To all the young people I meet in the ghettos I say: be not weary of learning from situations, one life spent doing it is still not enough

Batch Mballow


“To all the young people I meet in the ghettos I say: don’t stop, never be tired of learning from situations, one life spent doing it is still not enough”. Batch Mballow today is a cultural mediator for the ARCI Porco Rosso in Palermo. He goes to the ghettos of Campobello and Cassibile to listen to the needs and stories of immigrant laborers who work in conditions of exploitation and live in inhumane situations. The pay of a laborer is low: 20 euros a day for almost 12 hours of work, or they are paid per box they fill with fruit/olives (1,50 – 2 euros per box). Also, they’re paid intermittently, and they can go even 3 or 4 months without getting any money. “The boys are without documents, so they don’t even get a contract. A boy in Corleone was 6 months without being paid”, says Batch. And then there are the conditions of the shacks where they live. There is no electricity and no water. Those who don’t go to work, walk two kilometers to fetch the water, which will then be used for drinking, cooking and washing. “Those coming home from work buy the water from those who went to get it, because once back from work they are too tired to go fetch it themselves”.

“The boys trust me because I’m an African like them”, continues Batch. “Many ask me for information, also because I’ve been through what they have been through, both the reception at my arrival in Italy and the terrible working conditions. I want to share my experience with those who still haven’t traveled the path I traveled. I explained to them what they have to do to get a residence permit, to find a decent job, for legal and health assistance, how to tell their story to request international protection”.

Batch arrived in Italy 5 years ago. In Lampedusa, he was immediately given an expulsion paper, to be repatriated. While he was there, a lady gave him a piece of paper with a number to call in case he needed help. It was the number of the ARCI Porco Rosso. “I called the number as soon as the lady gave it to me, and Fausto Melluso answered the phone”. Melluso, currently Municipal councillor in Palermo, brought Batch to the mission of Biagio Conte, which hosts homeless people, laborers and immigrants waiting for their residence permit. The ARCI helped Batch appeal against expulsion. Once he obtained the appeal, he went to a reception center, and then to Corleone, where he worked as a shepherd for 3 months. After that, he worked as a farm laborer. In Corleone, he also loaded hay bales. “I was paid very poorly, without a contract, 15 euros a day for 12 hours work”, says Batch. At that point, he decided to go back to Palermo, took training courses to become a mediator, which he has become. But his dream is to go to England, not to stop in Italy. “I’ve become a mediator because I speak very good English. In Gambia, I studied to almost university level. Then I came to Italy and I’ve become fluent in Italian. But that was not my project. In Gambia, I had to interrupt my studies, I had started studying Medicine but then I left to come here to Italy. I did not intend to stop in Italy, I wanted to go to Europe, in an English-speaking country, a language I already knew”.

Once in Italy, Batch adapted, he realized he couldn’t move and had to adjust: “Once I arrived in Italy, that was not as I imagined. Here I changed my mind about going to England because I could not travel, I had no money and no documents. I had to follow the [reception] system, which, however, had nothing to do with what I had planned. I would have liked to go to England, because there they speak English. But this is how it went! Now I have enrolled in Nursing. In Gambia, I have only my siblings, and one day I expect to return”.