April, 2013—Although he’s now living on his own, employed as a cook in a restaurant with backing from Samaritan’s Purse, Davi (names have been changed to protect privacy) still bears scars from the chains used to prevent him from escaping a modern-day form of child slavery in Senegal.
Davi was only 11 when chained. He was one of the young boys born to parents too poor to pay for their schooling, or even their food sometimes, and handed over to Islamic schools known as daara. Experts say there are at least 50,000 boys in daaras throughout Senegal, Africa’s most westerly country.
Daaras are tasked, during five to seven years of each boy’s life, with teaching them the Koran. In decades past, the daaras were to educate future leaders of Senegal, which is 95 percent Muslim.
Unfortunately, Senegal’s crushing poverty—and mass migration to the cities from towns and villages hit hard by crop failure and other economic problems— has produced a relatively new and widespread form of daara. In these daaras, Koranic instruction takes up only a small portion of a child’s day. During the rest of it, many of the talibe (young disciples) are sent into the streets to beg.
The boys must give their earnings to their teachers when they return to their daara every night. If they don’t earn enough, they’re often beaten. Seven daara teachers were found guilty in 2010 of forcing children to beg. Despite the conviction, the first of its kind in Senegal, there are still hundreds of thousands of homeless boys throughout the French-speaking country, including many begging for their daaras.
You cannot walk a block or two in the capital city of Dakar without being approached by boys in filthy, ragged clothing who hold out plastic bowls or tin cans and repeatedly say “donnez moi” (‘give me’ in French) or “ingryallah” (‘give to God’ in Senegal’s native language).
Most of the boys accept begging as their lot in life. What choice do they have? When Davi tried to escape from his daara, the teachers chained him down. “They made me a prisoner,” he recalled.
He managed to escape, but not from poverty. Dirty and starving, sleeping on Dakar’s sidewalks each night, he returned to begging.
A Christian couple—Carlos and Gabriela—felt called by God to help Senegal’s homeless children, including those who’d run from daaras.
Carlos began offering free breakfasts to young boys. As they got to know some of them, “We saw many who wanted to change their lives’ Carlos said. “We realized we needed a house to help them full-time.”
He and his group rented a property to house some of the boys and began offering literacy classes, plus vocational and spiritual training. But because Senegal’s jobless rate is so very high, Carlos and Gabriela understood that no matter what skills the boys learned, without on-the-job experience, they had little chance of being hired.
The solution: establish a business that could provide a third phase for the boys by training them, providing steady employment, and equipping them to find work elsewhere.
They established a restaurant featuring South American-style rotisserie barbecued meats. Initially it was open only on weekends. But as more boys were trained, and as the client base grew, the restaurant opened six days a week.
Davi, now 27, is a cook—one of about 15 former street kids working there at any given time. Other boys who trained there now work for other employers in Dakar.
The restaurant profits, combined with support from Samaritan’s Purse and other groups, pays for the breakfast and lunch program at the original location. About 1,000 children are fed each year. They can also take advantage of free showers, first aid, clothes washing, and more.
The restaurant is also helping to pay for other vocational training programs— carpentry, furniture making, and welding.
Samaritan’s Purse helps vulnerable children sold and abused in the horrifying world of the sex industry, or other exploitation as child soldiers and laborers. Our Christian partners help children avoid exploitation, and rehabilitate those who have lived in bondage, bringing healing, hope, and happiness.