News from Maison de la Gare

Microfinance Opens Doors to the Future

… and volunteers can play an invaluable role

Maison de la Gare has recognized for many years that improving the daily lives of the begging talibé street children is not enough. Many of these children have been attending our programs for over a decade and are now too old to continue in their daaras.

We listened for years to older talibés talking about finding a new life in Europe, risking the ocean passage to the Canary Islands or across the desert to the Libyan coast. Many tried, but few were successful. Others spoke of following their main role models to become marabouts themselves, perpetuating the cycle of abuse and financial exploitation of young talibés.

Our poultry farming apprenticeship program in nearby Bango was made possible in 2018 by a grant from the U.S. State Department. This was our first effort to support some older talibés in learning a skill, a trade that would allow them to become self-sufficient in Senegal. This was followed quickly by the tailoring apprenticeship program located in our center in Saint Louis. However, it was soon clear that, with hundreds of the talibés maturing every year, this is not enough.

When the American non-profit Friends of Senegal approached us in early 2020 about starting a microfinance program, we jumped at the chance. Here was an opportunity to support graduates of our apprenticeship programs in establishing themselves, but also to offer support to many others who had ideas for creating independent businesses.

After a shaky beginning as we learned how to best select and support borrowers, the program has thrived. We have granted 121 loans to date.

Of the 22 loans granted in 2022, 14 were to talibés. Each of these youth has a vision for a successful business that can be the basis for his financial security. The scope of proposals made by these aspiring borrowers was inspiring. Three have established chicken-raising operations. One expanded his small restaurant in which he hires several talibés as staff. And one of his early talibé employees took a loan to start his own restaurant. A former talibé is retailing charcoal and animal feed to local families. Two are selling products as they walk around the different areas of Saint Louis, one food and the other clothing. One boy, Khassimou, has a stand selling coffee and donuts while another, Bobo, is operating a very popular fruit stand. Another youth has started a successful business reselling dried and smoked fish in nearby villages. And more.

Every one of these borrowers is repaying their loan on schedule, typically over 10 months. We would like to launch many more youth in this way. The limitation is the time needed to provide business training to potential borrowers, to support them as they develop business proposals that can be financed, and to follow them and support them as they pursue their projects. Volunteers can have an enormous impact here. They will be able to inspire hope and expectation of a brighter future for these older talibés who have lived all their youth in the harsh conditions of learning and begging in the streets.

At a recent loan committee meeting, English volunteers Fenella, Josh and Ella each presented a loan proposal that they had developed with a potential borrower. All three proposals were accepted.

The borrower that Ella worked with, Pourmera, is a young, divorced woman who runs a business based on selling accessories for women. We have included female borrowers in our program both to represent the full community and to provide models of successful entrepreneurship for our talibé borrowers.

The loans that we have made to date represent just a beginning of this effort to set older talibés on a secure footing for the future, for their financial independence. We are grateful to the volunteers who have helped and look forward to welcoming many more. They contribute to protecting children's rights for a better future.