Buba Saidykhan was forced to abandon his education at The Gambia College because his family could not afford to pay his tuition fees. 

Burdened with stress of staying at home with no hope for the future, Buba decided to join other youths on the perilous journey to Europe, locally known as the Backway, on 24 March 2016.

“I was shortlisted to Gambia College but my family couldn’t pay for me. So, I have to drop out. I was sitting at home having stress and I said ‘Okay people are going to Europe by the backway, I have to change the family name,” Saidykhan tells Gambiana exclusively.

His journey began in The Gambia on a commercial bus to Senegal. He boarded another bus to Mauritania, then to Mali and to Libya. In Libya, Saidykhan and his colleagues would do some minimal jobs to raise some money to pay smugglers for a boat trip to Europe.

However, Saidykhan lost a huge chunk of money after many attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea. He failed on three consecutive attempts, which came with a penalty after their arrest by the Libyan authorities. 

After every failed attempt to board a boat with other African migrants, he was sent to a prison. In his last failed attempt, he was sent along with other African migrants to one of Libya’s most notorious prison, Gernada, which is 250 kilometres north-east of Benghazi for six months.

He and other African detainees were tortured and inflicted with inhumane treatment by their Libyan prison guards resulting in the deaths of some migrants, one of whom was a close friend to him.

“Gernada is really a hell and is built with empty containers and in the middle of a mountain. It’s always hot and the guards there have no mercy,” he says. 

“They were beating us and maltreating us. We went through hell there. Some lost their health and eyes. Even me, I lost one of my teeth because one of the guards hit me with a gun. Some guards will just look at you and hate you and they will shoot you with a gun.   Many of our youths died in prison.” 

After his dreadful experience in Libya and without any hope of reaching Europe, Saidykhan made the painful decision to return home. He was repatriated to the Gambia.

When he returned home on 17 August 2020, Saidykhan didn’t despair. He attempted to rebuild his shattered life and reintegrate into the society. He embarked on a skills training in recycling and painting. 

He completed the course and set up his own workshop. He now trains other youths in recycling and painting. He has trained at least fifteen young people both men and women some of whom are now self-employed.

“We are using bottles, we are using empty containers, we are using buckets and many [discarded] items to make useful things out of them. Because now people just throw away these materials. But now we go out and collect them to recycle into finished goods,” he says.

Saidykhan is determined to train many more young people in recycling and painting. Despite his lofty ambition, the enterprising young Gambian says he is facing an enormous challenge to fund his skill centre as he doesn’t charge trainees a penny. 

He called for financial support from government and other donors to keep the skill centre operating and expand its services.

Saidykhan adds: “I want to make it a big skill centre to train more youth. There are materials like sewing machine, drill etc we are lacking. And if we have these materials we are good to go.

“The government should help people like me and the youth.”

Reporting by Adama Makasuba

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