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I Came as a Stranger

Tommaso Arosio's experiences as a volunteer with Maison de la Gare

I came as a stranger.

I’ve never thought of being a brave person, a good person. It’s not even easy to put down in words what I’m feeling, while thinking of my experience in Senegal.

First of all, I’d like to thank all the people who suggested and encouraged me to leave for Africa. To take some time to reflect on my life’s errors. To replan my future.

But I couldn’t do it in Africa. I couldn’t reflect, I mean. And I couldn’t replan anything. From the first day I learned to live the present. I definitely forgot past and future. Even if sometimes someone told me I had my “head in the clouds”, actually I never really found the concentration needed to leave the present time.

In Italy I had read carefully about the organization and activities of Maison de la Gare, the association for which I would work from April to June 2013. I mentally excluded medical assistance and French teaching because I thought that I wasn't skilled enough to fulfill these roles properly. And probably I wasn’t, to be honest. However, they were the two activities on which I spent most of my time.

The first time I entered a daara, one of the volunteers asked me what I thought; what were my first impressions after that first encounter with the talibé’s world? I answered that I would never judge anything; I was there to help and to work, not to judge. And I kept my word.

I was treated like a friend from the first day because I put myself in a very clear position: I treated everybody in the same way. I was friendly with all the people around me, trying to smile always, to find the time to joke with everyone (especially with the kids, of course), even when I was suffering from homesickness or was upset about something. I (almost) never let myself blend European sadness with African happiness. Sometimes it was tough. The people closest to me noticed this conflict, but the children didn’t and this was the aim.

Africa, Senegal and, in general, this experience helped me to rediscover the self-confidence I had lost before I came. I worked with commitment, I learned a lot of new things. I met people from all around the world (I even achieved a pretty good mastery of French, considering that I had barely studied it before).

This experience really made me aware of the fact that I’m a privileged person. A privileged person doesn’t deserve to be privileged more than an underprivileged one. It’s just fate that makes him lucky. A lucky person can’t get away with not having a conscience. Because he has more, he has to give a bit more to the people who don't even know the difference between privilege and underprivilege.

I met a lot of young talibé boys who are great human beings, despite the fact they don’t know anything about the life that a boy of their age lives in Europe. And they smile all the time, even if they don’t know what childhood is. I believe this is the message I tried to pass. Return childhood to its owners, the children. I’m proud of having met such beautiful young men. I’m proud they called me “friend”. I don’t know if they’ll remember me; I will remember them!

I have to say a few words to my Senegalese host family: Aladji, Ama, Babs and Siberou. Just thank you. I won’t forget you, either. Never.

And thank you, Issa. Thank you for your example. I couldn’t ever do what you do. I think only a few people in the world could; I would call them “good people”. I’m lucky to have met one of them.

I left as a man.

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