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Senegal: helping lost children at the Magal in Touba

20-02-2012 Feature

The Magal, which takes place in the city of Touba, is one of the largest religious gatherings in Senegal. In this enormous crush of people, some children end up losing their parents. The Senegalese Red Cross and the ICRC were on hand to reunite more than 150 children with their families.

Millions of people have thronged to this key event in Senegal's calendar, organized by the Mouride brotherhood to pay tribute to its founder, Sheikh Amadou Bamba. Touba, where the 117th Grand Magal celebrations are taking place, is located 190 km from the capital, Dakar. Pilgrims come from all over Senegal and the African continent, but also from Europe and North America. As usual, the crowd is massive – almost three million people, according to official sources. To spot children or parents separated from one another, you have to keep an eye out.

Two large tents have been put up near Touba's great mosque to look after the children who have wandered off. Loudspeakers blare out their names to the pilgrims. Religious chants follow the muezzin’s calls to prayer; the muezzin makes way for a recitation of the names of lost children. The heat is stifling. Inside the tent, children are sitting on the bare ground. Some are still smiling and playing, while others are clearly distressed. A small boy cries alone in a corner, calling for his mother.

Volunteers from the Senegalese Red Cross bustle around them. It is just another day for the Restoring Family Links (RFL) staff. "Lost children who know their parents' telephone number can call from the mobile telephones provided by the ICRC," explains Amadou Diop, who is in charge of the ICRC's coordination with the National Society. "The loudspeakers are a big help in tracking down children."

Fruitful collaboration

This year, the ICRC became a member of Senegal's committee for children in difficult circumstances, which is made up of several structures: the Ministry of the Family's Ginddi centre; the local social action and community development offices; the International Network for Development and Aid to Disadvantaged Families, a non-governmental organization; the offices of Non-Institutional Educational Action (which does outreach work with children) in the Diourbel, Bambey and Mbacké regions; the regional juvenile court; and the Senegalese Red Cross.

“Every year there are more children in this situation,” says Mamadou Diop, the committee's spokesperson, ”so more human, material and financial resources are needed." Efforts to strengthen the partnership between the various organizations have paid off: 151 lost children were reunited with their families within two days. "We have a lot of experience at this," explains Mame Cheikh Ndiaye, the RFL coordinator for the Senegalese Red Cross.

All's well that ends well

"Have you found my child?" a woman from the town of Ngaye Mekhe asks worriedly. The volunteers ask her to fill in a report. Ndeye Siby, who has travelled from the town of Pout, has had more luck: "I lost my daughter yesterday. I didn't sleep a wink last night. Thank you for your work." A little further off, a child's face lights up – he has just spotted his grandfather, who has entered the volunteers' tent.

These reunions are joyful occasions. A middle-aged woman who has just found her son wants to say a prayer. She asks the volunteers to draw closer and join hands. It’s a solemn moment.

More than 300 children helped

The Magal is coming to an end, and parents file in and out of the tents with varying degrees of satisfaction. More than 150 children have been reunited with their families; the volunteers' work has paid off.

This operation has ended up helping more than 300 children. It has received financial and technical support from the ICRC and from the Magal's social committee. At the end of the operation, children whose parents have not been found are taken to the Keur Méoudou Diakhaté shelter. "Adults who are lost have also benefited from this service meant for children, thanks to the mobile telephones provided," explains Amadou Diop. "We will be repeating this initiative during the Gamou celebrations in Tivaouane and during the Marian pilgrimage to Popenguine."

See you at the next Magal!


Photos

Touba, Senegal. A Senegalese Red Cross volunteer registers children who have become separated from their parents in the huge crowd of pilgrims. 

Touba, Senegal. A Senegalese Red Cross volunteer registers children who have become separated from their parents in the huge crowd of pilgrims.
© ICRC

Touba, Senegal. A Senegalese Red Cross volunteer with one of the 300 children helped during the Magal. 

Touba, Senegal. A Senegalese Red Cross volunteer with one of the 300 children helped during the Magal.
© ICRC

Touba, Senegal. Senegalese Red Cross volunteers take care of children looking for their parents in one of the two tents put up for this purpose. 

Touba, Senegal. Senegalese Red Cross volunteers take care of children looking for their parents in one of the two tents put up for this purpose.
© CICR