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A new life for three young foreigners in Cádiz who overcame their struggles

Beyond all adversity

 Beyond all adversity  ING-009
01 March 2024

Suffering, personal difficulties, and distance from their families could not break the dreams of Fatoumata, Martial and Saleha. These three young people from foreign countries have fought tenaciously to build a future in Spain, where, with the help of Catholic Church organizations, they are achieving those dreams.

“We will do everything necessary to keep it going!”, said Father Gabriel Delgado in a decisive tone to his collaborators when, in 2019, he heard about the story of Fatoumata Baldi, a young 20-year-old woman who had left Guinea for France. She had just crossed the border between Morocco and the Spanish city of Ceuta when the driver of the car in which she was travelling lost control of the vehicle, crashing into a wall. There were six young women who had paid to hide in that car, which had been specially fitted to transport migrants. She had squeezed into a space next to the fender, and because of this, she was trapped in the wreckage, to the extent that they had to amputate her right leg from the knee down to get her out.

A Sub-Saharan, undocumented woman with a disability, Fatoumata had everything stacked against her in her plan for a promising future. Nonetheless, Father Gabriel, who was the head of the Migration Secretariat of the Diocese of Cádiz and Ceuta, managed to have her transferred to the hospital in Cádiz, where she stayed for eight months and underwent 12 surgical operations.

During her long convalescence, she received daily visits from Pepita, a volunteer who, while keeping her company and teaching her Spanish, became an adoptive mother to her. Alongside Pepita, Fatoumata faced the difficult rehabilitation process, completed her secondary education, and met the religious sisters of Mary Immaculate, who warmly welcomed her into a home for young female students. She did not complete her plan, which was to reach France, where she was supposed to meet a distant cousin who had proposed to marry her, but who decided to forget about her when he learned of the accident. Perhaps it was providential, as those assisting her suspected that this unknown relative was actually part of a human trafficking network.

Currently, Fatoumata has a residence permit, is studying business management at the Mary Immaculate vocational training center, is in constant contact with her family, and has had a boyfriend for several months. Father Gabriel’s determination has borne good fruit, even though he was unable to witness it fully, because he died in Cádiz on 12 November 2021, after having dedicated his life to giving dignity to the poor, with a clear preference for migrants. His prophetic figure is remembered in every corner of the southern Spanish border.

An experience that became compassion

Another of Father Gabriel Delgado’s great works was the Cardijn Association, which he founded in 1993 and for which Martial Tsatia works as a guide and supervisor for newly arrived migrants, mostly young people. He accompanies them from when they wake up, wash up and clean the apartment where they temporarily live, and then assigns them tasks to perform during the day, in addition to attending mandatory Spanish lessons.

Martial is of Cameroonian origin, and in 2016 he decided to try his luck in Spain. However, during the journey, while trying to pass from Morocco to Ceuta, in an attempt to get over the large fence that separates the two countries, he fell 10 meters and broke his right arm. Injured and without medical assistance, he spent eight months trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, until he succeeded on a boat that left him in the Spanish city of Tarifa. As soon as he disembarked, the police arrested him, and he spent three weeks in a detention center for foreigners, from where he was pulled out by Juan Carlos Carvajal, who works for the Cardijn Association and who today is his friend.

While receiving medical treatment to heal, Martial dedicated himself to learning Spanish and training. He tried to work in the fields of the Almería area but gave up due to the severe exploitation he was subjected to. He then worked as a cook, and now that he has his documents in order, he has been hired by Cardijn, where, in addition to supervising migrants, he performs the real task of human accompaniment. “I tell my story, which was not easy. I have always fought, learning from everything. You have to move, study, look for contacts, meet people, and see what opportunities you can have. You must always be optimistic”, says Tsatia, who is now 30 years old. His experience today allows him to approach migrants with compassion. He spends many hours a day with them, accompanying them to the doctor or psychologist, participating in sociocultural workshops with them, or simply enjoying a game of soccer. All this while waiting for each of them to find their own way.

An independent future for young women

Saleha Mohamed Chanhih was born in Melilla, Spain, to parents who emigrated from Morocco. Due to family problems, the justice system arranged for her to be placed in a center for minors when she was 16 years old, but once she became an adult, she was forced to leave. However, a door opened for her on the other side of the Mediterranean. In Cádiz, the Franciscan Sisters of the Flock of Mary offered her a place in their home for young women, where several girls live together and for whom these religious women play a real maternal role. Saleha has been there for a year and has easily adapted, supported by a team of professionals who watch over young women at risk of social exclusion. Sister Rosario Hidalgo, Superior General of the congregation, explains that their mission is to accompany young women so they can build a future independently, but in order to achieve this, it is also necessary to heal their deepest wounds. “They arrive quite traumatized. Sometimes there are even mafias after them”, warns the religious sister, alluding to the risks that migrant women face from groups dedicated to human trafficking and who enslave them with forced labour or prostitution.

But this was not Saleha’s fate. In fact, her adaptation process was quick because she could count on the support of a multidisciplinary team. Today, at 19, she is attending a physical education course to obtain a first technical diploma that will allow her to find a job in the short term or continue her studies. Moreover, she has made her condition as a daughter of migrants a strength for her development and social relations, a real wealth for herself and her future. “You learn a lot because you get to know different cultures and different opinions, and you see everything differently. It’s something that has helped me, it has served me”, says Saleha, proud of her foreign roots.


By Felipe Herrera-Espaliat
from Cádiz