The migrant returnee who graduated top of his class

1 febrero 2023
ITC News

Baboucarr Saho from The Gambia returns to his home to find a career in tourism thanks to ITC project

An advertising billboard with the inscription: “Future leaders of Africa study in the United Kingdom,” installed right in the heart of Kanifing Municipality, The Gambia, was set to shape Baboucarr Saho’s perception about the possibilities of acquiring education in his home country.

Baboucarr was born in Barra, a town located on the North Bank of River Gambia. The now 23-year-old has always dreamed to inspire and lead change in his community and beyond. “I was smart in school,” he says with a smile on his face.

In 2016, a year after completing his high school education, Baboucarr would embark on the perilous, irregular route with the hope of reaching Europe, and then the United Kingdom through Libya. According to Baboucarr, two things motivated him despite the known risks: the billboard that painted a dark picture for people opting to continue their education in The Gambia, and his friends who had reached Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.

“I interpreted that billboard to mean that we cannot become successful through our education system. And second, at the time, even though some could not make it, others successfully entered Europe using the journey. Mentally, pressure built on me - societal pressure.”

The journey was an experience Baboucarr will never forget. While taking a pause in talking and nodding his head in disappointment, with a gloomy but calm voice, he says: “It was horrible.”

During the journey, Baboucarr, like so many other migrants, was exposed to discrimination and inhumane treatment, and started facing difficulties even before reaching Libya.

“The journey is a death trap,” he said. “In the desert, I escaped death twice. I was involved in a life-threatening accident. My family thought I would not make it. Sitting in front of you and narrating this story is a miracle.”

Once in Libya, Baboucarr faced discrimination, abuse and a violation of his rights.

“I was detained three times. I have never been to prison in The Gambia. I am a disciplined young man. But Libya was the first time I experienced prison.”

The boat in which he was travelling with other migrants was intercepted by Libya’s coastguard when they attempted to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. They were later taken to a detention centre. Without a second thought, Baboucarr decided there and then to return home. This was made possible by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Upon his return, Baboucarr started off with frequent mini jobs at restaurants and bars along the beach. He then got a steady part time job at one of the restaurants through a friend who advised him to join The Gambia Tourism and Hospitality Institute for a better-well paid job.

But school fees are not cheap. To keep studying “food and beverage management”, he decided to work more hours at the restaurant to cover for his tuition fees. Things did take a turn however, when the International Trade Centre (ITC) provided him with a scholarship.

Through its EU-funded Youth Empowerment Project, Job Skills and Finance Programme as well as the UN Peacebuilding Fund project, the ITC scholarship package supports over 345 young people in hospitality and professional bakery professions at The Gambia Tourism and Hospitality Institute. Baboucarr was one of them.

“I would like to thank ITC for supporting my training. It would have been difficult to graduate without the scholarship.”

Baboucarr has now completed his foundation courses and plans to extend his studies. At a graduation ceremony held at the Institute, Baboucarr was acknowledged as “best student” of his class. Currently, Baboucarr is interning at a local restaurant where he is learning the needed skills to progress. His dream is to start his own business and employ other young people.

“I want to continue studying – to build my career. I want to start a restaurant and earn a decent income and provide for myself, family and others.”

About the project

The International Trade Centre has so far supported over 1,500 young Gambians across the country with hospitality and bakery skills. Tourism is one of The Gambia’s key economic sectors as it represents the highest foreign exchange earnings and one of the major employers of Gambians, especially women and young people.