Photojournalist and Tostan supporter Émilie Regnier, who is known for her sensitive and humanistic approach to image making, has just opened a new photo exhibition in Montreal, Canada titled Boys Dakar: The Reality of Street Children.   Émilie spent two years in Senegal following the everyday lives of about 30 boys and young men, aged eight to 30.   Her goal was to expose the harsh realities they face living in a slum near Patte d’Oie, a neighborhood marked by violence, malnutrition, and drugs. Through her photography she hopes to give a voice to these often forgotten residents of Dakar.

Born in Montreal, Quebec, Émilie moved to Africa as a child and lived primarily in Gabon.   She returned to Canada, where she became a photographer, publishing her work in the New York Times, Elle France, and Le Monde.   She uses her skills to raise awareness about human rights and children’s rights issues. In 2008, she returned to Africa as a photojournalist and visited Senegal for the first time.

In Senegal, many young boys living in rural areas are sent by their parents to learn the tenants of Islam at Koranic schools, or daaras, in urban centers. As part of their education, some religious teachers subject the boys to difficult living conditions and forced begging as a means to teach humility. Though this method of teaching was originally meant to strengthen moral character, it has since adapted into a way to exploit the young students. These street children, or talibés, face a multitude of risks: lack of education and medical care, unsanitary and unsafe conditions, and lack of support systems.

After several months of living in Senegal and photographing the talibés, Émilie decided to focus her work on the conditions of the young boys, called Fakmans, who leave the daaras.   Her collection pinpoints the everyday uncertainties many of the street children face in Senegal through black and white images.

While living in Senegal, Émilie encountered Tostan and soon learned how the NGO was actively engaged in building awareness around human rights and children’s rights. After a three-year pilot program working directly with talibés in urban centers, Tostan realized the problem needed to be addressed at the source—from within rural communities—to keep children from being sent to cities. Through the Child Protection Module , local communities learn about the moral, social, and legal norms that affect children and together work to uphold children’s rights in their communities.   Émilie has always been passionate about protecting children and so she was drawn to Tostan’s work. “I believe Tostan’s approach to prevention and education develops a new method, which I hope will one day eradicate the problem of child talibés,” she explained.   Émilie uses her photos as a medium to show not only her passion for West Africa, but also to spread awareness in her community about protecting children’s rights.

After two years of hard work, Émilie completed her project and is exhibiting her work in Montreal.   As a supporter of Tostan, she is using this space to inform her local community about our work.   In addition, Émilie has teamed up with former Tostan volunteer, Sophie D’Aoust, to hold a free conference around the issue of street children. They will be joined at the exhibition space on September 24 by Joseph Bemba, Editor of the International Law Collection for L’Harmattan Publishing.

A photograph from the Boys Dakar exhibition catches the eye of an attendee during the opening

Émilie will be holding a silent auction of her photographs and will generously donate 25 percent of the proceeds to Tostan.

Boys Dakar photo exhibition opened on September 13 with over a hundred people in attendance.   It is free and open to the public until October 28, 2012.   The exhibit is located at TOHU 2345, Rue Jarry Est, Montreal. Learn more about the exhibition here .

Read more about the exhibition and Émilie’s human-rights focused work here.

All photos courtesy of Émilie Regnierf