News from Maison de la Gare

"Because the talibés of today are the Men of tomorrow"

French volunteer Emmanuelle Pinet reflects on Maison de la Gare’s motto, stimulated by her experience in a daara

Maison de la Gare is drilling wells to provide clean water in several of the worst daaras in Saint Louis. That's a story for another report. Here, Emmanuelle shares her feelings as she watches the work in progress.

"When I know that most of them instinctively answer without thinking that they would like to become a marabout when they grow up, I struggle to understand how new role models can support them and guide them on a path to more dignity and self-respect.

Today, I am working on producing a video about Maison de la Gare’s installation of drinking water wells in a very precarious location. I have spent a lot of time over the past several days with the team that is carrying out this project.

Making this video is particularly complicated for me because the work is technical and I have taken hundreds of photos and made numerous videos; the sorting is very time-consuming, working with each shot, and organizing them so that I can turn them into a coherent story about this project.

But today, while sorting through the photos, I saw one in particular that I wanted to share with you, because it represents perfectly my understanding of the people whom I have met since my arrival here.

There are those who are in the foreground in this photo, so few in number. These few are humble, committed, willing and available, and they work actively to achieve real change. Here, it is Abdoulaye (who lives in the room next to mine, who’s from Casamance and came to work for this project) and Souleymane (a former talibé who was born in Gambia and grew up in a daara in Saint Louis) who are starting the work on construction of a well in a daara where hygiene conditions are worse than questionable. The existing well is open to the air, filthy, and a breeding ground for bacteria and other contaminants.

I am so in awe of who they are, what they do, and the hope they represent. I'm really happy to have met them because being surrounded by people like them is precious, even more so here.

Behind, in the background, you can see some of the talibé children from this daara. These talibés, everyone agrees, are the Men of tomorrow, who here in this daara do not go to school, sleep with more than 15 in the same room, and go out to beg for a few coins or food early in the morning, sometimes until very late at night.

When we arrived, they were discreet and amazed by our presence. Then, they quickly approached us to see what we were doing, to understand, to help.

All of them except one, who can't get up by himself, because he broke his leg several weeks ago and he hasn't been treated, so he stays here all day, without moving.

It's distressing, yes, clearly. But when I see them around the team participating and smiling, I tell myself that all is not lost, and that everything is still possible for them.

And then, finally, there are those in the far background. The most elegant in their clothing, the most smiling too and the most welcoming to the arrival of a white woman.

They are the marabout of the daara with some relatives or neighbors, I imagine. They stayed there in their beautiful clothes all day, sitting in the shade talking to each other. No effort, nothing, no gratitude for the team, no special attention for the children.

It's so revolting!

Anyway, I hope you took the time to read my text, which goes with this first picture, and to look at the few other photos that I'm adding. Because this picture doesn't just show two men in flip-flops digging a well. This photo shows all the action and energy of some people in the face of the cruelty and immobility of others, all in front of a generation of Men in the making.

So, don't misunderstand this photo looking at it quickly, because here you can see eloquently that the real men are those who wear flip-flops and have their feet full of mud!"