The Over the Sea project brings together stories and portraits of mothers and children from war-torn countries or extremely difficult backgrounds. Most of them are from central Africa, particularly Nigeria, a vast nation which is home to a variety of cultures. Some areas are in the grip of Boko Haram militants; there, countless women of different religions and ethnicities are killed or kidnapped. Many of those who do manage to escape end up the victims of forced prostitution or organ trafficking. Every time that one of these women tells her story, it is extremely difficult to listen without any kind of judgment. Some women had been living rough beneath the trees when they were recruited, lured by the promise of a good job in the nearest town and a better future for themselves and their children. Little did they know that by accepting such an offer, they could fall prey to human trafficking, with no chance of ever returning home. Many of these women are entrapped by traffickers on the way. The money they have for their journey is only enough to reach a certain point; then they find themselves held in ‘sorting’ cities, where often they are drawn in by the promise of a job as soon as they reach the nearest town or neighbouring country. The truth, however, is very different. One woman who was taken into the reception centre gives a particularly moving account. She tells us that, after crossing the desert in a Jeep crammed with people, they ran out of food and water. Weeks passed before they finally stopped at a well, which contained corpses and putrid water; but they were forced to drink it, or die of dehydration. Many of the mothers were pregnant when they arrived at the centre, or had experienced horrific brutality and violence. These same mothers talk of having witnessed girls delivering stillborn babies; these girls could not comprehend the fact that they could not bury their children. One boy at the reception centre was born at sea off the coast of Libya and survived the crossing. The head of the centre told me how they were able to understand his trauma through his drawings, and with the help of his mother. “He taught me that not only chicks can hatch from eggs, but snakes too; while I had seen a chick hatching, he had seen a snake being born”. As for these children’s schooling once they arrive in Italy, after the paperwork has been done they can go to nursery school and then continue through the usual education system. Meanwhile, their mothers, who have had very little schooling themselves, are taught to write. They start with their names; they used to have to sign the registers and we could see how their name changed day by day. At first it was a line, then an X, and then little by little it turned into letters, and eventually a signature as we know it. It was wonderful to see them take such pride in this small, but momentous thing; when the supervisors checked if they were all present at the centre, the mothers proudly pointed out that they had written their names. When they arrive at the reception centre, these women believe they have finally found the peace and stability they have always craved, and that they have achieved long-term security.

In actual fact, the reception project provides initial assistance; only a few of the women understand that this is a temporary situation. Once they have left the program, they study to improve their chances of finding a job. Some, whose children are still back in their country of origin, urgently need to start working immediately so as to guarantee their families a future. In their home countries, their priority was to fight to survive every day; they are not concerned about bureaucratic problems now because they find themselves in a completely different society, with different rules and mechanisms. Now they lead a good life at the reception centre, where they are treated with dignity and humanity. However, some are keen to find work as nurses or care workers as soon as possible; they want to get their educational qualifications recognised in Italy so that they can help out and repay their debt towards the state. I had the chance to talk to women who have come this far to escape from their countries, but whose initial goal was not to move to Italy. They were simply looking for a place where they could stay alive and stay safe; far from the rebel factions on the edges of society that seek to control the authorities and fight to establish their own rules and regulations. Several of these women had been married to criminal gang members; they had lived in the lap of luxury, but heard things they couldn’t face hearing any more. Eventually, they tried to listen carefully so they could report them: “He bought me jewellery, a beautiful home and designer clothes; everything a woman could wish for, right? But living with a gangster is like having a coffin in front of you the whole time because that organisation can destroy your husband, you and your children. Now, when I think back to my past as a bystander, I can say I’m not interested in that bloodstained wealth and opulence. I escaped from all that. I just want to be able to get my children back and stay alive. Many people in my country want to get rich the easy way. They don’t want to study; they don’t want a proper, honest job. When somebody shows you a large amount of money and asks you to do anything, you do it because you’re too lazy to create something that’s decent and important for your life. You do it, and then of course it becomes a habit. You use the money to build a house, buy a car and open some businesses; but it is all illegal and not well-deserved. In your country, a “good person” means an honest, upright citizen, somebody who behaves decently and does their duty; whereas in my country, if you say to somebody that they’re “good” it means they’re tough and cold-blooded, unscrupulous, and that if you ask them to do something they won’t hesitate for a moment. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t aspire to an easy life – I like working. When I got to Italy, I met people who told me I was beautiful and could become a prostitute. But that wasn’t the life I wanted: I wasn’t born for that. I don’t know what will happen after the court decision, I feel a bit like a child that somebody will take in, and perhaps take care of”.

The Over the Sea project brings together stories and portraits of mothers and children from war-torn countries or extremely difficult backgrounds. Most of them are from central Africa, particularly Nigeria, a vast nation which is home to a variety of cultures.
Some women had been living rough beneath the trees when they were recruited, lured by the promise of a good job in the nearest town and a better future for themselves and their children. Little did they know that by accepting such an offer, they could fall prey to human trafficking, with no chance of ever returning home.

Many of these women are entrapped by traffickers on the way. The money they have for their journey is only enough to reach a certain point; then they find themselves held in ‘sorting’ cities, where often they are drawn in by the promise of a job as soon as they reach the nearest town or neighbouring country. The truth, however, is very different. One woman who was taken into the reception centre gives a particularly moving account. She tells us that, after crossing the desert in a Jeep crammed with people, they ran out of food and water. Weeks passed before they finally stopped at a well, which contained corpses and putrid water; but they were forced to drink it, or die of dehydration. Many of the mothers were pregnant when they arrived at the centre, or had experienced horrific brutality and violence. These same mothers talk of having witnessed girls delivering stillborn babies; these girls could not comprehend the fact that they could not bury their children. One boy at the reception centre was born at sea off the coast of Libya and survived the crossing. The head of the centre told me how they were able to understand his trauma through his drawings, and with the help of his mother. “He taught me that not only chicks can hatch from eggs, but snakes too; while I had seen a chick hatching, he had seen a snake being born”. As for these children’s schooling once they arrive in Italy, after the paperwork has been done they can go to nursery school and then continue through the usual education system. Meanwhile, their mothers, who have had very little schooling themselves, are taught to write. They start with their names; they used to have to sign the registers and we could see how their name changed day by day. At first it was a line, then an X, and then little by little it turned into letters, and eventually a signature as we know it. It was wonderful to see them take such pride in this small, but momentous thing; when the supervisors checked if they were all present at the centre, the mothers proudly pointed out that they had written their names. When they arrive at the reception centre, these women believe they have finally found the peace and stability they have always craved, and that they have achieved long-term security.

In actual fact, the reception project provides initial assistance; only a few of the women understand that this is a temporary situation. Once they have left the program, they study to improve their chances of finding a job. Some, whose children are still back in their country of origin, urgently need to start working immediately so as to guarantee their families a future. In their home countries, their priority was to fight to survive every day; they are not concerned about bureaucratic problems now because they find themselves in a completely different society, with different rules and mechanisms. Now they lead a good life at the reception centre, where they are treated with dignity and humanity. However, some are keen to find work as nurses or care workers as soon as possible; they want to get their educational qualifications recognised in Italy so that they can help out and repay their debt towards the state. I had the chance to talk to women who have come this far to escape from their countries, but whose initial goal was not to move to Italy. They were simply looking for a place where they could stay alive and stay safe; far from the rebel factions on the edges of society that seek to control the authorities and fight to establish their own rules and regulations. Several of these women had been married to criminal gang members; they had lived in the lap of luxury, but heard things they couldn’t face hearing any more. Eventually, they tried to listen carefully so they could report them: “He bought me jewellery, a beautiful home and designer clothes; everything a woman could wish for, right? But living with a gangster is like having a coffin in front of you the whole time because that organisation can destroy your husband, you and your children. Now, when I think back to my past as a bystander, I can say I’m not interested in that bloodstained wealth and opulence. I escaped from all that. I just want to be able to get my children back and stay alive. Many people in my country want to get rich the easy way. They don’t want to study; they don’t want a proper, honest job. When somebody shows you a large amount of money and asks you to do anything, you do it because you’re too lazy to create something that’s decent and important for your life. You do it, and then of course it becomes a habit. You use the money to build a house, buy a car and open some businesses; but it is all illegal and not well-deserved. In your country, a “good person” means an honest, upright citizen, somebody who behaves decently and does their duty; whereas in my country, if you say to somebody that they’re “good” it means they’re tough and cold-blooded, unscrupulous, and that if you ask them to do something they won’t hesitate for a moment. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t aspire to an easy life – I like working. When I got to Italy, I met people who told me I was beautiful and could become a prostitute. But that wasn’t the life I wanted: I wasn’t born for that. I don’t know what will happen after the court decision, I feel a bit like a child that somebody will take in, and perhaps take care of”.