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The lived experience of a migrant child.

Saturday 19 February 2022
When I was 12 years old, my mother took my younger brother and I from South Africa to go live in the Spanish Canary Islands.  At the time, I did not realise the notable opportunity this was for me. Rather, I felt alone, scared, isolated and very, very, far away from my family back home. This was before WhatsApp, social media and smart phones, so if you wanted to connect with someone in a different country, you sent an email from an internet café, or bought an international calling card.

At school, I sat in a classroom trying to catch onto words I could understand, but I wanted to melt into the wall paint, trying my best not to be seen. During break time, I would sit with people I knew from my neighborhood who were predominantly English or Welsh, and who were going through the same transition as myself.

Now much later in life, I understand the power of what that move meant to my life; I learned a new language relatively quickly, built resilience to adapt, identified a sense of purpose beyond my experiences and most importantly, I learned empathy.

My life experience on the island of Fuerteventura, looking back I would say was quite idyllic; clear blue ocean, freedom of movement, opportunity to explore. But there was always a sense of something ugly lurking just beneath the surface. No matter how well I spoke Spanish, or engaged with local peers, I was not fully welcome.
They called me ‘guiri’. At every milestone, I was reminded of this; no matter how well I tried to assimilated, I was an outsider.

So was my brother, so were my British friends. Our families were seen to be taking away jobs, changing the culture of the island, changing the language, bringing with us too much of the outside.
The experience birthed within me a deep sense of resonance and understanding for what a child or family may experiences finding themselves in a new country with no support structure, in a new context, integrating into a new culture, language.

Recently, a post from the Zimbabwean Consulate in South Africa called for their patriots to take care following rumours of violence and uprising against them.

Reading the post, and reading the cruel, anti-foreigner sentiment by South Africans on social media, triggers some of the same feeling I felt in Fuerteventura. Unwelcome.

I do not by any means mean to suggest that my experience could mirror those of an undocumented child, forced to leave their country and home for a variety of reasons. I simply mean to say that I, too, know what it is like to be young, afraid, and caught up in something bigger than me and beyond my control. I remember wanting to disappear, wishing that I could understand what people were saying to me, wanting to feel like I belonged most of all.

No child should ever feel this way.

Save the Children South Africa’s Migration and Displacement programmes are implemented to advocate for the rights of children affected by migration and displaced. Supporting both Government and non-Government actors who work towards ensuring the rights and services towards children in this category. The program equally works on the ground to identify and support children and families who are affected by or at risk of statelessness, undocumented and separated. Through cultural mediators and partners, we assess their needs and are able to take necessary action to ensure their rights are protected. Somehow, I have ended up at an organisation that makes a huge difference to the lives of children facing uncertainty on a daily basis, for that I am thankful because I can partner with businesses and institutions to support children just like me.

If we are to build a society that is open, equitable and embraces difference (a melting pot as we so often say), then we need to actively contribute to this and not only wave the flag on the global scene. Our leaders must be held to account to ensure children, regardless of their origin, or nationality, have access to education, social services and protection.  If you want to make a difference to the lives of children who are undocumented, separated or stateless, visit or reach out to me [email protected]