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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Living on the streets of Dakar

I thought my readers might enjoy reading something written by my wife, Rhiannon. Rhiannon will be submitting this article for publication to a children's magazine whose topic for next month is Islam in Africa. I believe that God is raising up Rhiannon and giving her a unique ministry in her own right, advocating for children around the world.

Imagine for a moment waking up on a cold, wet sidewalk to the smell of trash and the sounds of a busy street. You are not wearing shoes because you can’t afford to buy them and no one is willing to buy them for you. Your unwashed T-shirt and shorts are full of holes and you skin is covered in dirt. You go for weeks or months at a time without taking a shower. The only item you possess is a large red tomato paste can that you use for collecting change and sugar cubes when you beg. Your family is a bunch of other kids younger and older then you who are living in the same conditions. Imagining this for your self may be difficult, but this is what life is like for 50,000 to 100,000 talibe boys in the country of Senegal. Although there are kids all around the world who live in conditions like this, I would like to focus on Senegal and the talibe, because My husband and I lived in the capital city of Dakar for a year and a half.

Parents who can’t provide give their boys to a marabout (a Muslim sorcerer believed to have supernatural powers) to raise them and provide them with an education. Many people respect the Marabout because of his knowledge of the Koran. The Zatkat in the Koran asks people to help those who do not have the means to help themselves. This is what a marabout is suppose to do. In the past parents would give compensation or gifts and the boys would work as farmers to support the marabout. They would also go house to house in their village reciting the Koran, receiving donations along the way. Today most of the boys are taken out of the villages into the cities where the marabouts can make a better living. A single marabout may have between 20 and several hundred talibes in his care, depending on his reputation.

All Talibes attend Koranic boarding schools called daaras where they learn about the Koran (the holy book of Islam) and how to read Arabic script. Daaras are dilapidated or unfinished houses or animal sheds without roofs, water or electricity. They are filled with germs, rats, cockroaches and even human waste. These schools receive no support from parents or the government, so in order to have a source of income, a marabout will send his talibes into the streets to beg. Any money that the talibe receives goes to support the marabout and his family. Many marabouts require that their talibes meet a certain quota for the day, which is an equivalent of one dollar, and if they do not meet that quota, they may be severely beaten. It is said that the talibes begging is part of their Koranic education. It is supposed to teach them humility, while at the same time offering the opportunity for other Muslims to practice charity.

The real goal of a Talibe is to know the Koran by heart by the age of 15. They have no formal education apart from learning the Koran, no ties to their family, and little chance of getting a job when they are older. Most become a bifal (disciple of the marabout) and spend the rest of their lives on the streets begging.

If you have read this article and feel that you would like to do something about child slavery, continue reading. Free the Children was started by 12-year-old Craig Kielburger. It is a large network of children helping children through education. Go on line to to read about how you can help. 15-year-old Zach Hunter started Loose Change to Loosen Chains. Do a keyword search for Loose Change to Loosen Chains and read about how you can help free modern-day slaves. Since most children become slaves because of poverty, you or your family can sponsor a child through World Vision, Save the Children or any other organization you may find. This will ensure a future for that child by giving them access to education and health care.

There is not much that can be done for the Talibe, because they are property of the marabouts. There are organizations in Senegal that do reach out to these young boys by giving them food, medical care and a shower. Hopefully one day all a Senegalese boy will have to do is imagine like you did at the beginning of this story. Until then many will go to bed hungry, dirty, and exhausted from a long day begging on the streets.

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