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Learning in the streets of Dakar
By Bassirou Sow, Sud Quotidien, Senegal
 

  In the heart of Dakar, "school in the service of street children", as it is labeled by its founders, is barely visible from the street. In fact very few passers-by even know of its existence.

 
  The "school in the service of street children" is squeezed in among private houses and stores. Its five-classroom structure, dedicated to underprivileged children, was built only last December, on land donated by the non-governmental organization "Enda Third World".
 
  Before that, in the bustling rue Tolbiac where retail shopkeepers from all over the Senegalese capital come to buy their wares, classes were held outdoors on the sidewalk.
 
  "Pupils sat on straw mats, because we had no tables or benches, much less a luxury like an electric lamp. After sundown we were forced to light candles to conduct evening classes," said the Director who described how, in those days, pupils were exposed to the blistering sun and gas fumes from the exhaust pipes of passing cars, their voices often drowned out by the vociferous shouting of drivers and the deafening roar of speeding cars.
 
  The school was in fact bathed in the tumultuous atmosphere of a busy traffic hub from the time it was set up in 1990 until last year when solid walls were finally built and classrooms equipped thanks to gifts from anonymous donors, assistance from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the sale of a wide variety of crafts produced and donated by local artisans. According to the Director, the school's operating budget and indeed survival is ensured by NGOs.
 
A second chance for learning
 
  The school now counts 108 pupils from nursery school to about 4th grade, and seven teachers all volunteers, who, "in exchange for their devotion to education," said the Director, "receive only a modest monthly remuneration". The teachers themselves explain that their main objective is to give these children the kind of instruction which will be useful for their further schooling and, in the long run, enable them to earn a decent living.
 
  Thus , the teaching staff in this informal institution in the rue Tolbiac prepares pupils for integration with the state school system, by initiating them to reading and writing skills, in order to provide them with a solid base on which to pursue their studies.
 
  "At the beginning of each school year, the staff of the Tolbiac school help parents of school-age children to enrol them in the formal school system", the teachers say, explaining that their school also welcomes children age 7 to 15 who are not enrolled.
 
  These are generally orphans, children abandonned by their parents or in difficult circumstances who were unable to enter school at the proper age, and are getting instruction close to what they would have received in the formal school system. This is the case for Ousmane Sy, 17, who has been attending school in the rue Tolbiac for the last three years. Speaking in his father's shoe repair shop where he can now help with the business, he says, "I write down the names of clients and their orders, and can keep the accounts whereas, two years ago, I couldn't even write my name."
 
Realizing children's dreams
 
  Every Friday, after high prayers, the talibes, students attending the Koranic school in Dakar and its suburbs such as Pikine and Guediawaye, go to the rue Tolbiac to learn French (the official language of Senegal) and notions of hygiene. The school also gives free literacy classes in local languages to young boys who were unable to attend French-language schools and girls working as domestic servants. And, for those who seek additional instruction, the school offers courses in English, Arab literature and Wolof.
 
  Absa Diallo is not a maid. She has a stall in the central-Dakar market. At 25, she could barely write her name. "Now, I no longer need to ask for help to run my business," she said. "Over the last six months, in fact, I have started to expand my activities within an association I set up last year with colleague friends in the market".
 
  The Director, who hopes that the school will soon be recognized on the level of any other institution under the aegis of the Ministry of Education, has only one aim: "to help our children realize their dreams and to fight illiteracy."
 
 
Street children learn in new classrooms in the heart of Dakar
Bassirou Sow
 
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