For the last year and a half the West African Calligraphy Institute has been working in conjunction with Village Pilote in Pikine, the French Development Agency, Islamic Relief France, and the Auteuil Apprentice Foundation on Project Xalima. Conceived by Yelimane Fall, this project uses the teaching of calligraphy to build inroads with hundreds of Daaras (Quranic schools) in the Dakar metro area. In this way not only are the taalibes (students) exposed to the art of writing Quranic Arabic in the West African style, but they also receive medical attention and lessons on hygiene and health.
Xalima means pen in arabic. Through the pen Mr. Fall sought to inspire and educate the young students (ages 5-17) while making crucial contacts and connections with the various serignes (teachers) of the Dakar area. Working along with the teachers over a period lasting from Fall 2015 to Spring 2016, Mr. Fall selected 33 of the most writing proficient taalibes to participate in a special 45 hour apprenticeship in calligraphy. The taalibes met for two hours a few days a week for 2 months to experiment with their own styles, learn more in depth about the mystical significance of the letters, and hone their writing craft.
The final phase of the apprenticeship culminated in a large press conference and exhibition at Village Pilote in Pikine. There the students presented their work and talked about their experiences. The taalibes were extremely proud of their work and we were proud of the effort they put into being part of such an important project.
While this project required a huge effort on behalf of Yelimane and all the organizations involved, what it accomplished was unique. For the first time Daaras are allowing contact with non-profit organizations from Senegal and Europe, which is crucial if we are to work together with the government to create better living and learning conditions for the taalibes. Additionally, the West African Calligraphy Institute was able to focus on its core mission in an expansive way, bringing both the knowledge of calligraphy and the joy of creation to hundreds of young people around Dakar.
It is the goal of the West African Calligraphy Institute to find a permanent residence where students from all over can come to study and preserve the unique form of Arabic Calligraphy found in West Africa. And although funding for a second round of Project Xalima is currently up in the air, it is our hope others will see this great accomplishment and help us to make the dream of a permanent Calligraphy Institute a reality.