SENEGAL

The video game raising awareness of Senegal's child beggars

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A computer engineer in Dakar has created a video game called “Cross Dakar City” to raise awareness about child beggars in Senegal’s capital. The game, which you can download on mobile phones and tablets, follows a young boy named Mamadou as he navigates Dakar’s dangerous traffic.

The streets of Dakar are filled with children begging for money. Most of these children, called “talibés”, are students at Islamic schools called daaras, where they are supposed to be studying the Muslim holy book, the Quran. In reality, schools force the children to spend hours each day begging, supposedly to teach them humility. The child beggars earn a lot of money for the marabouts, the powerful religious figures who run the Quranic schools – veritable begging networks. According to a 2010 report by Human Rights Watch, there are about 50,000 children in this situation in Senegal – about 30,000 of whom are in Dakar – spread out amongst several thousand Quranic schools.

When the children go out to beg, it puts them right in the midst of Dakar’s busy traffic, at constant risk of being hit. But that isn’t the only problem these children face. Most live in overcrowded housing, often without access to water or electricity. Many are malnourished. In 2013, the Observers travelled to Dakar to report on the mistreatment of these children in the very first episode of the Observers Direct.

Software developer Oussemou Khadim Beye, 32, was deeply affected by seeing these children on the streets of the capital. He developed the game “Cross Dakar City” to raise awareness of their situation. During the 16 levels of the game, its hero, Mamadou, a child beggar, must weave his way through the city’s busy traffic. The backdrop is made to look like Dakar and includes many iconic features of the city, including local taxis, the small blue train, pirogues and the Pink Lake. As Mamadou successfully navigates the city, he earns “lives” and power-ups that make him “invincible” for a short time. His goal is to cross the city and find his parents.

Excerpt from the game "Cross Dakar City".

"Several users told me that they learned about the talibé’s plight through this game”

I always wanted to create my own video game. I decided to build “Cross Dakar City” to raise awareness about an issue I care about. I’m 32; and in my lifetime things have gotten no better for the talibés. They are still in the streets, utterly dependent on the Koranic schools that exploit them. If you give them money, they bring it back to their schools, which then send them right back into the streets — so it is pointless to give them money. I decided that I was going to use my skills to raise awareness about this in my own way. I fronted the cost of developing this game and did it during my free time.

Talibés face many dangers when they are out begging, especially when they walk amidst Dakar’s busy traffic. These kids are often hit by cars. At the end of “Cross Dakar City”, little Mamadou finds his parents, which is a reminder that these children are fending for themselves and many of them would love to return to their families. That said, this kind of happy ending rarely happens. Most of these children were sent to Koranic schools by parents who either couldn’t or didn’t want to care for them, so they don’t want to see their children return home.

About 20% of the downloads of this game are from people outside of Senegal. Several users wrote to me to tell me that they found out about the talibés’ plight from this game. In the description of the game, I included a link to the Wikipedia page on talibés.

But I think that my game can help to raise awareness within Senegal, too. I think that people here have gotten used to seeing talibés everywhere and so most aren’t moved to do anything about the problem.

I just signed an agreement with an organisation called Écoles au Sénégal, which helps the talibé. We agreed to promote each other’s initiatives on social media. They are also going to use my game to help teach talibés of the dangers of traffic. As for me, my next step is developing a 3D version.