PUSL interviewed Fatimelu Sidi Allal, member of the Polisario Front representation in Italy. The “Little Ambassadors of Peace” project that began in Italy in 1982 (in Tuscany Sesto Fiorentino) has evolved over the years, welcoming more and more children from the Saharawi refugee camps. It is a national project that has expression in several regions and municipalities in Italy and involves the active participation of politicians, associations, religious organizations, volunteers and doctors amongst others.
Fatimelu Sidi Allal began by telling us about the radical gesture of the Saharawi people. The radical gesture that a whole people embraced when it was invaded by Morocco, instead of fleeing to the Atlantic that borders the entire Saharawi coast, where its most populated cities are located, they fled to the desert. Opting for an extreme exile. They were the only people that fled from the coast to the desert to reorganize. This gesture says Fatimelu has today an incredible priceless value, because while entire populations gather to cross the Mediterranean, looking on the other side, for individual and definitive solutions for their lives because of the tragedies they suffer, the Saharawis see the refugee camps in the desert as the place where they belong and where they can be reorganized in order to recover their stolen land. And how do they do it? In an unprecedented way, a non-violent, extremely civil struggle, respecting the resolutions of the United Nations and the African Union.
Fatimelu, can you tell us a little about the “little Ambassadors of Peace” project in Italy?
The reception of the Saharawi “Little Ambassadors of Peace” began in Italy in 1982.
The activity consists of hosting Saharawi children between 8 and 12 (and two monitors for every 10 children) during the warmer months of summer, July and August (the period in which it is unbearably hot in the refugee camps.
Children are never the same (authorizations planning is organized, which allows as many children as possible to partake in the project, giving priority to children with health problems).
We want to offer the maximum possible to the children over the years, a punctual medical assistance represents a surplus value and helps in improving the health of these children and its impact on the health of the Saharawi refugee population is immense.
Why are they called “Little Ambassadors”?
We call them “Little Ambassadors of Peace” because the Sahrawis are the only Arab, Muslim people who entrust their children to people from other very different cultures, very far from the religious, historical and customs point of view. This gesture of our people is a gesture of peace and extreme trust in others, we entrust our children for more than 36 years to the Italian civil society that is interested in helping our people, aware that in that young age the positive memories have an immense and unforgettable value.
We Saharawis, have decided to make our cause visible with this gesture, a decision very different from other people who resort to other methods to highlight their struggles. The saharawis send the noblest, most fragile elements of our society – our children, thus overcoming the evil of our time; fear and mistrust of others, so that the world knows that there is a people that for more than 43 years has endured, and resists non-violently a conflict full of bitter injustice.
We are the last colony of Africa and in spite of our tenacity in fighting and obtaining politically and legally all recognitions, the international community has not managed to take the step that law and logic impose; the organization of a Referendum for self-determination for the Saharawi people.
What are the objectives of this project?
There are several, we want to give to the children born in the Sahrawi refugee camps in the south of Algeria the possibility of adequate medical treatment to solve health problems that are not easy to solve in the camps, in two months with quick surgical operations results are achieved that really change the future of a child.
But also give them the opportunity to have fun, live like other children outside the emergency context of a refugee camp, at least in a small part of their childhood, and also put them in contact with other entities, far from the cultural point of view, so that they can learn to interact with others and be educated for coexistence that only mutual knowledge can nurture.
On the other hand, this offers those who welcome them the possibility of knowing the Saharawi society without intermediaries, entering into contact with the “little ambassadors of peace”.
What are the supports for medical care and what happens when they return home?
All blood tests, urine, etc and examinations are done through the public health system while some consultations of clinical specialties such as dentist and ophthalmology are performed by private voluntary doctors, I have the moral duty to recognize that the medical volunteers very often they exceed the demand.
All children do a complete check-up and then they are treated according to the needs. When they return the monitors that accompany them explain everything to the family and deliver the individual medical report explaining how it is necessary to proceed. Normally the two months that the children are in Italy are enough to solve most of the health problems, there are few cases that require longer support or the child’s return to Italy the following summer.
What is the role of the monitors?
The monitors are also Saharawis, they are the direct responsible, their role is central; they are a guarantee, they allow a better integration and assistance, in them the children find the necessary emotional support. Before the monitors come, they are trained in the refugee camps through the project of the Italian solidarity association to be prepared for the responsibility that awaits them. The monitors are refugees themselves, the Italians are very aware of this, the monitors have the same benefits reserved for the children and the Italian associations act accordingly.
Where do the children stay during the two months?
The children are left with the monitors in spaces granted by municipalities, churches and associations, the places have a certificate of suitability issued by the Italian authorities.
The monitoring in general is divided between 4 municipalities or associations that divide the responsibility during the 2 months.
In some very specific cases of children with special needs, are integrated into a family.
The fact of being all together makes it much easier for them to overcome the distance of their family and the integrated activities in local communities are made together which is one of the objectives of the project.
What is your evaluation of this project?
The results of this project over time are varied and the overall balance is positive, especially because the project gives people in Italy the chance to join with institutions around a humanely and ethically responsible project, solidarity and affection that they express themselves in several ways: by confronting the practical problems that the welcoming imposes, offering smiles, rest and generosity in a way that children will never forget.
The children, for their part, are eager to return home better /healthier than they have arrived, their desire is to return because it is in the refugee camps that they have their essential affections, their families and want to show how much they learned and how much their health condition changed .
How is it possible to achieve this project? Does this project go beyond medical aid?
The work carried out by the Italian associations is a fundamental foundation on which a new confidence is built for the Sahrawis while we await a peaceful referendum for self-determination, which unfortunately has been postponed systematically since 1991. The solidarity of civil society and the political actors is essential to give us some encouragement on our way to a free, inclusive and respectful country that respects the agreements we sign according to a responsible coexistence.
We are immensely grateful to all the Italian people for wanting to accompany us in this enormous work that the long wait imposes on us in difficult conditions.
We overcome many challenges by learning with various cooperation projects, but the annual reception of these children is really the most interesting and useful project for us.
And we wholeheartedly thank all those who contribute in some way to this miracle of participation!
P.D.: while we closed the interview his Holiness Pope Francesco receives a delegation of children of the “little ambassadors of peace” in Italy.