STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, GIVE THANKS
As always, I would like to begin this message with a huge thank you for the recently made donations and letters that I have received from members of the parish. I can not emphasise the difference that people’s financial and prayerful support has made for me over the past five months in Senegal.
The past month has been quite a turning point; a revealing period of reflection in terms of my work and stay in Senegal. It’s really been this month that I’ve allowed myself to take a step back, look at things from a distance and try to make some sense of my chaotic, at times incredibly bizarre and harsh surroundings. I think that it would be fair to say that this has been a month of evaluation.
In terms of work, I am starting to be more rational about what I am able to accomplish whilst I am out here. It really goes without saying that the money from our fundraising project has made a fundamental difference to the lives of many children. And for this I am eternally grateful to you all, not to mention overjoyed by this amazing truth!
However, I can not deny the fact that each and every time I walk down the street, I continue to spot more and more children who I am not able to reach out to; there are simply too many children who are in desperate need of help. But what I’m beginning to both realise and accept is that I can’t possibly help all of them. I’m finding that what I have to do is remain really focused on the children that I am able to help. And it is by remaining focused that I can eventually earn their trust, laugh and joke with them and most importantly be their friends.
But when I haven’t been stopping to ponder, I have to admit that things remain to keep me on my toes. The past month has been quite a testing time for the children’s health. I have been noticing that many of the boys have scabies; which of course is extremely contagious. As you can imagine, if one boy is found with these grotesque looking spots, more children will catch it. The fact that the boys live and sleep in such a close proximity simply means that there is a greater risk of contracting the scabies. However I am proud to share with you all that the money that we raised can actually treat the scabies.
But moving swiftly on from scabies…..that brings me on quite nicely to what you could fairly call “slumber parties” happening at the centre!
Since arriving, there have always been children sleeping at the centre, however over the past month this number has almost doubled!! This is due to the fact that many of the Talibé have been returning from the villages. It is very typical for the children to be taken to the village of their Islamic guardian for a number of months. Unfortunately, we can not draw the parallel with something like Summer Camp, as it isn’t fun that is intended for the children in the villages. On the contrary, it is aimed to enhance their strenuous training of discipline and work ethic. However, what I would like to draw your attention to is that fact that since coming back from the villages, a lot more boys are coming to sleep at the centre and this is most encouraging to see.
Hopefully by now, it is obvious that the majority of my work revolves around the Talibé; this is the name given to the boys found begging on the streets, sleeping and living in harsh conditions under the strict supervision of their marabout. However during the course of my stay, I am put into contact with the children of the “quartier”. These are the children who live with their families and do have the opportunity to go to school. But life even for them “ain’t easy.” I’d like to take this opportunity to tell their story, which I feel is often overshadowed.
Children of the “quartier” : The untold story
Since arriving in Senegal, I have grown to realise that it is far from easy being a child in Senegal. Here I ‘m talking about the children, who despite having school books in their bags and a roof to sleep under, are still denied the privileges and freedom that I have always taking for granted.
It seems to be part of African tradition that the children are sent on endless errands and given large responsibilities and strenuous tasks at a very tender age. I am forever watching as young Senegalese children are sent by their parents to the boutique in the blazing African midday heat. The shopping list can somewhat vary from individually sold cigarettes for “Pa” to cooking stock for Mum’s supersize “Tieb bu diene” (Senegal’s famous dish of fish and rice to be found eaten in every single household if you drop by at the right time!) Or perhaps one of the youngsters is battling it out with an angry ram as he tries to wash the stubborn creature. Or more than likely, a young girl who barely knows how to tie her shoes, is given the task of Mum. She’ll carry the baby when it’s crying, wash the baby whilst it’s still crying; and all this
at an alarmingly young age.
It is true that a large proportion of children in Senegal do have the opportunity to go to school, however we can not ignore the fact that these children lose a large part of their youth. I live with a girl who is 14 years old and incredibly young, beautiful and innocent in every possible way. But I see her exhausted, tired and frustrated as she is given every domestic task possible. Washing, cooking, cleaning, sweeping; you name it and these kids are made to do it.
It has been over the past few weeks that I’ve been trying to get to the heart of these children as well as the Talibé. I have had the opportunity to visit various local schools and talk to the teachers about various children’s progress. I was utterly shocked by two things in particular; one was the sheer size of the class; the average size is somewhere between 60 and 70 pupils. The children are often obliged to share their desks between three of their classmates; the same applies to textbooks and sometimes exercise books. It really is a very difficult environment for a child to learn. The second thing which shocked and saddened me was seeing the children cower with fear as they got hit by their teachers, simply because of failing to write straight on the lines of the page.
How does ATT work with the children of the “quartier”?
The centre where I work is unique in the way that it serves both the Talibé children but also the children who I have just been describing. There is an after-school session to help the children with their homework and this sees a total of up to 70 children. Once again, it has been the money from our project which has enabled the centre to buy an assortment of necessary text books which are on the Senegalese school syllabus. It is really fantastic to see how eager many of these children are to learn, despite the hardships that they come across.
These incredibly worthwhile homework sessions are particularly needed at the moment as more and more teachers are on strike due to poor wages. It really goes without saying that this proves to be incredibly detrimental and disruptive for the children’s education.
So that is where I will leave you for now. I will be in Nigeria with my Dad for the next few weeks, however once back I look forward to putting together some more thoughts and reflections for you all.
Thank you to all those who have sent me letters and emails, I al incredibly grateful and I remain with you all in thoughts and prayers. In particular, thank you to the prayer group who sent me a Christmas card! It arrived a few days after Valentine’s Day but I was enormously grateful to receive it.
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