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“I wasn’t angry, I lacked happiness.”


Ablà is a Liberian boy. His life had always been marked by war. Whenever it seemed to be over, it would start all over again. He dreamed of studying in his country, but war doesn’t allow you to study. When Ablà’s mother became ill, his father spent all his savings to get her treatment, but she didn’t survive. Without any economic resources, the dream of studying has slipped further and further away.

At 15 years of age, Ablà is forced to leave his homeland: he works in every West African country he travels through in order to earn enough money to continue his journey. He crosses the Sahara Desert and arrives in Libya. There, he manages to find a job as a clerk in a shop, but local militias kidnap him and demand a ransom in exchange for his freedom. Ablà doesn’t have that money, escapes, but is captured again. He escapes a second time, but his torturers find him and shoot him. He falls to the ground, remains motionless and pretends to die. It’s the only way to save yourself. A few hours later, a man sees him slumped on the ground and approaches. Ablà has a leg injury, is losing a lot of blood, but is still alive. The man who helped him accompanies him to hospital, but Ablà loses too much blood: the boy asks to call his family to warn them that this might be the last time they hear from him.

Due to the presence of militia groups, even staying in hospital is dangerous: thanks to the help of a friend he reaches a beach where he stays for days, continuing to lose blood. He manages to escape with fellow travellers but, on board a dilapidated boat, he risks drowning in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The first treatment he receives for his wound is only after he is transferred to a safe ship, thanks to a search and rescue operation.

How did he manage to stay alive despite the huge loss of blood and the hardships he experienced during the trip? Many kilometres separate Liberia from Sicily, and it is only after his arrival at the port of Augusta that he is finally operated upon. In Catania’s hospital, the surgery is successful: with a little rehabilitation, Ablà will be able to walk again.

But his journey doesn’t end here: Ablà is 15 years old and he made his way to Italy completely alone. He is an unaccompanied minor and – for this reason – he is transferred from hospital to ‘Casa Freedom’, the reception centre in Priolo Gargallo, in the province of Syracuse. This is where I met him two years ago.

The hand of a patient and that of a member of EMERGENCY staff

The EMERGENCY team that works inside the Centre continues to provide the boy with the care he needs: Ablà follows his therapy, performs the exercises prescribed by our doctor, but never smiles. Every time I visit him in his room, he always seems angry. Shortly thereafter, Ablà is transferred and this time he is moved to a Centre located in the Municipality of Pachino. Here, he begins to go to school, undertakes a course to become a cultural mediator, and does an apprenticeship as a receptionist at a tourist centre. Meanwhile, his journey from Liberia to Italy becomes a short story, waiting to be published after winning a literary competition.

A few days ago, we meet again: Ablà tells us that at the beginning of his work experience as a receptionist, his employer was perplexed. Even at work, Ablà never smiled, and his boss pointed out that welcoming tourists with a pout wasn’t great. In order not to lose his job, Ablà had to start smiling. Slowly, however, he tells us that his smile began to have results: Ablà began to receive as many smiles as he gave out. I ask him if he still remembers that, when he had just arrived, he was always angry. “I wasn’t angry” – he corrects me – “I lacked happiness”.

Yohanes, EMERGENCY cultural mediator