The multidisciplinary team of the Fundación Centro Tierra de Todos in Cadiz responds to the needs of hundreds of migrants every year. For many of them, this organization is the first helping hand they find. (Giovanni Culmone/Global Solidarity Fund)

By Felipe Herrera-Espaliat – Cadiz, Spain

Jan 18 2024

Mohamed, at just nine years old, fled his home in Morocco to seek a future in Europe. After passing through various centers for the protection of minors, a community of nuns welcomed him, gave stability to his life, and accompanied him in a human process that today sees him working toward a university master’s degree and engaged in helping other migrants at the Fundación Centro Tierra de Todos.

In the narrow streets of the center of Cadiz, Spain, there is a face that is becoming increasingly familiar, as he often accompanies migrants arriving, especially from Africa. It is the face of the social worker Mohamed El Harrak, a young professional of Moroccan origin who works for the Fundación Centro Tierra de Todos and who knows well the sufferings of migration, having experienced them himself.

Mohamed was only nine years old when his father ended up in prison, leaving him, his mother, and his three older brothers in a state of abandonment in Ketama, a rural area in northern Morocco, Africa, where they lived in poverty. But that child had heard that the port of Tangier was not so far away and that from there, one could reach Spain, a kind of promised land where many Moroccans managed to build a future.

So, despite his young age, Mohamed did not hesitate. He ran away from home, and traveled 220 kilometers to reach that city. After wandering its streets for weeks, and after countless failed attempts, he took advantage of a red traffic light to climb onto a truck and hide in the spare wheel compartment. A few hours later, the vehicle embarked on a ship, and arrived at the Spanish port of Algeciras, where the police immediately discovered the little stowaway.

“It was a case that caused a scandal, because it was new that such a small child should arrive in the way I had. For several days I went from one police station to another before being placed in a reception center called El Cobre,” recalls Mohamed. From that moment, he began a journey that, over the course of two years, took him to six different protection homes in various cities of the Spanish region of Andalusia. According to official records, he is in fact the youngest unaccompanied minor to have arrived in Spain as a migrant without documents.

The longed-for stability

He himself admits that, being so young, he had no self-control and tended to flee the residences because he could not adapt to anything. Only when he arrived at the reception center for minors Divina Infantita in Cadiz, run by the Servants of the Immaculate Child, did he find the longed-for stability. He was about to turn 12. There, he was welcomed by five nuns who, together with an interdisciplinary team of professionals, offered him appropriate support and managed to enroll him in a Salesian school, where a new world opened up for him, especially characterized by the welcome from his classmates and their families. 

“My goal was to reach their same linguistic, cultural, and academic level and to follow their habits. I told myself: since I am here, I must integrate. I woke up and fell asleep in the library,” says the young man, who made study and soccer his daily routine.

Mohamed was thus able to complete his school education and then obtained a diploma in assistance to people in situations of dependency and another in socio-cultural and tourist animation. But that was not enough. Thanks to a scholarship, he obtained a degree in social work at the University of Cadiz, a course of study he followed while working forty hours a week. This allowed him to support himself and not lose the residence permit granted to him by the Spanish Government, because he was now of age and had to take responsibility for himself as a migrant.

The most beautiful moment

Mohamed was 20 years old when he returned to Morocco for the first time to visit his family. He was already in telephone contact with his parents, who in the meantime had added two more children to the family. “It was the most emotional moment of my life, because I went there to meet them. I had never seen them, and I went to pick them up from school. I think it was the most beautiful moment of my life,” says Mohamed excitedly.

But by then he had put down roots in Spain, where he returned to continue working in the social services field. Today, he is pursuing a master’s degree in Mediation while working for the Fundación Tierra de Todos, an organization dependent on the Diocese of Cadiz and Ceuta, which is dedicated, among other projects, to the reception and promotion of migrants.

The director of the Migration Secretariat of this Diocese, Scalabrinian missionary Sante Zanetti, knows Mohamed’s story well, as well as those of the thousands of migrants he has met in Europe and America during his religious life. For him, the greatest challenge of migration is to help ensure that people are not forced to lose their identity and values, and that they learn to interact with the characteristics of the society that welcomes them.

“It is about uniting abilities, values, and projects to create that new humanity whose path is indicated to us by Jesus Christ. This union of forces, projects, and faith helps us build a better, more fraternal, and more humane world,” says the priest.

Mohamed is involved intimately with this project. Because of his origin, language, experience, and acquired skills, he plays a fundamental role in the reception and guidance of those who arrive for the first time in Cadiz from Africa.

“My goal has always been to be an example for them. I tell them to stay calm, to be patient, to be responsible, because everything is achieved if you follow the right path,” assures Mohamed.

The child who fled Morocco now is 25 years old, and five months ago obtained Spanish nationality. This fact is highly appreciated by his colleagues because, in their opinion, he makes a great contribution to the country. – Vatican News

This report was created in collaboration with the Global Solidarity Fund.