News from Maison de la Gare
Sewing for LifeTweeter
Maison de la Gare’s tailoring apprenticeship program takes off
A beautiful new building began to take shape
within Maison de la Gare’s welcome center early in 2018, adjacent to
the garden and the infirmary.
The hundreds of talibé children who frequent the center every day were very curious about what
this would be. But several of the older talibés knew, and they were waiting eagerly to begin a
new and hopeful chapter in their lives.
The talibé youth who stay in their daaras for 5, 10 or even 15 years all face the challenge of what to do when they have completed their Koranic education or are otherwise too old to continue in their daaras. They have no formal education and no marketable skills, and most do not want to return to their communities of origin where they remember almost no one and have no way of sustaining themselves. These youth are desperate to find possibilities for a better life.
Many of these older talibés have been with Maison de la Gare for years, and we have become increasingly determined to support them in developing trades which can offer them self-sufficiency and respect in society. The agricultural apprenticeship program in Bango was our first step in doing this, and this was followed in early 2018 with a poultry farming project. The tailoring apprenticeship project complements these earlier efforts, attracting and motivating more youth.
The new center was completed in the late spring of 2018 and is now fully operational with 12 electric sewing machines. An experienced Saint Louis tailor, Baka Fall of Baka Fashion, has made a commitment to guide the program as an instructor and a mentor for the apprentices. And Kalidou, a talibé who has been developing his skills as a tailoring apprentice for many years, is thriving in his new role as the lead talibé for this program. He is always present, and his quiet and supportive teaching approach is well accepted by the talibé apprentices. With Baka’s support, Kalidou is now capable of producing excellent quality traditional clothing of almost any design required by the Senegalese market. Kalidou is very proud of his role in this project. Although he is ready to support himself independently, we hope that he will stay with the project for some time.
Two other apprentices are sterling examples of the opportunities offered by this new program. Both have been the subject of earlier reports, as they have searched to find a direction for their lives.
Souleymane fully understands the need to have a professional skill, as he was launched from his daara without any ability to earn a decent living. Souleymane was sent to a daara in Saint Louis from his home in the Gambia at a young age. He began frequenting Maison de la Gare’s center in 2010 where he faithfully attended literacy classes and became a leader of the karate program. In 2017, Souleymane’s family convinced him to return home for an arranged marriage. Once there, however, he realized that it wasn’t possible to have the life that he had envisaged for himself and his family. He returned to Saint Louis determined to learn a trade. Souleymane expressed his motivation to join the tailoring program saying simply: “I want to have a meaningful activity and a trade.” He faces the challenge of supporting himself and his family while continuing in the program. We have provided living accommodations for him, but he must still eat and send a small contribution home to his wife in Gambia. However, Souleymane has persisted, and he will soon have the skills that he needs to generate a living income.
Elhage has also persisted, with a personal drive and motivation that are truly exceptional. He was very articulate when he signed up for this program: “Not having a trade at my age is like walking blind. There was no work for me here and I want to train to have a better life, to have real work and a skill so that I can run my own business.” Elhage spends two days a week in the market, working at odd jobs to earn enough money to feed himself for the week. He works the remaining days of the week in the tailoring apprenticeship program and he sleeps in Maison de la Gare’s emergency shelter building at night. With his tailoring skills, Elhage will soon be ready to use his boundless energy to build his own life; he is a model and an inspiration to the other talibés of all ages.
Apprentices have been at work in the sewing center pretty well every weekday over the past year, and often on weekends. They have learned to make traditional clothing items such as pants, skirts and shirts as well as items like colorful shopping bags. These are beautifully finished, fully on par with equivalent items purchased in the local markets or elsewhere in Saint Louis.
Many of Maison de la Gare’s volunteers have purchased clothing and other items to take home with them as gifts or for themselves. The apprentices have produced robust and colorful bags of different sizes, and other volunteers have taken samples of these home with them for sale in Canada, the U.S. and some countries in Europe. A flower shop in Ottawa, Canada – Alta Vista Flowers - is offering smaller bags with some of their floral arrangements and they reported sales over $200 during a recent month. Such sales are very motivating for the apprentices and, if we can build successfully on these beginnings, can make an important contribution to the sustainability of this valuable program.
The tailoring program has allowed us to respect a promise that we made to the older talibé children who have grown up with us, a promise to offer them a way of finding true stability and self-respect in their lives. The tailoring apprenticeship building has become a magnet for the talibé children participating in our other programs and is a visible statement and reminder to them that there are possibilities for them to become competent and self-sufficient, to take charge of their own lives.
We asked Kalidou what the project means to him. His response: “I feel too emotional to speak. I don’t have words to express how much this project means to me. It is a dream come true.”
We are deeply grateful to GO Campaign of Santa Monica, California and to Solidarité nationale et internationale (SNI) of France for making this project possible.