A social support network finally offers better future prospects to 1,500 talibés, child beggars in Senegal and Mali, thanks to SOS Children’s Villages.
Toumani was five when his parents enrolled him in a ’daara’, a sort of religious boarding school, far from home. They cherished the hope of offering their son a better life through a sound education. Unfortunately, reality turned out to be different. Most daaras (of which there are thousands in Senegal and Mali) have hardly any resources to draw on. Children are thus sent out onto the streets, where they are forced to beg in order to provide for their own livelihood.
Talibé in Senegal and Mali: a tough life
It was in the 1980s and 1990s that the living conditions of talibés became truly problematic. Massive migration from the countryside to the city changed the nature of many religious schools. The lack of land for agriculture or cattle breeding in urban areas resulted in the loss of their main source of income. ‘Many teachers saw no other possible option than to send the children out on the streets to beg for money,’ explains Adeline Puerta, who works as a project coordinator for SOS Children’s Villages (SOS Kinderdorpen). The risks this entails are diverse: children are exposed to the dangers of life on the street, such as violence, illness, and exploitation.
In 2015, SOS Children's Villages decided to launch a project aiming to change the fate of these children, in partnership with the European Union. After four years of hard work, it is time to take a look at what has been achieved.
Children face a high risk of violence and exploitation
Two countries, five regions, 1,500 children
The project focused on five regions in two different countries: Dakar, Kaolack and Tambacounda in Senegal, Douentza and Mopti in Mali. Over the last four years, together with the local community, we were able to provide 1,500 children with basic rights and to give them access to formal primary education. Whenever possible, the children were reintegrated with their families.
The entire community helps
Together, we can achieve more than alone. That is why we always work with all the people, organisations and governments that can contribute to providing a framework for the kids. The children’s families, the religious schools, associations in the neighbourhood and the local community were all involved in our project.
Project coordinator Adeline: ‘In Senegal, for example, many women spontaneously organise themselves to support children in need. They wash clothes, prepare meals, provide care... In Mali too, you can find these kinds of local associations.’
To make an impact, you need to get the daaras behind you
By supporting these organisations, increasing their effectiveness and connecting them with each other, we will create a sustainable support network of people and organisations that care about the fate of these children in the long run. Today, 125 influential people, from journalists to local authorities, are engaged in defending and promoting the talibés’ rights.
A sustainable income source
We also support them in their search for a sustainable source of income. For example, we can show them how agriculture can be integrated in urban areas and support them with materials and seeds. The idea is that children no longer have to go on the street to beg for money.
Access to formal education
In the daara's, talibés only receive religious education. While important, it is not enough to be able to stand your ground in society later on. That is why giving the children access to formal education is an important objective. We try to achieve this by working together with schools in the area and by integrating subjects such as French and mathematics in the curricula of the religious schools.
Adeline: ‘External teachers come to religious schools to teach after they finish work. For children who are a bit older, we also provide specific training courses, in mechanics or carpentry for instance, that are valuable on the labour market.’
Thanks to our efforts, we were able to give 82 percent of the children access to formal education.
Teachers come to the daaras after work
Strengthening family relationship
Where possible, we also tried to reintegrate the children with their families, provided that (1) they still have a family and (2) this family is able to take care of their child. If that is the case, there is of course no better place for a child to grow up. For 96 percent of the children we have succeeded in re-establishing and strengthening the ties with the original family.
Adeline: ‘Still, not all children could automatically go back to their families, because many families struggle to make ends meet. We provide children who cannot be reintegrated with their families with psychological support and socio-educational activities so that they at least have a listening ear, can tell their story, can place their situation’.
Trust relationship with schools as a starting point
‘What is unique to our approach, is that our project is based on a trust relationship with the daaras and their teachers. Only few organisations in Senegal or Mali have succeeded in doing this so far. It is the cornerstone of our success. Their cooperation is crucial if you really want to have an impact on the children’s lives. Adeline: 'The best evidence of this success is that throughout the project, daaras spontaneously offered to join. Unique!’
The project lives on, even after SOS Children's Villages
While cooperation with the European Union on this project is coming to an end, that does not mean the project is finished. The people from Dakar, Kaolack, Tambacounda, Douentza and Mopti will keep the project alive by continuing to support the child beggars. This is what it is all about for us: sustainably creating conditions with the entire community in which children can grow into strong adults.
SOS Children's Villages is a partner of the Belgian Development Cooperation. The project with the child beggars has mainly been financed by the European Union.
82 % of child beggars have access to formal education
96 % of the children saw the relationship with their family strengthened
125 influential people actively contribute to promoting children's rights
507 children received their identity documents, ensuring their
32 daaras create better living conditions for their students