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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs