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Senegalese Mothers and Artists Use Art to Stop Their Children from Leaving

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DAKAR, Senegal, March 8, 2019/ —  “Leaving for success, for the honour of our mothers…This is only our mothers’ fault.” 

Marie Mané sings this refrain, repeated in unison by a chorus of 40 women gathered at the Monument de la Renaissance in Dakar.    

This refrain is more than a song for these mothers, daughters and sisters. It is their anthem for the fight against irregular migration.   

Marie Mané is one of the elders in this group. A widowed mother of two children, she is originally from Casamance, in Southern Senegal. She joined a dance troupe when she arrived in Dakar some years ago.   

By singing this refrain, Marie knows what lies behind these words. After her father’s death, her nephew received a small part of the inheritance to reach Europe with the complicity of his mother, who asked him to keep this travel secret.   

“You see that your fellow’s son has left, and he is sending money to his mother every month, and you say to yourself, I have to support my son to leave, so that he too will send me money at the end of each month,” says Marie. “But… there is nowhere you can be that is not where you are meant to be. You do not know what the fellow’s son is doing to be able to send money. We have to talk to our children, tell them that they can make it here, and above all that they must always preserve their dignity,” adds Marie. Once he arrived in Mauritania, driven by his instinct, her nephew returned home and chose to build a life in his country.   

As members of the traditional dance troupe of women from the Lebou community of Dakar, the collective  Slam au Féminin, and the dance troupe  Fatou Cissé, bonded over a shared objective: raise awareness among young people on the risks of irregular migration.    

And doing so through what they know best: writing, singing and dancing. As a result, they will deliver a performance during an itinerant parade along the streets of the Senegalese capital on International Women’s Day, today (08/03).    

“I am an artist. I can contribute to raising awareness. I can be a voice for the voiceless. I am the woman, the mother, the sister, who can support brothers, sisters and children to survive, not to sacrifice themselves for ‘success’,” says Aby Diagne, a member of the traditional dance troupe of women from the Lebou community which she has joined to encourage women to raise their voice in a society where their words are less valued than those of men.    

“I lost a brother, a friend. He was encouraged by his mother to leave. He finally took the ‘Route’ and today we have no news from him. He might have died in the sea. I feel like supporting them when I am sensitizing them, explaining them that this is our fault. We wanted the best for him but in the end, he had the worst,” says Sister Selbé, a member of  Slam au féminin.   

In Senegal, mothers support their children’s migration; they even help finance their journeys. While Selbé recognizes the mothers’ responsibility for the departure of young people, she also recognizes her obligation to fight preconceived notions among many that migration is the ultimate means of survival.   

But she cannot make it alone. She must work with those who have lost sons, fathers, brothers, or those who are aware that leaving is not inevitable. “No fight can be won without them,” she says.    

“Women are involved in all issues that affect this country: social, education, politics. It is up to us to take responsibility because we are the cornerstone of the society. It’s up to us to say STOP, that’s enough, it must not continue,” said Selbé.   

It is in this context that, when the International Organization for Migration (IOM) called on to celebrate International Women’s Day, these women immediately accepted. Throughout a week of preparatory workshops, grandmothers, mothers, and young women gathered to brainstorm on messages in the form of poems, songs and choreography. As the result of these preparatory workshops, a performance will be delivered.   

“We had to join together [poetry] slammers and mothers. The brainstorming on messages was not easy as we have different backgrounds, we do not have the same style or experience to share. But we have learned from each other, listened to each other, helped each other and supported each other,” says Selbé.   

In a society where the death of the one who “left” is taboo, art is a most appropriate form to convey the very harsh messages.   

“This association of Lebou women is a legacy of our grandmothers and has been passed down through generations. It enables us to perpetuate and share the traditions of our ancestors. Through this association we make ourselves understood and heard.”   

For these women, the itinerant parade is an opportunity to reaffirm and renew their commitment to the protection of their community and to send an ultimate message to young people: Be satisfied with what God gives you. Be patient, sooner or later you will get what you deserve.   

Since 2017, IOM, in partnership with African States, has supported the voluntary return of more than 55,000 West Africans who were stranded along migration routes.   

Providing timely access to accurate information on migration, including the dangers along the migration routes by road and by sea, can save the lives of the thousands of young Africans willing to risk their lives to reach Europe.    

This activity implemented by IOM was made possible thanks to funding from the Italian Government under the Aware Migrants project. It is part of IOM’s efforts to raise awareness on irregular migration in West and Central Africa. Close to 10,000 awareness-raising events were organized across the region since the launch of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in 2017. 

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