Hatrack Heroes! Episode 1
THE LOST CHILDREN OF DAKAR
Guest: Jayna Diallo
Organisation: Les Racines de l'Espoir (The Roots Of Hope)
Release: 4th November 2019
Come with us as we begin our brand new podcast in the west of Africa, chatting with Jayna Diallo, cabin crew in the Middle East, and ambassador in the same region for the 'Association Les Racines de l'Espoir' (The Roots of Hope), a charity helping many of the disowned children in Dakar, Senegal.
Nick: Hi everyone, and welcome to Episode 1 of ‘Hatrack Heroes’, a podcast that will uncover many of the lesser known crew involved charities from the farthest corners of the globe. Today, we travel to west Africa to find about the ‘lost children of Dakar’.
Now Jayna is crew with an airline in the Middle East, which is how we met… Jayna is also the ambassador in the same region for a children’s charity based in Dakar, Senegal called Les Racines De l’Espoir or The Roots of Hope. Jayna can you give us a small introduction about yourself, and about Les Racines de l’Espoir.
Jayna: Hi Nick, first of all, thank you for having me. We started the association about 6 years ago, it’s gonna be exactly 6 years on the 15th of September. And we started as a group of just young people who saw a lot of issues in our society, mainly the children. And we together decided to create an association and try to help those children.
Obviously in six years we have grown in big numbers. We are now currently 11 head members in 11 different countries, so each country has its representative. We are in France, Canada, Morocco, Ethiopia, Dubai US, Spain, Belgium, China, Russia, and obviously in Senegal as well. And we currently have a bit over 1000 volunteers.
Jayna: …so, we’ve grown in big, big numbers now working with us. I’ll tell you a bit about our association. In Senegal, we have a lot of children that are unfortunately left behind on the streets.
Nick: Ok, so they’re left on the streets, how do they get from the home to the streets, being left behind there?
Jayna: Alright, we have this thing in our society where… well, first of all, let’s start with Senegal having a literacy rate of 50%, so every other person you meet has not gone to school. Obviously, the realities are different in Dakar, because it’s the capital city, so pretty much every one is educated. But when you go into the country, almost no one is educated. People don’t know contraceptive methods, they don’t have family plans or anything like that, and most of them live in poverty.
So, what happens is they get married, they have about, every… every other year they will have a child. Now eventually, they can’t take care of these children anymore because they are poor people, so it’s a common practice for them to come to the capital city, and leave their children to these so-called Imams, who will tell you ‘I will take care of your children’. You leave them with your child, and they will tell you ‘I will teach your child the Koran’.
Nick: So, just to pause there… just for everyone else that’s not from a Muslim country, or doesn’t live in a Muslim country, an Imam is?
Jayna: technically, an Imam is the person who is leading the prayer at the mosque, however, the reason why I said “so-called imam’s” is that these people are not leading any prayers. They live in a dump somewhere with their children and their wives, and it’s usually in abandoned buildings, construction sites. They will tell you that they will teach your child the Koran, which is something they do. They will wake up in the morning, and teach these children the Koran, but what happens afterwards, maybe one hour they will teach them the Koran, then they will send them to the street to beg. I want to put also a side note that these parents leaving their children with these Imams, they are not blind to this, they know that their children will be sent…
Nick: Oh, they do know? Ok, I didn’t realise this…
Jayna: They do, because they see these children on the streets, they’re just turning a blind eye saying ‘well, I sent my kid to study the Koran’, and they will then leave and go back to their lives with no contact whatsoever with this Imam, this Imam cannot find them in the future. And they will go, and they will forever abandon their children.
Jayna: Yes, and…
Nick: I’ve been to Dakar, just a couple months ago, and those streets, they, I mean I was probably in a nicer area, I don’t know, but the streets were busy, they were crazy streets, people everywhere, cars everywhere.
Jayna: exactly, exactly… and unfortunately, these children are probably the most common victims of traffic accidents on the roads, with sadly nobody to claim their bodies, so they will be at the morgue for a while, and they would be buried, and nobody would know, and no one would miss them. I am talking about children between ages 2 and 10.
Jayna: these are small children
Nick: ok, so you’ve got the foundation that do what you can to help these children, look after these children, take care of them, but you’ve got a Government, what do they do?
Jayna: Unfortunately, our Government, like many African Governments are very corrupt, they do a lot of campaigns trying to, umm take these children off the streets. They advocate that they are for a better future for these children. But these are things they say out loud to the other world leaders, the western world, and they get funds, they get funds from the world bank, they get funds from the other countries to try to help us to find a solution for this, but what happens to the funds is that once it reaches Senegal, it is just distributed amongst the Government leaders.
Nick: It’s just corrupt, their nice cars, their nice houses
Jayna: nothing happens, they will have bigger houses, or more houses, their children would be having a better future, but not the ones that they campaigned for. So absolutely nothing is being done in Senegal about this.
So, what we do basically, is try to take these kids off the streets… unfortunately, we can only do that if the Imam allows us to do it. We cannot just… because the parents came to the Imam, and decided that they would be the guardian of their children.
Nick: Them being guardian, is that an official document or…
Jayna: It’s not, there is no documents
Nick: so then, how can they take ownership of this child
Jayna: well it’s a verbal agreement that they have with the parent of that child. We cannot come and take the child, we don’t have, like we cannot base it on anything, we cannot, we don’t know the parents, the actual legal parents, and he’s telling us he is the guardian so… What we can do is ask the Imam to let us take care of these kids… many imams will not allow us… why? Because this is a business for them
Nick: they’re getting money
Jayna: yeah, they’re getting money… so when they have 30 children, and they send the kids to the streets every day and say ‘each of you bring 2 euros’ that’s 60 euros a day that they get in their pocket. That is a big salary in Africa. Now these kids will be on the streets begging for these 2 euros any way they can, they will risk their lives. When someone is in the car trying to get their money, and the traffic lights turn green they will be running after that car to get that 50 cents, or that 20 fils, doesn’t matter.
Nick: So, in regards to the Government, like ok, so they’re claiming this money from other governments around the world, other world organisations, and they’re just taking money for themselves and in their own pockets, their own children. What goes through your mind when, when you hear about this, and you see this?…They’ve got a complete disregard for humanity in general really. What’s in your head when this happens?
Jayna: It’s sickening to say the least, it’s very sad because you see them on TV telling you promises and giving you hope. For us as our organization, we are hopeful… when we listen to these politicians telling us they’re going to change it. I mean, these are the kids that we wake up every day hoping they will get a better life. And someone is looking at us on the TV promising these things, it gives you hope and you’re hoping this one is going to be different. From the past, we’ve just learned that they’re all the same, and it’s disappointment after disappointment. For us as adults, we’re used to disappointments but, the hardest part is these kids, is to see them getting heartbroken and disappointed time after time after time. That is something that is very sad, and very hard for us to live.
You know, looking at a child and telling them it’s going to be ok, and change is going to come… and knowing deep down that you are the only who can provide that change for them, and not the government. I don’t know, I don’t know how to express this… but it’s heart-breaking I have to say. It’s really sad. Unfortunately, for at least most of us in my organisation. I’m speaking about my organisation only here, is that we have given up hope in our government. We have given up waiting for them, we used to go to meetings with them, and offer solutions, and we’ve realised that’s just a waste of our time, so we’ve completely decided to distance ourselves from any types of politicians, no matter what they’re promising us.
Nick: Have you reached out to these organisations yourself, these agencies which have given money to the government, has the charity reached out to them?
Jayna: Yeah, but these are not agencies actually that have given… these are governments, this is a government giving a donation. It’s like France gives a donation to Senegal for this.
Nick: Ah, I see
Jayna: So, this is like a big level, this is like millions, we’re talking about millions of dollars being given.
Jayna: It’s not small amount of money
Nick: So, it should be money that can do a whole lot of things,
Jayna: It can change…
Nick: …not just the children but everything, infrastructure, business, education all sorts
Jayna: this money can change the life of these children if it was put to good use
Nick: but it’s just going into the bank account of just a few select people
Jayna: exactly, and this is a reality we face every day, but we’ve learnt to just move on and not rely on our government. I think if every single person in Senegal finds it in their heart and put some work and try to change the lives of these children, then change is going to come. But not every single person is doing that.
Nick: generation by generation
Jayna: yes… our hope is, is to change the mentality of the people, never mind the government, we need to change the people. Because the government can put regulations, but no one is respecting it if the culture and the mentality is different.
So now currently we are going to villages, we’re doing campaigns.
Nick: so, you’re starting from the parents
Jayna: yes, so now we’re trying to educate these parents in these villages. So, every trimester we would pick somewhere in rural Senegal where no one is going, and try to get the women in that little village, and try to educate them about contraceptive methods, and hoping that these women would tell these daughters, who will eventually tell their daughters. Senegal is a big country, it’s 15m people to reach.
Nick: that’s not an easy task
Jayna: it’s not an easy task and it requires funds, and we are completely non-profit, nobody has a salary. Everything we do, every fund, every money we put onto this work is either from us, or from people who have donated, so it’s not an easy process, but we’re getting there.
In Dakar, when we see families at risk, meaning when we know of a family that has 7 children, a mum and dad that are both not working, we collect a donation for those families that we consider being at risk. We collect clothing for them, for their children, we give them 25kg of rice this month, trying to help them with their everyday life, in the hope that they will not send their children to the street… so we do target those families.
The Imam’s that let us work with them, they have to promise us that the children will not be on the streets begging, so then we have to provide everything for those children... so those are the children that have been abandoned, then we have to provide sponsors for those children. Someone to send every trimester clothing for that kid.
Nick: These sponsors are from within Senegal, or from anywhere
Jayna: from anywhere around the world, I myself sponsor five children, I have my friends that are sponsoring children here in Dubai.
Jayna: From the States, from all around the world, anyone can be a sponsor, as long as you can send Western Union for that kid.
Nick: Right, I see
Jayna: And, It’s really a very small amount of money, it’s 125 dirhams.
Nick: okay, so 125 dirhams is perhaps 30 euros
Jayna: It’s about 30 euros that you would send every 3 months for this child
Nick: so, 10 euros a month
Jayna: 10 euros a month for that child, and you would provide clothing and shoes for that child. Helping us take that child off the streets. So, this child would be now studying the Koran during the day, studying French, how to read write in the afternoon, and when this child gets old enough we have some of them are about 8, 9, 10, we start to teach them like… like… the girls we teach how to do some sewing
Nick: Oh okay
Jayna: yeah, the boys will learn how to do some carpentry job in the afternoon… some type of skills that would eventually help them find jobs later on in their life. As of now, we don’t have any structure to teach these kids maths science. Unfortunately, something that is actually provided everywhere else in the world for free. Even in Senegal, our elementary schools are public, but we really need someone to buy school supplies, and all these things so we are working towards that goal, we are currently building a house, an orphanage.
Nick: So, these children are on the street, Les Racines de l’Espoir, they find this child, they get permission, where do they go?
Jayna: So, they get permission, they still live in the Imam’s house, and most of the Imam’s houses we have are in Dalifor, which is walking distance to where the president of the association lives. So, she can keep an eye… because we need to be able to drop in any time, and make sure these kids are not on the street, so we need something that’s close by.
They’re still with the Imam, but the imam is not getting money out of them, it’s not a business, but keeping in mind, that in the agreement, we are also feeding the Imam and his family
Nick: Oh wow
Jayna: Because the imam’s income comes from sending these kids to the streets
Nick: So, his income before he had these children was…
Jayna: nothing, so this is a business for him
Nick: nothing, okay, so he’s found himself a new job, okay
Jayna: exactly, now if we come and tell him we’re taking your salary away, then we need to be able to… provide
Nick: give him the incentive…
Jayna: I know someone might say ‘no, that’s not right’ it’s a very grey area, it’s not right or wrong, we are only thinking about the children. If it means we have to feed the Imam, his 2 wives, and his 14 children, at the end of the day they are also children and we’re happy to feed them.
We are currently building an orphanage, very slowly because it’s super expensive to be able to build a big house like we are building now. It’s already been two years since we started building it.
Nick: And what stage are you at so far?
Jayna: Ground floor is finished, now doing the roof is the most expensive part, and it took us about one year to put the roof on the ground floor
Nick: on the first floor… okay.
Jayna: now we are starting to build the first floor up, and the walls are up, and hopefully it’s going to take us less than a year to cover that up
Nick: Is that down to… it’s taking time because of money, or because of expertise or workmanship
Jayna: No actually, it’s only taking time because of money, we do get a lot of donations, and I do want to thank all those people that have donated to our cause. But we need a lot more than that, we need a lot more people to donate.
Nick: What kind of target… ok, so basically, so far how much have you spent how much on this building
Jayna: in CFA, I can tell you in CFA… umm, the land was actually donated to us, and we’ve spent about 5.6m CFA, 1m (CFA) is 10,000 dhs. When someone donates 1 Euro in Senegal, that’s a lot of money, because that person’s salary is maybe 100 Euro, so donations are usually 25 cents, 10 cents. Now, it takes a while for that money to build up. We do get donations, we do fundraising events… I do fundraising in Dubai. All the other members try to get money from the country that they are in…
Jayna: and send the money to Senegal, but it’s a slow process…
Nick: yeah, of course
Jayna: But our hope is that once this house is finished we can now have a proper shelter for these children because the places they are living in right now is not the best of condition. Some of them don’t have proper roofing, they don’t have proper toilets, they don’t have proper shower rooms. So, we want to provide the basic human needs for them…
Nick: yeah, okay, of course
Jayna: …once this house is ready
Jayna: and once this house is ready, we want to get teachers to volunteer…
Jayna: …and come teach them
Jayna: and at this point we want to teach them everything that any child would learn at school…
Jayna: Maths, Science, Geography, take a second language
Jayna: you know all those privileges that we’ve had growing up.
Jayna: That’s what we’re working towards now… it’s our long-term goal. It’s been two years, and we hope that five years is the limit. Five years is a long time for these children to be waiting, but it’s realistic, ahh…
Nick: So, you’ve picked these children up at say, how old? 2 years old or less?
Jayna: Nick, we’ve had new-borns… and this is a sad topic to talk about, but we’ve had kids that were picked up in the dumpster
Jayna: new-born child, a mother giving birth to their child. In Senegal you have to understand if you’re not married and you have a child, it’s a big taboo. It’s a shame for your family, which causes this impulse when women are so just hopeless that they’re willing to put their child in a dumpster. So, the police would take it but then the police would now call the associations, and try to ask if one of them would take it because the government has no set up structure for this.
Nick: So, they would call your agency for example?
Nick: that’s a good thing in a sense, that they’re coming straight to you, they’re not going to the street
Jayna: well they have nowhere else to go… So, we’ve had all ranges of children. Most of them are from 0-10 years old. And we have right now 115 now, when I spoke to you about two years ago, it was 135. So, you might ask what happened to the other children.
Nick: I was going to say, so what… are they grown up, are they older?
Jayna: No! So now we also have a program, where we are now also trying to reconnect these children with their families. If not their Mum or Dad, their Uncle that probably has enough money to take care of them.
Jayna: Their aunties or…
Nick: yeah, ok
Jayna: their cousins…
Nick: so back with families
Jayna: …back with families. So, this is also a new program that we only started about 8 months ago, trying to bring these children back to their family members that can take care of them.
Jayna: and so far, we’re doing very well cause in just 8 months we’ve managed to have like 20 children already
Nick: that’s amazing
Jayna: Now, in this process we did have children that we tried to bring back with their families and it didn’t work out, so we have to keep them, and we have children that we’ve managed to bring back with their families.
Nick: When this happens, or when it doesn’t happen what is your feel… ok if it does happen, they get repatriated. Is it a feeling of happiness, or a sense of loss as well, and wonderment whether they’re going to be looked after again, or just thrown back into the system?
Jayna: …exactly. The children that we didn’t manage to bring back with their families it wasn’t their family choices, it was our choice. We got volunteers in the family to take them, but when we went to see those people that volunteered to take them, and see their living conditions, we didn’t trust that they would keep this child. We said, ‘thank you, but no thank you, we will bring the child back’.
Nick: right, it’s like a screening process first to make sure that child is going to be cared for properly.
Jayna: Yes, yes… exactly, so we do look at the family member that wants to take the child. What are their living conditions? Because if they don’t work, they don’t have jobs, and they have 4 children of their own, we’re not going to add a burden. And also, we’re thinking maybe this child is just going to end up in the system again. At least now this child is off the streets… only if we’re fully confident that this child is safe with this family member, to have a better life than what we are offering would we leave the child.
Nick: So, going back to that feeling that you feel when, when you see these children and you get them off the street, they come to the foundation. You’ve seen these children for the last 6 years, going from 2 or 3 years old, to 9 years old. Do you feel a satisfaction of seeing them growing up? And is it like a parental feeling, or a sisterly kind of feeling. How does it sort of feel for you that you’re seeing them go from a little baby to a small grown girl or boy?
Jayna: When I look at them, and I compare them to the child that I just saw on the street, I am grateful. I am happy and proud that I could take this child off the streets, but when I look at the conditions that they’ve been in for 6 years. Yes, they are fed; Yes, they are not begging on the streets, but the conditions life standard wise very low… I am not so proud anymore. I am back to being sad, that this child has to live 6 years in the same conditions. It’s really sad, because none of us had this type of childhood, and it’s not their fault, they’re innocent children. If anything, when I look at them and I’m thinking this is the future of my country, then, I’m worried about my country.
Nick: Yeah, of course, but the government don’t seem to be bothered
Jayna: I am worried about my country because, if this young lady that I’m sponsoring has to be a leader tomorrow, with no basic education… you know when I see these children and I come and I hug them… you can see how much affection they lack.
Jayna: Because we’re not there every day. We’re not there every day to hug them, the Imam’s don’t hug them, don’t give them love and affection…
Nick: there’s no affection, yeah okay.
Jayna: There is… there’s so much that’s missing in their lives, there’s so much work that we have to do. I feel more helpless, I want to do more, but I can’t…
Nick: You need the funds…
Jayna: Because I don’t have the funds, and unfortunately it just comes down to money, that’s just the reality of it.
Nick: What about health wise? They’re obviously not getting the basic needs, like maybe it’s water, maybe it’s food. Maybe they’ve caught something from, I don’t know a cat on the street, or a dog on the street. They’ve caught something… How do they cope? What do you do? What happens? Have you got any children that have gone through some kind of situation?
Jayna: Yep, well for our association we have ‘Visit Medical’ we have medical visits. So, every trimester we take the young ones to doctor’s who are volunteering, for free… doing a full check-up of the children. The other ones… every six months. And this is big events that we organise, and it’s one of the events that we’re very proud of. We’ve had children that were sick, we’ve unfortunately have had loss of these children that were sick. We had one child that had kidney failure, she was nine years old, and she has to have now dialysis. This is very expensive, and we had to pay for it. We had to raise money through Facebook, any means possible. Like, it was one of, I think, one of the most emotional cases that we’ve ever had. We were overwhelmed, also by the amount of donations that we received. Keeping in mind that in Senegal, maybe in Dakar there’s maybe three hospitals with a dialysis machine. In other cities, zero.
Nick: So, you’re sending children to elsewhere, like western countries, like France maybe or…
Jayna: Yeah, this little girl, this nine year old… Her name was Fahma, we managed to raise money to send her to Morocco, where she was doing her treatment. We had to pay for the hospital, her flights, the accommodation for her parents to be with her. Pay the hospital bills, it was very expensive… but, this was of one of the proud moments where we saw so many people come together to help this one little girl… Unfortunately, she did die!
Jayna: …not because of a lack of care, but because it was her time to go. But I want to highlight that it took us a while to know what was wrong with her. Because of the lack of good medical care. So, these are the dangers that these kids are exposed to Nick, and the other ones that are not in our care that are on the streets, you see them, if there’s an epidemy in the country they’re the first ones to catch it, they’re the ones that going to spread it, unfortunately they are the ones dying on the streets of malaria, of cholera, little sicknesses that are easily cured, that no child should die from. But, these are the kids that are most at risk from this thing.
Nick: Such a huge, huge shame that this is happening
Jayna: it is, it is…
Nick: I’m sure it’s not just happening in Senegal as well…
Jayna: There are children everywhere in the world that need help. So, you know, let’s spread the mentality. Let’s show the other countries that you don’t have to be from that country to help someone else.
Nick: That’s right, yeah. That’s the beauty of what I’m trying to do here. So, how can people help… What’s the best way?
Jayna: The best way to help is to sponsor a child, because when you sponsor a child you take responsibility for that child. So, we will send you regular updates of the progress, and how this child is growing up. And you would be the one who actually made it happen… and it’s a great sense of pride. I know myself, because I sponsor five children, and you know, it gives me so much joy to go to bed at night and know that five children are fed every day because of me. So, I think this is a great way to help to send children clothing, shoes, make sure this child is fed every day. It not just helps the child, but allows you to feel like you’ve actually contributed. And this is like a long-term contribution.
Nick: Once they reach adulthood it stops, or it’s still… once they work, or?
Jayna: Well, we haven’t had like…
Nick: None of them have reached that point yet…
Jayna: …reached that point yet. But we hope that, you know, at one point we will help them find jobs. You know, if you ever find yourself in Senegal, you can go visit them… I think this is one of the best ways to help. Another way to help, if you don’t want to sign up for a long-term commitment is that you can just make donation. It can be anything, just like basic things that you need, is food, clothing. You can go visit the children, and you can give any donation.
Jayna: food, we don’t say no to anything.
Nick: of course
Jayna: I mean, you, yourself came to Senegal, went to the supermarket
Nick: I wasn’t on the right day though, so disappointing
Jayna: you know, went to the supermarket and bought so much food. We came to pick it up and it was such a great gesture, and you did actually…
Nick: It was nothing really, it’s so…
Jayna: but to you it’s nothing, but to us it’s like
Nick: yeah, true…
Jayna: …four days of food for 115 children
Nick: But do you know what, it was something for me, as I said it, it’s not much but it, it did actually feel like… this feels really nice.
Jayna: it feels really good, it feels really good.
Nick: it feels really good yeah
Jayna: I think it’s part of our human nature to feel good if we do good.
Nick: is there a website, or Facebook, can we put a link on the podcast?
Jayna: Yes, yes… we are both on Facebook and Instagram, and based on the country you are in, we have representatives in different countries, so we can get you in touch with the person in that country. If you want to make monetary donations, you can give to that person, and we can guide you… we have Whatsapp groups so you can integrate and know what’s going on, so there’s many, many ways that you can get in touch with us. Even if you don’t donate, for us, we just want to raise awareness as well, so, you know, even if you talk about us, there are people that are really struggling, and we just want to raise awareness
Nick: I think that’s definitely a very deep insight into what is happening. And, thank you for all the information, thank you for being my guest on this very first episode. This thing has really sort of touched me quite deep down, and I hope it touches other people as well, and perhaps give you the inclination to look into helping this charity out a little bit. Thank you so much for listening, and thank you Jayna for coming along onto this first show, and let’s see what we can achieve for these children.
Jayna: Thank you Nick for having me, and I believe that together we can build a better future for these children.