July 26, 2022

Tale of an African Migrant

Sarjo Brito, Baluwo

Alhagie, 25, is a migrant living in the Italian city of Venezia. Just like many other young African migrants, he once chose a dangerous path to cross the Mediterranean in hopes of a better future. Alhagie was determined to make it in life, even if it meant putting his life at risk.

In the summer of 2012, the 11th-grade student at the time approached his mother to share his intention to embark on what Gambians call the ‘backway’ journey to Europe. Without hesitation, Alhagie’s mother told her son that she wasn’t keen on this idea and asked her young son to focus on his education. At that time, she did not know that he would not wait for her permission, and that this conversation was therefore a farewell.

‘’My mother told me immediately that she was not in support. She wanted me to focus on my education ‘’

The teenager defied his mother and went on to start his journey, going through Senegal first. His next stop was Mali and there, Alhagie quickly realised that his journey was not going to be a bed of roses. Mali is known to be a popular route among West African Migrants. There, the language barrier became a major obstacle for the teenager. Also unfamiliar with Mali’s currency, Alhagie fell prey to people he would ask for help along the way. And like this, he went cashless in a few days.

Passing through Niger and Agadez under difficult conditions, the teenager’s persistence finally landed him in Sabah, Libya. The young Gambian teenager spent one week travelling through the Sahara Desert. Alhagie and his friends were headed for some far more sinister experiences. They were auctioned like slaves and sold upon their arrival in Sabah. His only means of escape was to pay four hundred euros to the person that bought him. Alhagie knew he had to do everything possible to find the money because what follows being sold is one of the biggest nightmares for any migrant who passed through Libya.

Libya is the last stop before taking on the big but risky journey. The young migrant and his friends took a boat and began sailing for Italy. Amid what could’ve turned out to be a tragic experience like other illegal migration stories, luck was on Alhagie’s side as Italian authorities soon arrived to rescue their boat.

Alhagie arrived in the Italian city of Venezia in 2013, and there began the struggle of a man whose hunger for success is solely to provide for his family back home. Underage and undocumented, Alhagie would be placed under the custody of an Italian family. Seeing how his fellow migrants lived in asylum camps and in very harsh and inhumane conditions, Alhagie quickly turned to education.

First, he learned Italian before registering for vocational training courses, graduating with a diploma in plumbing. Despite the training he received; a stable job was still not available for the teenager nor was a work permit. But in Alhagie’s mind, he must persist, remembering that his ageing mother emptied her savings to support the rest of his trip. Besides, some of his friends were already settling in, and sending remittances to their families. The pressure was already mounting for him.

Luck was finally on Alhagie’s side. Not only did he get a work permit and job placement, but he also got the papers to make him a legal resident of Italy.  Now legal and with a proper job, his dream of a better future and helping his family began taking shape.

Sending money soon became a monthly ritual for Alhagie. But very fast, an unfırtunate accident almost left him paralyzed and his dream for a better life almost shattered. An accident at his workplace fractured Alhagie’s leg. Going to work suddenly came to a standstill. But even on his sick bed, providing for his family remained a priority.

Introduced to him by a visiting friend, Alhagie started using Baluwo – an e-commerce platform that Africans in the diaspora can use to support their families back home with food, amongst other services. Describing himself as not a very tech-savvy person, Alhagie said he wasn’t sure about the possibility of what his friend had told him. He also heard on the grapevine how shopping online wasn’t safe. At the advice and recommendation of his friend, Alhagie registered on Baluwo and soon began supporting his family back home with essentials and has continued to do so for the past years until now using Baluwo services.

‘’Not only is this platform convenient for me, but I found it to be also safe and reliable. I am from a very big family. Now, I can provide them with the most important help they need while controlling my expenses at the same time.’’

The young migrant further shared how using Baluwo has become his saving grace over the years since it was first introduced to him and how it has impacted his life and that of his family. Now, his ageing mother no longer queues for prepaid electricity back home. It is done by her son in the comfort of his home and mobile phone in Italy.

A roving plumber in Italy and an African mother who gave up her savings to see that her son makes it to Europe are now connected, thanks to an innovative idea and technology that has brought African families even closer.