Saturday, July 03, 2010

Thirty Years and Eight Months: E'cole de la Rue

From Dakar 2010

Yesterday, we had a mostly free day with only one evening meeting. Joy, Katie, and I decided to find E'cole de la Rue (or the School of the Street) which I first read about here and here almost eight months ago. In case I haven't been exactly clear or talked to you about what our research group is studying, we are examining the alternatives to public education here in Dakar. These are systems that are an alternative to or challenge public education. We are examining how class conflict manifests itself through education. Through this, we are trying to find out how local people in the community create alternative opportunities for education. When we are finished, we will write teaching units that we will use to introduce all of this information to our students so that they can draw comparisons between their lives and the lives of the students in Dakar. Also, my students just need to examine another part of the world; sometimes they can be so close-minded about other cultures.

So, for those of you who thought so... no. I am not trying to save the children here. I am just hanging out with them in their community so I can learn what life and school are like for them.

E'cole de la Rue stood out in our research as one of the first places we needed to examine. We had a street name and a cross section. When we showed the taxi driver, he had no idea where we were going. He ended up dropping us off on the right street, however, it was about a mile away from where we were supposed to be. We started walking. And what a walk. We were dropped off in the middle of a market. Tiny booths took up most of the street filled with plastic knickknacks, fruit, cloth, baskets... the amount of crap you can buy in the street is mind-blowing. As we walked down the street looking for this school, the booths started changing. We were not in a tourist's market anymore. Soon we were surrounded by mechanics, key makers, and other storefronts for the locals. I started getting nervous. Where were we going?

After a few more minutes, I spotted some chalkboards out on the street.
From Dakar 2010
This was it, but where in the hell was this school? A boy of about sixteen came up to us and said, "E'cole de la Rue? Mbaye?"
Mbaye is the last name of the director of the school. We answered yes and he gestured us to follow him. Since I've been here I've learned not to follow anyone, but I shrugged it off and followed him further down the street. Then he came to a tiny alley and gestured that we should follow.
From Dakar 2010
We all shook our heads no, but the boy said, "E'cole de la Rue! Mbaye!" We hung back for a second longer and then I just followed. It was a rush of adrenaline on my part that I normally wouldn't have. I don't know where it came from, but I had a good feeling about following the kid. The alley opened up into a little square in the middle of a neighborhood of huts/shanties made of clay, cardboard, cloth, cement bricks, and tarps. Women were nursing babies and roasting nuts, kids were playing foosball on an old table, goats were hanging out outside of the homes, and teen guys in soccer jerseys were smoking cigarettes and talking about the World Cup. People gave us the up-down as we walked through... nothing new here, just a couple of toubabs trying to find a street school.

We got to another alley about the size of the first one and by this time my cynical self was thinking, "Well, I might as well follow down this tiny alley. If the kid wants to beat me up and take my money it's my own fault." But the alley ended in another square which contained something like a train car that read:
From Dakar 2010
I've never been more proud of myself for following my intuition and ashamed for assuming the worst in people.

Mr. Mbaye was available to talk with us for as long as we wanted. He has been running the school for "thirty years and eight months" and he finances the school with his garden. He runs the school all day and into the evening Monday-Friday and works in the garden on Saturday and Sunday. Basically, he spends all of his time working for his school.
From Dakar 2010
Mbaye didn't go to regular school and couldn't read or write until the age of fourteen. He was able to recite passages in Arabic from the Koran but couldn't read or write on his own. His father had brought him to Dakar at a young age to study with a Marabout (a religious teacher). However, he suffered abuse from his religious teacher and ran away. He showed us the scars on his legs from physical abuse, sleeping on wood, and worms digging into his skin.
From Dakar 2010
I haven't written about it a lot, but talibe are the young boys who walk around Dakar begging. Since I've been here, I've met many of these boys, one being as young as four and while the oldest was around nine or ten. Many of them are sent to Koranic school by their parents and end up begging in the street for their teacher. Mbaye was one of these talibes and he works to educate any of these boys and other boys in the neighborhood he can find.
From Dakar 2010
The public schools in Dakar will only take you in if you are the right age and have a birth certificate. If a student comes to Mbaye and has a birth certificate, he will send them to the public school and make sure they get tutoring from his school at night. If they do not, they work with the teachers at E'cole de la Rue, learning how to read and write in French and English.
From Dakar 2010
His school currently serves about 200 students, sometimes more and sometimes less. He will take anyone, not just boys. He works with girls and even adults. While we were visiting, a woman in her thirties was there working on her French. Mbaye said that students often bring themselves to his school because they want to learn. Everything else is word of mouth. He has students working with him from the university as teachers on a volunteer basis. If he does pay the teachers, it is with money from his garden.
From Dakar 2010
I was so touched by this man and his mission to educate those who do not have the opportunity available to them. When I asked him what he needed for his school he talked about the most simple things: clothes and shoes for the kids, flashlights, chalk, pencils, pens, a diesel generator, wood for the floors and tin for the roof:
From Dakar 2010
Mbaye has wired bulbs to shine over the students in the street during the evening lessons. When all the shops close for the night, school begins.
From Dakar 2010
I want to help out as much as I can with supplies or whatever else he needs while I'm here during his summer school sessions. But the thing is, I know that if we didn't show up again, he would continue his work without outside help. Many people have stopped by to visit. Televisions cameras and news programs have been in to ask him about what he does. To be truthful, he doesn't need those people, or me. He works within his community with the people and the available resources and that is a true self-sustaining program. It was inspiring to see. We asked if we could come again and he invited us in any time. I will be going a few more times throughout my stay here in Dakar and I can't wait to get to know him and the students better.
From Dakar 2010
I am definitely done complaining that I can't get anything done without grant money. While I can't promise that I will start a garden to fund programming, I do promise to be more resourceful with what is available to me. Only one question remains... how am I going to present this to my students in a way that will help them see what I've seen?
From Dakar 2010
Peace,
Jen, who is on the hunt for some good live music in this town!

2 comments:

Sky said...

This was amazing and very inspiring!

Love you sistahh! You're doing amazing things :)

Joseph said...

That's pretty cool. It could be a model for our education system after the US goes to a charter/for profit system.

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