(Vatican Radio) 21-year old Yankuba Darboe from Gambia was one of the lovely young faces lighting up the “Share the Journey” press conference on Wednesday morning in the Vatican.
His presence was not just symbolic: Yankuba is one of the migrants Caritas is inviting us to meet and reach out to as he shares his journey, his talent and his hopes for the future in a concerted effort to help build a more just and more inclusive world.
As Caritas Internationalis President, Cardinal Luis Tagle pointed out “even a thousand-mile journey miles begins by taking the first step,” and for many that first step could take place within the spaces of encounter created by the Caritas campaign which aims to help people shift their perspective by really getting in touch with migrants.
Linda Bordoni asked Yankuba if she could share his journey…
Things were better in Mauritania, he says, but he was hearing rumours that much more could be achieved by travelling further.
Terrifying journey through the desert
That decision, he explains, was the beginning of a nightmare as he embarked on a terrifying journey through the desert, where his convoy was abandoned for days on end and where he saw many of his friends and companions die of hunger or disease “we had nowhere to turn to for help”.
He survived and managed to arrive in Libya where he said “I would never want to live for a single day, or even an hour…”
That’s when he decided to embark on a journey across the Mediterranean Sea rather than turning back and facing the desert again.
Facing the Mediterreanan crossing
He says that what made him decide was the choice between a slow and agonizing death in the desert and a quick death by drowning in the sea.
“When someone dies in the water, he says, it does not take too long.”
“Thank God that we made it. My group made it. And I’m so sad to say this because there are so many people whose lives have been lost, so many people who did not make it, and my prayers are always with them” he says.
The need for change of perspective
Yancuba expresses his belief that it will take time before people shift their perspective and begin to see migrants as an asset rather than as a liability: “thinking bad things about migrants doesn’t help at all”.
He explains that while initially he did not plan to stay in Italy, the fact that he was saved from the sea by an Italian search and rescue mission made him think: “if these people are protecting me from the sea, they will protect me on the shore”.
The work of Caritas
Since then, he says Caritas in Italy has supported him allowing him to complete his studies and obtain a high school diploma. Today he is studying at University.
“Caritas is a light that will enlighten the entire world; if people listen to their message and cooperate, we will move the world” he says.
Pope Francis' support
And regarding Pope Francis and his unabating support for migrants, their dignity and their rights, Yancuba says “he has a profound effect on people’s ideas; he also has an effect on policy-makers and politicians” many of whom have heeded the Pope’s call for inclusion.
“I feel supported by the Pope, I saw the Pope’s heart in his hands towards myself today (at the General Audience); he hugged me, I said ‘Wow – how is it possible?’ I thought of this for a while – and I’m not even a Christian! But the Pope realizes that: the Pope is in for humanity!”