Helping Children Off the Streets
In French, SAMU stands for “Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente,” meaning “Urgent Medical Services.” However, Samu Social is something very different. Samu Social works with the homeless and the impoverished to maintain and restore social bonds, to deliver entertainment and education and to deliver basic medical and food-related services. One of its most significant missions is helping children off the streets in Senegal.

Samu Social denotes a comprehensive approach to helping the world’s poor that places a huge emphasis on social interaction. Dr. Xavier Emmanuelli founded Samu Social in Paris in 1993. In 1998, Dr. Emmanuelli founded the umbrella organization Samu Social International. One branch of the Samu Social International that deserves a spotlight is Samu Social Senegal. This organization mainly operates in the capital city of Dakar and focuses on the plight of young street children, most of whom are talibé.

A Dangerous History of Exploitation

In West Africa in particular, there is a strong tradition of young children becoming talibé, students of the Quran who study with a marabout, a Quranic teacher. Senegal is 95.5% Muslim, and marabout can wield immense power and influence not just in the religious world, but in politics and business as well. As a result, the Senegalese view sending one’s child to study with a marabout at a daara, a Muslim school, one of the few avenues to success and prosperity.

To be sure, there are many good marabouts in Senegal who do not exploit their charges and faithfully impart their knowledge of the Quran. That being said, Human Rights Watch estimates that over 100,000 talibé must beg for food and money every day in Senegal. Beyond that, it is thought that many talibé who remain in the daara are subject to extreme abuse, malnutrition and lack of medical care. The problem has reached epidemic proportions, with President Mack Sall vowing to “remove children from the streets.” However, the extreme power and influence of many marabouts have hampered government efforts.

How Samu Social Senegal is Making a Difference

Enter Samu Social Senegal which, as a part of Samu Social International, “reaches out to the most desocialized people who have been pushed into a state of basic survival, as they have become ‘victims’, no longer able nor willing to seek ordinarily available assistance.” In Senegal, those people are often talibé, set adrift in the big city of Dakar with no guidance other than the imperative to beg. Samu Social Senegal helps these children primarily in two ways: with street rounds and accommodation.

Samu Social Senegal has two Mobile Assistance Teams (MAT) composed of a social worker, a physician and a driver. These teams drive around Dakar day and night, five days a week, amounting to more than 350 rounds per year. They do this to identify and help at-risk and vulnerable children. The MATs receive extensive training to accomplish four main missions:

  1. Medical assistance, both on the spot and in the form of referrals to hospitals.
  2. Psychosocial support, identifying vulnerable children, and responding to them constructively.
  3. Preventative education, focusing on general health, STDs, and substance abuse.
  4. Paving a way out of the street, helping rehabilitate children and reinsert them into a healthy social and professional atmosphere.

The MATs have seen success in Dakar by identifying nearly 8,000 children each year. Moreover, they distribute nearly 6,000 nutritional support packs each year along with the conducting of over 2,500 individual medical and social interventions.

How Samu Social Senegal Aids Children

However, this is only half of the work that Samu Social Senegal does in its mission of helping children off the streets. Some of its most important work is the providing of accommodations to children who are physically or psychologically vulnerable. Samu Social Senegal accommodations provide comprehensive support medically, socially and psychologically. They place a huge emphasis on rehabilitation of the body and mind using not only medical and psychological practices, but also more basic methods such as compulsory controlled social interaction, games, and artistic activities. Samu Social Senegal hosts up to 600 children each year, providing about 30,000 meals.

Ultimately, this is necessary to get children off the street, rehabilitate them and then reintegrate them into healthy and productive members of society. While it can be difficult to evaluate what it means to leave the street behind, Samu Social has helped reunite 521 families between 2016-2018, a success rate of 96.5%. Furthermore, it estimates that since 2004, 1,500 children have left the street in a “durable” way.

The problem of street children is a catastrophe not only in Senegal or West Africa but across the world. Such pervasive, entrenched practices and people can only undergo reform through the government. In the meantime, however, it is incredibly important to provide these children with the resources they need to rehabilitate. Samu Social Senegal should receive commendation for its excellent work helping children off the streets.

Franklin Nossiter
Photo: Wikipedia Commons