Unaccompanied Migrant Children Open Fashion Studio

Taranto, Italy – On 15 February 2017, at the end of an award ceremony for the UN Migration Agency (IOM)’s Children First project, a teary-eyed Gambian teenager stood up and addressed the audience. “Thank you for listening to our stories. It is not always easy to have your voice heard here,” he said through the tears.

He was one six beneficiaries of an IOM-USAIM grant that supports innovative project ideas aimed at the professional growth and socioeconomic integration of unaccompanied migrant children in their current host communities.

The group of six teenagers from Gambia, Guinea, Egypt and Senegal, who arrived in Italy by sea and found shelter at the reception centres managed by the local NGO ‘Salam’, decided to join hands to establish their own fashion studio, which will be named La maison de la mode ‘Nyawcatyi’ (tailor in the Wolof language mostly spoken in Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania). Through the Children First project, IOM will support the group in turning their dream into a local Italian reality.

Before arriving in Taranto, some of the boys were already working as tailors, while others had experience as mechanics, farmers and construction workers. “Our identity lives on through the colours and patterns of African fashion,” one of the boys told IOM. “Thanks to our tailor shop, we will be able to bring more colours and happiness to the lives of Italians, as well,” he added.

The USAIM-funded project Children First encourages unaccompanied children to use their skills and talents on two levels: to actively contribute to the growth of their current host community but also to devise co-development initiatives in their country of origin. The partnership with a local NGO, which organized a tailoring course held by local experts, proved key in assuring that the beneficiaries could receive direct support in their path towards integration. 

Despite language and cultural barriers, the group never failed to impress the trainers with their abilities and originality. Their diversity and eagerness to cooperate was what enabled them to present a creative project proposal and win the award. 

“It was an eye-opening and constructive opportunity for us at IOM, too,” explains Anna Giustiniani, Project Manager at IOM Italy, who followed the development of the project. “Some of the boys come from Senegal and only speak Wolof, others are Arabic-speaking, but they always find a way to communicate and collaborate smoothly, even on those days when cultural mediators were not available.”