Our friend Meg Robinson has translated this great article made by For Jordi Jofré Neyra for GEA PHOTOWORDS:
La Transpirenaica Social y Solidaria (TSS) is an initiative promoted by the Fundación Formació i Treball (FIT) who fight to promote social inclusion. They have just completed their second ‘expedition,’ a journey of over 800 km through the Pyrenees, with the intention of making their voice heard, and to make known many testimonials of the stories of young people at risk. Also they are drawing attention to the work of different institutions related to social work, and the generous collaboration of anonymous people who have joined the project. Surely herein lies the originality and strength of the TSS: it is a meeting place of different realities, needs and concerns, where walking from refuge to refuge the hope is to help transform the society in which we live.
Not long ago, in certain parts of India, the expression was used “he/she has crossed seven seas. This referred to a relative, friend or acquaintance who had emigrated to a distant country. It didn’t matter if was England or Canada; the fact was that that person was no longer in the village or in the city, and that their life had changed completely.
So this is what Mohit Chandel, one of the protagonists of the TSS tells us. Born 22 years ago in the North of India, aged 17, his father decided to go and live with him to Barcelona. Compared to others, and thanks to the support of his family, he has not suffered the economic hardship that thousands of migrants experience today. On the other hand, he has had to deal with the language barrier, loneliness, and a culture that was alien, somewhat incomprehensible and sometimes intolerant.
Very close to the refuge( hostal) at Conangles, beside the river Noguera Ribagorzana, he tells us this, and how he went to Casal dels Infants del Raval in Barcelona to learn Spanish and, more importantly, to begin to understand and be understood. From there he has worked as a volunteer in different organizations in Spain, France and India. He speaks several languages and has travelled widely.
He continues to study but feels the has come time to work and he feels ready for it. During the TSS he has acted as coordinator for some of the stages, this has given him the opportunity to relate to people in different walks of life, and has helped him develop skills enabling him to handle responsibilities with greater ease. He is a born dreamer who before imagined many scenarios ( he’s an amateur actor) and now can’t conceive of a future away from the mountains (those here, or far away).
Shahid Ashraf is another other of the ‘chicos’ of the TSS. He was born born in Kashmir and, aged 17 came to Barcelona where he had to pretend to be a man because of the ‘circumstances.’ After almost one year in a minors’ center, where he learned Spanish and military(?)marches, he was moved to a ‘supervised’ apartment.
When we spoke with him, he often made reference to his deceased father. He explained he has just finished the ESO and that he is now finishing a training cycle of intermediate level. He is, without doubt, a fighter. Proof of this is how he is gradually progressing in his capacity to overcome obstacles in sport.
In less than six months of training he has managed to complete a marathon within an acceptable time, and during the trek in the Pyrenees, as if the kilometers of the footpaths of main trek trip were not enough, he has used of the rest periods to climb peaks that were not on the agenda. The Foundation Exit, one of the institutions that collaborates with the TSS, has been a turning point in his life he tells us.
“Thanks to them I knew how to tackle what was in front of me.’ He gives the impression that one of the achievements of the different projects that they have experienced during the Transpirenaica Social is that these young people have learned how to look at and plan their lives with a little more focus ahead of the present moment, making decisions in a more calm way facing their futures with better planning.
At least that is the conclusion that comes to mind one morning when we had breakfast with them, while we studying the map of that stage of the day…
Mohit and Shahid are the protagonists of the TSS because they have completed 800 km of the GR11 in six weeks. Nevertheless, many others took part, each one with their rucksack and a different history. Polina, Mamadou, Carmelo, Estefanía, Ibra … this summer they have all had experiences in the mountains that, with luck, will serve to help them deal with their future challenges.
Along with them have walked representatives of different social institutions (apart from the already mentioned ones: CEAAL, RELATS Centers Sant Jaume, Foundation Marianao, the minors’ Center of the Basque Country, Doctors without Borders, Intermon Oxfam and others including Country house Loyola). Also, there were joined by teachers, engineers, journalists, nuns, bakers , mayors, mountaineers, the owners of the refuges and an endless number of anonymous people have contributed to the TSS in its has second year.
And as backdrop to this adventure, the Pyrenees, with its peaks , valleys, waterfalls and glaciers, seems a place a little simpler to reflect on the ways that lead to the social inclusion.
Jordi Jofré Neyra es periodista y fotógrafo. Desarrolla su actividad profesional como freelance y está especializado en innovación social y turismo. @JordiJofreNeyra – www.jordijofre.com.
While he climbs the mountains Mamadou recalls his plans: Stop drop-outs in their country of origin.
‘I left school for the European Dream, I thought I would succeed as a footballer, like Messi! Now he’s got a job and is immersed in a multitude of social initiatives.
Estaon in Pallars Sobirà is not a typical retreat. It’s not in the mountains but in the centre of a village of stone houses with few inhabitants. Maria Anna Cañas and her partner are the only people who live year-round in Estaon. They’re responsible for this small, well-kept refuge with a family feel. The stage today which connects Estaon with Tavascan begins with rain, and Mamadou Saliou Diallo, aged 21, dons for the first time his capelin- his special cap. He’s not used to walking in the mountains, but he’s an athlete, so it’s no trouble for him to slide down steep slopes. In fact, it was football that brought him to Barcelona; he wanted to become the African Messi.
Mamadou was born in Guinea Conakry, but soon moved with his family to Casamance in Senegal. As a child he was skilled with a football, and with the support of his parents, aged 16, he boarded a fishing boat which dropped him somewhere on the Spanish coast. ‘I came to succeed,’ he says proudly. After landing, someone got him on a train bound for Barcelona. ‘I didn’t know anyone; I lived on the street for a while until some other Senegalese suggested I to go to the Red Cross. From there I was taken to a Centre for Minors, The Generalitat,’ he explains this as he arrives at the Borda de Calatxo. This is where the group making the Pyrenean crossing try to protect themselves from the rain -which comes and goes for a good while.
‘I left school at the age of 16 for the European Dream. People who returned to Senegal explained to us what life was like here, I thought I would succeed as a footballer or to at least find a job with a salary of 1,500 Euro a month.’ Soon he realized that Europe was not Paradise. ‘Perhaps I was wrong. But I was here anyway, determined to learn, wanting to see the world, and ready to participate in thousands of projects.’ In three months he was speaking Spanish and started training with different organisations: the Casal dels Infants, Punt de Referència, the Fundación Exit, Nexes Punt. ‘I took courses in computing, electricity, repairing bikes, cooking courses, and then the professional qualification programme. I’d like to be social educator.’
Mamadou has been taking advantage of all the opportunities that have come his way, he has fared well. But he’s witnessed the marginalization in which many immigrants live. This is what he wants to portray in his short films. ‘If I didn’t know about it myself, I wouldn’t have suggested showing the difficulties encountered by young Africans arriving in Catalonia. This short film won the second prize in the festival All Of Us Are Different. He has made other films. ‘ In the The Casal dels Infants they give audio-visual classes, with the young folk there he made My Beautiful Shoes. But I wanted to launch my own message. I wrote a script and with the Coordinator of the organization Camps de Treball de Catalunya we managed to get a grant and we shot it. It’s on the theme of immigrants who live in sheds in Poblenou.
On arriving at Collada de Jou, Richard Wagers, the Canadian mountaineer who joined the group Trans Pyrenean Trek for Social Inclusion, suggests a small picnic since it’s his last day. He wants to finish the provisions he has left- cheese, ham, tomatoes, bread, fruit. In a few days Wagers will fly back to Alberta. The meal is improvised on a flat piece of land at 1.800 meters, the sun is radiant and the views spectacular. The path then runs down the mountain to Tavascan, passing by Aineto Lleret. In the latter villages, the walkers do not see a single soul. Perhaps it’s siesta time?
Mamadou wants to make it clear that the support of the social organisation has been instrumental in his personal evolution. ‘In the Fundació Èxit I was selected to participate in the project Coach, this meant assigning you to a voluntary person; in my case the Director of Human Resources of Diesel, it was about getting to know the company from the inside and to be mentoredfor my future work’. This stage served to show his qualities and also detect his weak points. Shortly after he got a job at the bike shop Colors Bike,therehe worked for two years. He’s not a football star; this season he will play with Montbau in the third league, but he’s found other things that are fulfilling, and he’s managed to become independent. He’s rented a flat in the Paral which he shares with two other people. NGOs have been his crutch and like Luciano Leoni, the protagonist of yesterday’s stage, now that he’s reached a certain level of stability he wants to help those who are having a hard time. His obsession is to convince kids in Senegal who drop out of school that it’s wrong to come to Europe, it doesn’t always work out.
‘At first, I also thought: if I’d known about the difficulties I wouldn’t have come. At the moment my life is great, but I’m an exception ‘.
Now he’s setting up his own organization Diandé África. Its mission is to curb the dropout rate in schools in Casamance. The first step will be to provide scholarships for 30 children with academic monitoring.
Mamadou arrives in Tavascan – the end of the stage- with a firm step, and continues to talk about plans, plans and more plans.
‘I suffer, but the landscape hypnotizes me.’
Luciano Leoni overcomes challenges which the mountain dishes out as he recalls how he beat a drug habit. ‘My life began at 40’ he explains. ‘I’ve been born again, for me, everything is new. I have rediscovered myself.’
‘I no longer had the strength to live on the street, in the cold, sleeping wrapped in cardboard, malnourished, my stomach no longer able to digest food. I weighed 38 kilos’. While eating a snack and sipping morning coffee in the hostal Cases de La Guingueta d’Àneu,Luciano Leoni recalls the most painful times of his life. Six years have now passed since he injected his last dose of heroin in a garage at San Cosme, in El Prat de Llobregat. It’s in the past now but he doesn’t ever forget. During the route today he will walk from La Guingueta to Estaon rivers recalling that time in his life -how he survived the world of drugs.
‘My life began at 40, I’ve been born again, for me everything is new. I have rediscovered myself,’ he says excitedly as he starts to walk. The first kilometers are tiring, all uphill. La Guingueta is at 900 meters and the route heads up to the 2,200 passing through the village of Dorve. There are quite a few houses in ruins and here, and the odd well maintained vegetable patch. The only permanent resident is a shepherd. A deep (water) spring at Dorve calls for a stop. ‘At the age of 14 I started to take drugs, I think to get the attention of my parents, but it didn’t work.’ says Luciano who will turn 44 in September. ‘These ascents are hard but the descents are worse for the knees. I enjoy it and I suffer, but the landscape hypnotizes me, it gives me energy and a sense of well-being.’ says the Italian from Arese, near Milan. His father runs a printing press in Arese..
‘In Italy I spent 200 to 300 Euro a day on heroin and cocaine, I didn’t have money problems because I worked in the print shop. If I needed more money, my father, without suspecting anything, would give it to me. When I finally told him, he wept.’ The route continues to rise, but now the meadows give way to a cool forest. When he was only 20 years old he began a detox treatment. ‘In the morning I was taking methadone, in the afternoon back to the to drug.’ Aware of the damage that he was doing to his family, aged 29 he left Italy and came to Barcelona. During the day he worked as a waiter, at night he went in search of a fix. This didn’t last long and after a few months he quit his job and became fully immersed in the drug scene. How was the heroine funded? ‘ I stole custom-made clothing from luxury shops. I had a series of regular customers who told me what they wanted and I got it for half price. I went 15 times to the jail La Model. Little by little he was deteriorating, sleeping in cardboard boxes, and then at the airport. That was his home for a few years because of the proximity to Sant Cosme. ‘I spent the last few months in the garage of drug traffickers, a family of gypsies who welcomed me and took care of me. They fed me and gave me drugs. They even told me they would pay for me to go to a detox Center.’ ‘
One day he collapsed in the street and the police took him to the Bellvitge hospital where he spent three months. He had hit rock bottom, he weighed 38 pounds. Things couldn’t get worse. The route continues to rise up to the top of the Clot de la Calba, some 2,221 meters. Here the signposts are confusing and, despite warnings from other mountaineers on how easy it is to get lost, the group goes the wrong way. Luciano, Mamadou, Tocris, are with the organizer of the initiative, Ignasi de Juan of the Fundació Formació Treball (FIT). They check the map and after some hesitation, get back on course. They start the descent. Luciano’s pain in his knees intensifies but he soldiers on. ‘In the hospital, they put me in touch with Caritas and suggested I go to a detox Center. I accepted. I spent three years there, it was very hard. I had always lived outside of the ‘normal,’ so it was very difficult to accept a routine. The next step was to share with three others an apartment managed by Caritas, and a year later I got a job at the Fundació FIT. Caritas helped me with personal development, they got to know me, and at the FIT they showed me my ability to work. I was working sorting clothes from containers for Roba Amiga, and to dealing with customers… They twice renewed my contract and then gave me a letter of recommendation ‘. At this stage he won some self-esteem. He saw that he could be independent and get to where he wanted to go in life. ‘I’d spent a lifetime not knowing what I wanted and in my recovery process, I realized that I also could be useful to other people. Sometimes I have acted as a link between a social worker and a drug addict.’
It’s a year since he started living with his partner. In September, will start work with Caritas and continue studying to take the title of ‘Social Integrator’. He dedicates his free time to volunteer work, because he feels indebted, but mostly because he likes to help people who are having a hard time. At about 5 PM they are close to Estaon. The last steps are the hardest, the rain complicates the trek and Luciano’s knees are yelling. With a lot of effort, he manages to finish this stage.
‘I have suffered, but I’ve also enjoyed the mountain and the scenery, they hook you. …’
Luciano after going out of The Guingueta on Wednesday10th of July. In in total he completed 5 stages of the trek.
This young Dominican spells out the difficulties facing a family of immigrants divided between two countries . Tocris wants to acquire the knowledge that will enable him to set up a tourism business in his own country.
My mother came alone to Catalonia in 2002 and two and a half years later she came back to the Dominican republic to collect me and my 4 brothers. I was 16 years old at the beginning, and couldn’t get used to the change of country. I arrived in the middle of the term, so spent six months doing anything…’, Tocris tells his story in an impromptu dinner in the refuge Amitges, in the National Park of Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici. Tocris Manuel Pérez Molina has been taking part of various days of the trek, walking with the group in the mountains. Aged 18, he showed he could tackle anything: six, eight, 10 hours a day on foot, despite more rain than was expected, and surmounting strenuous slopes. Around 10 in the evening he would say goodnight to all the chatter and go up to up to the dorm which he would share with a large group of mountaineers. The subsequent festival of snoring did not prevent this young man from a peaceful sleep.
At 7am he was up and ready to face the next stage from the refuge Amitges to La Guingueta d’ Àneu. This stage gives the opportunity for long chats and sharing confidences. He shared that his family is divided between the Dominican Republic, where his 66 year old father and a sister of 22 live, and the neighbourhood of la Salut of Badalona, where he lives with his mother aged 40, and his four brothers. ‘My mom had to come to Catalonia because we didn’t have enough money to keep the entire family together. She came before the crisis, during the day doing a cleaning job, and at night taking care of an elderly lady. She earned a good wage. Each month she sent us money so we were able to build a new House. Once a year she came to see us. But the lady died a few months ago and so far she’s not found another job, nor a cleaning job in Barcelona. I don’t like the situation, she is very tired, every day she leaves home at 6am and doesn’t return till 9pm in the evening ‘, Tocris explains while jumping down hill.
Now at the lake Sant Maurici, with a view of the two peaks of Els Encantats, Tocris explains the pitfalls the immigrant families encounter, how they feel that they just don’t fit into their new country. He is concerned because his younger siblings, a boy age 15 and a girl aged 16, ‘have got involved with street kids who don’t care about school, they’ve been suspended from many subjects and my mother is so hassled by finding a job that she can’t supervise them, now she regrets having brought them here’. Although Tocris is the middle son, he feels responsible for the family -so many problems distress him.
‘On the mountain I disconnect, I feel free, I forget my problems. There is no noise, there are no people screaming on the street…’, Tocris confesses in a break. At his side is Canadian Richard Wagers from Alberta aged 62 who has joined the group, he doesn’t speak a word of Spanish. Last year Wagers made the journey in the opposite direction. He began the Transpirenaica in the end of Higuer, in the Cantabrico, and finished in Estaon, in Pallars Sobirà. From the Cap de Creus to Estaon he can now say he has completed the whole route. This retired teacher tells Tocris, loading his heavy backpack: ‘The key is to go light. I only wear trousers, at night I wash them. I take two shirts, two jackets, a sleeping bag and a tent, that’s enough’ he says encouragingly. Tocris, whose only mountaineering experience is to have climbed the Pedraforca, has completed two weeks of the Pyrenean trek. By a stroke of luck he was able to take part before starting work as a waiter, a job that will be compatible with a course staring in October with the PQPI, aimed at young people aged over 16 who have not got the qualification ESO, The course will be at the Jesuitas del Clot,thanks to the support of theCentrede Sant Jaume.
Tocris (Christo re-spelled)) came to the Centre Sant Jaume , the Fundació Carles Blanch last year, which is run by social services of Badalona. There he began to get himself together, first following a course in electricity and masonry and then another nine months of building maintenance. Because of the Centre his personal and work related development grew. He says that he wants to pass the PQP1 to gain access to vocational training. His dream is to acquire the knowledge necessary to return to his country and set up a business. He plans he explains are: ‘ In some land already known to me, near of the Lake Enriquillo, there are alligators, turtles, iguanas, flamingos, I want to build about 15 or 20 bungalows for tourists. There is a spring so I’ll have enough water. I calculate that I must work to save 50,000 Euro’.
On arrival to Espot we see we have phone coverage so he interrupts the conversation to call his mother to find out how things are at home. Later, energised, he sets off for the villages of Estaís andJou arriving in the middle of the afternoon. Tonight he won’t sleep in a Refugio, but a comfortable room in the Hostal Cases. At dinner he is joined by Luciano and Mamadou, newly arrived from Barcelona. ‘Mamadou, we are now two blacks’, laughs Tocris by way of welcoming his Senegalese colleague.
We have arrived at Cap de Creus. We walked the GR11 route for 42 days to draw attention to social inclusion, transformative education, the right to decent work and much more. From Formación y Trabajo, thanks to everybody involved.
Our journey of solidarity with this cause was from Cape Higer to Cap de Creus, 800 km with a cumulative drops of approximately 40 thousand meters. Ascents and descents, friends who supported us. We saw isards-chamois, marmots, vultures, lilies, gentians, wild roses, snow, sun, rain, fog, hail, stars (the Ursa Minor, Orion, Cassiopeia…), beech, shimmery, cork oaks, oaks, “moixera”… and the most important and vital aspect of this experience was the shared thoughts and reflections of the young apprentices walking with us, those who have managed to overcome social exclusion, and organizations, and the companies and institutions who believe that it is possible to overcome social exclusion…
Thanks to Luciano, Tocris, Mamadou, the youth of the Ibayondo Center of the Basque country, Yaya, Ali i Casal Moha the Infants, the staff of Formació i Treball, FIT, Fundación Exit Centre Sant Jaume, Esade, Sant Ignasi Jesuits, Sagrat Cor, Zabaldika, CIM, Casal Loiola, Coshop, Social Entrepreneurship UOC, Council of Popular education in Latin America and the Caribbean CEAL, Intermón Oxfam and the Trailwalker, MSF, wine cooperative of the ‘ Olivera, beer artisan House Dalmases, fans multicolored Dona Kolors, fabrics of Estel Tapia, good view from the Foundation Barraquer, Oceans Blue Foundation IBO in Africa, scarves Teixidor,Soco and Afrocat, Portuguese, Plus Value, home Alpesport, Tudela Hotel, Areas, Gramona…
Eva and her companions, Maria Jose and Sasa, Malkorra, hostels that have helped us (Goriz, these, Amitges Estaon, Llacs de la Pera, Ulldeter). We cannot forget our traveling friends met en route : Marisol and their community, Silvia, Luis, Marite, Grau, Ignasi, Mireia, Ines, Eduard “Dito”, Carles, Belen, Anna, Pepe, Fermin, Gloria, Luis, Conxita, Albert and Xavie, Juanma and Eulalia, Joaquin, Anna and Rafa, Ramiro, Gini, els Ignasis, Mos, Jordi and Inma, Luís e Inma, Cristina and Santi Anglada…
We have been able to connect with other cultures thanks to our translators Meg and Victoria. And how could we ever forget our “ soul friends,” the special encounters with walkers on the path like Tim and Richard (USA and Canada), Avigdory Emssmer (Israel), Frank and Jack (Holland), Juanma.Los, people who have helped us financially with a donation, or moral support (calls, mails, whatsapp, sms, I like FB, comments on the blog…). friends Enrique, Nacho, Rosa Bosch, Rosa Balaguer, Pablo, Grau, Elena, Jordi, Lourdes, Anna, Lucia, Ignasi (breakfast and coordination team)… and many more people. Without your support this path would not have been possible.
Moltes merces, Gracinas, Eskerrikasku, thanks, Thanks a lot, all raba, Merci Beacoup, Dank u, Danke, Spasiva, Tenki pale, shukran.
Thank you: Xavi Puig, Alexandra, María José, Pablo… all Fit team, Fortunato Frías, our director, Albert Alberich, ours presidents, Ángel Cánovas and Manuel Rivas Montobbio from Formació i Treball ( Formación y Trabajo).