April 20th marked the National Day for Talibé in Senegal to raise awareness of the experience of talibés. Talibés are boys sent by their families to Koranic schools known as daaras to learn the tenets of Islam from a marabout or Koranic teacher. Begging was once a part of a talibé’s education in order to teach humility, but in urban centers and towns, these young students often are required to spend more time on the street begging than in the classroom. Talibés are at times exposed to harsh living environments and are aged on average from 5 to 16, and in rare cases they are as young as three.

Tostan has partnered with UNICEF and the mayor of Dakar since 2003 to celebrate the National Day for Talibé. Tostan, through its Child Protection Module, is advocating for a move towards modernizing daaras, which includes meeting safety standards and teaching from approved curricula. Communities and religious leaders are already organizing themselves and taking steps to improve their Koranic schools and communities.

This year’s celebrations took place in Thiès and were organized by Jama Atul Khourane, a nationally recognized association of marabouts participating in the Tostan Child Protection project. Celebrations began with a press conference to make an appeal to the Senegalese people around the theme : the place of daara modernization.

Activities began when Mr. Babacar Ndao, a marabout and spokesperson for Jama Atul Khourane made a speech on the modernization of daaras to raise awareness amongst the groups of people and administrative authorities present at the National Day for Talibé event. He proceeded to talk about the role of daaras in Senegalese society and defined the term “daara” as a place for knowledge and teaching that holds an important place in the development of the country. He talked about the modernization of daaras, which according to him is nothing else but an adaptation to changes in society. References were made about the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) who himself modernized and adapted to changes in the environment. Therefore when put in context, daaras must adapt and change as the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) did or remain outdated. Other points were raised about the eventual role of daaras in youth education and employment.

The day ended with an appeal to the government to fulfill the daara modernization project with the full support of marabouts that pledged to follow this movement.