Reference : V-P-SN-E-00187
Date : 06/2011
Country/Region : SENEGAL
Caption : Touba. Restoring family link activities at the Grand Magal. A volunteer reassures a child separated from her parents.
Photographer : DECKER, C.
Confidentiality level : public
Publication restrictions : publication without restrictions
Copyright : ICRC
Description : ICRC website, Feature, 21-06-2011

Senegal: Senegalese Red Cross reunites separated families in Touba

At the Grand Magal in Touba (Senegal), which attracts over two million pilgrims, the Senegalese Red Cross, with support from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), took part for the first time in a programme to assist people separated from their relatives.

Khadim and his mother were suddenly separated during the 116th Grand Magal. At around 8 a.m. they were walking together near Touba's great mosque – the centre on which hundreds of thousands of pilgrims converge to commemorate the departure into exile of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké, the founder of the highly influential Mouride brotherhood – when the boy was swept away by the crowd. Even though he let his mother's hand go for only a few seconds, he was unable to find her again. Seven years old, and panic-stricken, he began to cry and to run in all directions. A passer-by brought him to the Red Cross tent where he was consoled and looked after by Red Cross volunteers, who, at around 3 p.m., handed him back to his mother.

This year, thanks to logistical and financial support from the ICRC, the Senegalese Red Cross put in place a Restoring Family Links programme in the Mouride capital. “In the four days we ran the programme, 303 children, most of them aged between two and fourteen, were reunited with their families”, says Amadou Diop, coordinator of the project for the ICRC. Thirty volunteers from local Red Cross sections in Mbacké and Touba, working in eleven tents across the city, were given special training on how to assist children and adults separated from their companions.

The main tent, set up near the big mosque, was where Gayba found her family. The 11-year-old had lost sight of her two brothers while admiring the 90-metre minaret soaring above the city. Spotted by Red Cross volunteers, she was brought into the Red Cross tent and given something to eat and drink, and a tee-shirt. Her whole family had come to the holy city to pray, consult the marabout, visit the grave of a relative buried in the cemetery and go and see the mausoleums of the founder of Mouridism and his descendants – all in a colourful atmosphere, the air pungent with delicious smells from the free food being handed out, against a background of hymn-singing.

After consoling the child the volunteers helped her fill in the Registration Form for Separated and Vulnerable Persons. On this form, which records the fact that the Red Cross has taken a child into its care, a good deal of information is collected: surname, given name, age and height, clothes being worn, address, parents’ names and phone number. These details are not always easy to come by, especially when the children are very young. Gayba, luckily, knew her father's mobile phone number by heart. By early evening, however, the volunteers were still unable to reach him, so, with around fifty other children, the girl spent the night in a house made available by Touba's village chief. She was restored to her father the next morning, after his identity, and his relationship with his daughter, had been checked. “My daughter is safe and sound, thanks to the Red Cross! I'll pray for a long life for you”, he declared, overcome with emotion.

A hundred or so adults also came to report the disappearance of a child and leave a phone number where they could be reached. The organizers were surprised to see that their programme also benefited other people who had got separated. Several dozen elderly people, including two women from Guinea Bissau and one from the Gambia, came into the main tent to rest or to wait for a relative to come and collect them.

This Senegalese Red Cross operation in Touba was part of a measure introduced in 2004 by the association known as Ginddi (“guiding”, in Wolof) and Senegal's family ministry. Four years later Action on Open Education (AEMO), which is attached to the Ministry of Justice, came on board too. There has always been help for people who get lost in Touba, but it used to be more informal, and therefore less effective: children were simply collected outside places of worship or radio or television channels, without any organized system for helping them. “We're delighted to have this help”, said Gamou Ndiaye, a youth worker in Ginddi. The president of the Senegalese Red Cross, Abdoul Aziz Diallo, also said how pleased he was with this cooperation, adding “This first experiment, which was very positive, could be repeated at future large gatherings in Senegal.”

Original material : digital
Resolution : 2713x1803
Orientation : landscape
Colour/B&W : colour