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

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals 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.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More