News / Africa

Senegal Quranic School Puts Children First

Young talibé girls in Niasse's class
Young talibé girls in Niasse's class

Multimedia

Audio
Amanda Fortier

Quranic schools in Senegal gained much unwanted attention last year with a damning report by Human Rights Watch that said many schools were enslaving their students to beg for money. One Quranic school that is putting its students first.

Mohammed Niasse opened his Quranic school in 1981 with just six students. Thirty years later, this daara, located in Medina Gounass, one of the poorest suburbs of Dakar, has more than 250 kids.

Niasse is the only marabout, or spiritual leader, who teaches here. He divides his time between three open-air rooms that sit in the sand-filled courtyard of the community mosque.

The classrooms overflow with talibés, young boys and girls between the ages of three and 17, who are there to study Islam, French and Arabic. They sit squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder on small wooden benches. Niasse calls on them individually to recite verses of the Quran that are scribbled across their small wooden boards.

Exploitation, abuse by marabouts

Last April's report by Human Rights Watch revealed widespread exploitation and abuse by marabouts. It was a wake-up call to local aid groups, religious leaders and the Senegalese government that the living conditions of talibés - including a lack of food, shelter, hygiene and access to health care - have become deplorable.

Niasse admitted he was surprised when the report came out, but said it was a good surprise. He said he has been fighting against these 'so-called' marabouts for a long time. Niasse said the Quran itself is perfect. It is transparent like water, so you cannot put something dirty into it.

In Senegal, most people still live on less than one dollar a day and nearly half the population of 12 million is under the age of 21. The extreme poverty and high number of young people have made it increasingly difficult for families to meet their basic needs, including education.

Pervasive poverty

Niasse said it is poverty that brought religion and begging together. Islam does not recommend it, but he said when you are so poor, it becomes a necessity.

Ten years ago a group of women from Medina-Gounass decided they would help Niasse by becoming godmothers to the talibés. They call themselves the Ndeye Daaras.

Aissatou Dieye and Sokna Sall are founding members, and both have their own children to care for, yet still find time to volunteer.

Sall said that every morning she comes here to visit the kids. If they are dirty, she washes their clothes. She gives them soap and bleach to wash their hands. If they are sick, she brings them to the hospital.

Caring Ndeye Daaras

Many of the talibés at Niasse’s daara have been sent away from home - some from as far off as neighboring Mali and Guinea Bissau. The young talibés who arrive alone often are the ones most dependent on the Ndeye Daaras, who now number more than 30 members.

Dieye said her work is very satisfying because every mother must educate a child who does not have the means. She said that you may know who brought this child into the world, but you might not know what good this child can bring to others. Dieye said that even if a talibé who she did not know came to her house, she would feed him.

Babacar Lo is a 16-year old talibé who attends Niasse’s daara. He is one of the fortunate few who still lives with his family. Some of his friends are not so lucky.

Lo said he has some friends who beg in the street. They do it because it is what they know and what their marabout forces them to do. Lo said he has tried to tell them it is not good, but they do not listen.

Committing to progress

After the Human Rights Watch report, the Senegalese government reinforced a 2005 law banning public begging. They also jailed seven marabouts for six months and imposed $200 fines on each for exploiting their talibés. It was seen as a step forward.

Mamadou Ndiaye, president of the Dakar aid group Sweat for Survival, said the group has tried again and again to organize a national platform for this problem, but it was only when the international report came out that people started getting on board.

Just months after the ban on begging was reinstated, enforcement started to wane. It is difficult to implement a no-begging policy in a country where poverty is endemic and people are hungry.

The Senegalese government said it is committed to creating 100 "modern" daaras by next year to provide better learning conditions. Ndiaye said it is a problem that is bigger than just charlatan marabouts.

Ndiaye believes the real marabouts know, among themselves, who the "fake" ones are, so it is up to them to denounce them. But, he said there also is a need to educate Senegalese about population control. Ndiaye said it is sad. They need to organize themselves in terms of birthrates and to bring into the world only who they can take care of. He said Islam does not ask to bring a child into the world just to turn around and put him back into the street.

You May Like

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs