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Improving education and wellbeing amongst vulnerable children in Senegal

14/02/2013

Talibe children begging on streets of DakarPlan is working in Senegal to improve the educational opportunities and general welfare of children attending Koranic schools, known as daaras.

Partly due to a lack of funds and resources, young people living as part of daara arrangements face substandard living conditions and inadequate educational provisions. Moreover, maltreatment and exploitation is common. Many of the students, or talibés, are some of Senegal's most vulnerable children, separated from friends and family and living on the street.

“Traditionally, children went to daaras to learn the Koran, but also to learn a profession – such as agriculture,” says Oumar Ben Khatab Gueye, a project worker at Plan Senegal. “But it is now corrupt. The talibés are now children who are on the street, in a difficult situation, vulnerable physically and mentally, and often mistreated.”

At a daara in Louga, three hours north-east of the capital, conditions are very poor with only one small room serving as sleeping quarters for all of its students. The teacher, or marabout, does not have the means to provide even the most basic amenities and relies on donations to feed and clothe the children in his care.

“I beg every day and we all sleep here together,” says 12 year-old Pape, showing the sugar lumps and biscuits that have been dropped into his bowl. “My parents aren’t here and I miss them. If I could have one thing in the world, I’d want to repair this building, re-paint it and make it look pretty, and then I’d want to have a tent to sleep in. I’d want to fix the roof, too. Sometimes when it’s cold and raining, the water gets in and it’s damp.”

In addition to the dismal surroundings, daara students have few opportunities to receive formal education in subjects such as Maths, Science or Information Technology. Moreover, many never learn to speak, read, or write in French - Senegal’s official language.

Ibrahim Ndour, Director of the Ministry of Education’s Department of Middle and Secondary Education, says that the traditional village daara model has lost its way.

“Nowadays, hundreds of talibés are sent to the big cities,” he explains. “The marabouts are unable to lodge the children, so they spend the night on the streets or in makeshift shacks without water or electricity. The marabouts ask the kids to bring in $1 each day and this is exploitation. As a modern country we have a responsibility to put an end to this. It troubles the conscience to find children in the streets at midnight."

Helping children get better start in life

An estimated seven percent of primary school-aged children in Senegal are unaccounted for. These children represent the thousands of lost boys and girls who have slipped beneath the radar to live on the street or within a daara.

Plan has partnered with the USAID-funded Basic Education Project, to work with marabouts to introduce formal education and better learning conditions into daaras in Louga and Dakar.

“The Basic Education Project is a ground-breaking way of using partners on the ground to communicate with the marabouts who run the daaras. Should it succeed, the government will use the model to change the daara system,” says Amy Si Diouf, director of child rights and child protection at the Ministry of Education.

Girls learning French at a daara in DakarSince the project began four years ago, 98 daaras have been renovated, while 108 have been provided with new teachers, school supplies, hygiene and sanitation amenities, and medical equipment.

In addition to their Koranic studies, children between the ages of 6 and 12 are now taught a basic curriculum of French and Mathematics while teenagers are learning the vocational skills they will need to get a job.

So far nearly 5000 young people have benefitted. Students are excelling in the new program, with many achieving higher results than their counterparts in formal French schools.

Now, as part of a wider consortium of actors delivering the Basic Education Project, Plan is working to ensure that 50,000 street children are enrolled in schools and other special programmes that provide education, training, and assistance in reuniting with their families.

Moreover, Plan is continuing to improve hygiene, sanitaiton and general living conditions in daara schools by providing and renovating facilities such as latrines and water points.

As well as helping vulnerable children get off of the streets, we are working with families to prevent children from entering into this life of adversity. By making parents aware of the advantages of sending children to nearby Koranic schools, we are helping to reduce the number of young people being sent to live on the street in daaras far from their homes and families. 

Find out more about Plan's work in Senegal.

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