By Lisa Maina
As I discussed in the last entry, this semester I will be volunteering with Bokoum Djibril and his organization called Equipe Aidons les Talibés (EAT) in order to improve conditions for orphaned students of the Quran. These children are known all over Dakar as everyone is approached by at least one each day. When I asked my host family about their opinion of the issue, they were equally as distraught as I was but at the same time disillusioned because they felt helpless in finding the right solution to save these children from their unfortunate situation.
One of Djibril’s main goals is to change the way in which people view Talibés. Obviously when you see children begging in the streets, you are likely to view them as sad, helpless, and powerless. This perspective is heightened by their soot-covered clothes filled with holes and their bare and dirty feet. However, Djibril firmly believes that people should not see them as depressed and helpless, but rather focus on their hopefulness and potential as children to get out of their situation. Additionally, we should recognize the strength these kids have that brought them all the way to Dakar without their families and spend each day on the street just to get an education. For these reasons, Djibril has focused his organization on providing opportunities for Talibés to experience their childhood like so many other more privileged children.
In order to do this, EAT reserves full days with children of some Daaras in order to allow them to spend time with other Talibés learning, playing and eating, rather than begging. My role in the organization thus far is to help program fun activities for the children along with another American volunteer. Two weeks ago, that meant choosing and organizing games that we would play all together during a day that we had reserved with them. Though this sounds simple enough, we had to account for the language barrier when considering how to give instructions for the games. We are both proficient in French, but the Talibés have only just begun their French lessons, so communication is either in Wolof (of which we are both novices) or gestures. This cut out a considerable number of games we could play, especially games that could help their learning.
Eventually we settled on a couple games that required little instruction or ones that could be easily translated. A crowd favorite was Duck, Duck, Goose, though the Wolof words for duck and goose were very long. In this case, we settled for “Muus, Muus, Xaj” which translates to cat, cat, dog. After a few demonstrations, the kids were running around, ducking their heads, and having a blast. For the rest of the day, we helped with general logistics, serving food, practicing French and having a good time with the kids.
Moving forward, I plan to be an ambassador of EAT, selling merchandise to people that want to support the cause and raising awareness of the organization. This way, we can fund more activities for the kids and implement more programs to help the children. One program I am particularly interested in is the mentorship program Djibril has just started drafting. This program would pair each Talibé with a volunteer who would vow to provide clothes and food. Each day that the Talibé would work the street, he would work in the direction of his mentor’s home, meet him or her there and they would provide a meal as well as anything else necessary before the Talibé returns home.
Right now, this program is being designed but it is facing a few difficulties because of logistics and lack of volunteers. In order to implement the program, we need to work out an adequate system to register volunteers willing to participate, ensure quality involvement, establish contractual agreements to confirm length of participation, as well as get enough funds to kickstart the program. As a team, we are working together to develop this initiative, brainstorming appropriate regulations, contracts, and potential blueprints for the plan of the program.
Additionally, the EAT team has been working on establishing more structured French lessons for the Talibés with teachers for each level. This has also been challenging to implement because of logistics and lack of resources. Such resources include certified French teachers for each level, space for lessons, practice material and so forth. It has also been difficult to ensure that the children would retain the information, as these lessons would only occur the few times a month EAT is allowed to work with each of the Daaras. Though there are many challenges to overcome before implementing these lessons, at EAT we know education is one of the most powerful tools these kids can be equipped with, so we are doing everything we can to make it possible.
All in all, there is a lot to do to change conditions for the Talibés of Dakar and I look forward to providing any help I can. If anyone is interested in this organization, visit their Facebook page for more information (https://www.facebook.com/Aidonslestalibes/)!! Also check out their merchandise if you’d like to support the Talibés of Dakar!