THE TRAILBLAZERS: "I never stopped thinking about home"

by Kieran Guilbert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 5 October 2016 10:00 GMT

Bocar Diallo, 63, left southeast Senegal at the age of 18 to make a living in France, where he spent more than three decades doing various jobs before returning home to retire and be with his family. Photo taken from video footage.

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GOUDIRY, Senegal, Oct 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Bocar Diallo, 63, left Goudiry in southeast Senegal at the age of 18 to make a living in France, where he spent more than three decades doing various jobs before returning home to retire and be with his family.

"When I left Senegal there were none of today's challenges.

When we arrived in Tripoli, we were not tired and we found jobs. We worked there for six months, before flying to Austria, then heading to France via Germany. It was not difficult.

But the France of my time and the France of today are two different things. That time has gone, because those who made the journey across the desert and the sea after I did told me so.

At first I worked part-time at Renault, then for several companies, before spending 15 years working at an airport.

But some people spent 15 years without getting the documents needed to work. If you do not have papers you can't get into the city to work.

What's the point of going to the sea and risking your life if you cannot find work? In France, you will see people who have been there for three or four years and have never worked.

I lived with other Senegalese migrants in France and there were some who were doing well but many others had nothing.

There was a home called Robespierre in which there was an excessive number of immigrants. When you got off the subway after work at 5pm, the market was always crowded with them.

Why? Because they had nowhere else to go while they were awake. They had to wait for people to leave for work before they went back to the house as there wasn't enough space for us all.

The house was overloaded so we took turns to sleep.

It's too much, what I see happening in France today. It's not that there are no jobs, but that there are too many people.

France cannot handle it."

Djiby Thiam, 66, headed from Senegal to France as a teenager, and spent his 35 years there working to pool money together with other migrants, in order to develop their communities back home. Photo taken from video footage.

Djiby Thiam, 66, headed to France as a teenager, and spent his 35 years there working to pool money together with other migrants, in order to develop their communities back home.

"I left Senegal to make money and to achieve something, because when you travel, you should try to change things.

As an African, I knew very well what I had left behind, but I had to modernise, to make changes and solve certain problems.

Why? Because we, like our parents, were villagers with houses made of straw. We worked in France and with the money we earned we created buildings back home made out of metal.

We, the locals of Toumounguel, got together, created an association and set up a kitty to send money back home. At the end of every three months, we all contributed a certain amount.

If a person worked, they had the means to give something. Bit by bit, the bird builds his nest, everyone does what they can.

We collected the money, and saved it in the bank until we had a small amount. We then used this money, working with government officials to fund development back home in Senegal.

The officials saw what we wanted to do. They went to Senegal and said they would create the boreholes and the health centres.

Thank God, every house now has a tap. For us, this is something that is very important, as water is difficult to get.

There have been so many changes for us, for the villagers, between yesterday and today - there is really a 100 percent difference.

Working in France, I got well paid and had the means, but Toumounguel was always on my mind. I never forgot my hometown.

All the years that I lived there, I never stopped thinking about my future here in my country."

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