Being a Peace Corps volunteer in an urban site, I encounter begging children in the streets every time I walk outside. Senegal is unique among developing countries with the Talibe – village children studying in urban Koranic “boarding” schools and often sent out to the streets to beg. A pillar of Islam is the giving of alms, but besides a ton of Talibe children and the occasional handicapped adult, I really see no other begging in Kebemer. The history behind the Talibe is COMPLICATED, as well as the different types of Tailbe kids and Darra schools, but their presence in Senegal is deeply rooted in the culture. You can check this out for more info, or utliize your google skills to learn more about the fascinating, controversial topic. For this post, I’ll just share my experiences thus far.
When I first arrived in Senegal, I was unsure how to deal with the Talibe, and not much has changed in that regard. Senegalese people tend to ignore them, and I did that for a while. Once that strategy made me feel like a cement chain was pulling my heart down to my bowels, I began engaging them in conversation instead. Some of the kids don’t speak Wolof, though, and some of the little ones are too scared to respond. Not to mention it’s awkward to strike up a conversation with kids after denying them money. I once made the terrible mistake of buying breakfast for about 5 tiny boys on the street, and by the time i was handing it out, I was surrounded by 30 boys of all ages, pushing and yelling. One kid even got cut by my bread knife; it was a nightmare. Everyday, every mistake here is such a learning process. I’m still trying to figure out my role in interacting with the Talibe. Giving them money is a dilemma: do you give the boy change, contributing to the system in place but maybe saving him from a beating from the maribou? Do you give only food, when really he’d rather have a coin to buy candy or meet his daily quota to take back to the school? Or do you give nothing to avoid being singled out as the white woman in the city who always has money to be hit up for?
A month ago, I traveled to Saint Louis to help out with a soccer tournament for Talibe kids. We had different stations set up to teach the kids about hand washing, an organic bug repellent to fight malaria, PC’s favorite plant moringa, and the one I helped with – microgardening. We handed out prizes of soap, toothbrushes, “healthy” moringa beignets (until it became a dangerous riot for food). But the most enjoyable part for me was face, arm, chest painting. After mistakenly painting lions on a few boys, it was made known to me that everyone was really wanting Barcelona soccer emblems. How you confuse lion and a soccer patch is a legitimate question, but I’ve now got mad skill Barce, as well as Real. I put my foot down at Chelsea.Finally, this blog is a Peace Corps initiative with information on some awesome projects that some passionate, inspirational volunteers are working on. Really, they are so cool. As for me, I’m following up a project with a Koranic school a PC volunteer before me set up. Yay for gardening! More info in a future post. This is too long.