News / Africa

Senegal Quranic School Puts Children First

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

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Open Source Seeds Hit the Market, Raise Awareness

First open source seeds include 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid