacy training, math and life lessons, arouse the children's interest in learning, even if their integration into formal schooling has proven to be difficult due to the resistance of the marabouts. The teachers explore with the children the rules that govern society through practical exercises, simulations, exchanges, and discussions. An average of about 30 children have attended classes regularly each month, while a total of just 17 have been successfully registered in formal schooling.

For the older youth for whom formal education is not an option, our apprenticeship programs have become increasingly important. 55 youth graduated from our agricultural apprenticeship program in Bango during the four years, learning all the elements of establishing a successful market gardening plantation. We added a poultry farming apprenticeship program in 2017. 30 apprentices have completed a training program including several production cycles of 125 chickens each, mastering preparation, feeding, hygiene and security, butchering, and marketing. Several of these youth have successfully established their independent operations, most recently with the support of our new microfinance program. Since 2018, our new tailoring apprenticeship program is providing another possibility for youth working to become self-sufficient.

Based on our experience over these four years, we are thoroughly rethinking of educational programs, to make them more in line with the talibés' most pressing needs. Integration into formal schooling will be deemphasized. We will focus on providing the children with practical language and computational skills as a bridge to successful participation in our apprenticeship programs and other routes to becoming financially self-supporting.

Sports and Arts - The sports program not only promotes good health; it allows children to express themselves through leisure activity that provides a rare release from their hard lives on the streets. The children love competing in soccer tournaments which bring them together through their shared passion. 74 inter-daara tournaments were held during the four years, in addition to hundreds of unofficial matches involving huge numbers of talibé children.

Also, many children and youth continue to benefit from our karate program. 46 of them are now enrolled at our center and at a local dojo, and are making enormous progress. In 2019, one of the talibé youth successfully earned his black belt!

Art and music are powerful tools for communication and self-expression, providing children with an important means of psychological development. They are a key element of our activities, animated by our teachers, volunteers and other staff.

We are grateful to the European Union for the reinforcement of our programs for the talibé children that their grant has made possible. The children have benefited enormously, and our staff members have renewed their commitment and effectiveness.

Although it is difficult to limit or reduce the number of daaras in the Saint-Louis area, learning conditions for the begging street children have improved considerably over the four years. The marabouts who control their lives are now more cooperative and Maison de la Gare has reached a threshold of knowledge and visibility that facilitates the children's access to its services.

Now that the European Union grant has ended, we are more dependent than ever on you, our precious supporters, to sustain our life-giving programs.