Distributed by Deeda Productions Ltd., 613 N. West Knoll Drive, West Hollywood, CA 90069; 310-666-9225
Produced by Daniela Kon
Directed by Daniela Kon
DVD, color and b&w, 57 min.
Jr. High - General Adult
African Studies, Human Rights
Reviewed by Monique Threatt, Indiana University, Herman B Wells Library, Bloomington, IN
Date Entered: 9/4/2012
Selected and screened at numerous international film festivals, this informative feature documentary exposes the deplorable social conditions of most Islamic darras (Quranic schools) in St. Louis, Senegal. The film is a call to action to the Senegalese government for improved educational, health, and living conditions for thousands of talibes (Quranic students) who live in unsanitary darras in St. Louis, and surrounding areas. Each year, hundreds of boys are sent to darras to learn the Quran. According to the film, every student is required to learn the Quran before returning home. Most students are expected to graduate from their darra within two years. Unfortunately, in addition to studying the Quran, the talibe is also forced to beg for food and money to pay his marabout (Quranic teacher). This unbalanced and controversial relationship thus perpetuates a system of indentured servitude in which the talibe is often indebted to his marabout for as many as eight years.
One human rights worker describes the condition as follows: “we found that there are at least 50,000 young boys, the vast majority under 12 years old, that are subjected to what amounts to in international law conditions akin to slavery. They are forced every day to beg on the streets in the major cities each day 8-10 hours to bring back money, rice and sugar…none of which is used to the benefit of the student. If they fail to bring back any of these things, they are beaten brutally by their teacher who are, in de-facto, guardians of these children.”
Families of the children are at a loss to challenge the system, because it is important for their sons to receive a religious education before they are integrated into the public school system. Subsequently, parents also sympathize with the condition of the marabout. They too would like to see their government intervene to regulate, or to at least help provide adequate facilities and supplement the pay of the marabout. This action would greatly reduce the need for talibes to beg on the streets.
Currently, there are no standards to open or operate a darra in Senegal. Government officials have the power to implement laws forcing darras to meet certain criterias, but instead, they choose to turn the other cheek. Officials and marabouts have determined that it is more lucrative for students to beg for money than to conform to standards. Although several NGOs, such as La Maison de la Gare, and other human rights groups are doing what they can to help alleviate some of the conditions, their hands are tied due to the sensitive nature of religious practices and political bureaucracy which exists in the cities and outlying rural areas. NGOs are able to provide a clean, healthy environment for some of the children, but they cannot save them all.
Still, the film raises questions about education, religion, and the role of young boys in Senegalese society. It questions what, if any, permanent psychological damage these young boys will encounter as young men. Most talibes grow up isolated from their families, without human kindness or affection, nor are they able to actively socialize with children their own age. Talibes will continue to be eternally, and perhaps apathetically, looked upon as the dredge of society.
Technically speaking, this reviewer had no problem with production. It is an independent work and Kon did an excellent job to document human emotion and the dedication of NGO workers who consistently work within a system where the most basic needs are ignored by a corrupt government. The music is very subtle, almost absent. It neither adds nor detracts from the film. In closing, this reviewer would welcome a documentary about life post-darra from both a student and teacher perspective. In English/ French/Wolof with English subtitles.
I highly recommend this film for library collections in school, public and academic libraries.