A teenager who risked his life to escape from the conditions of extreme poverty in which he and his family lived in Ivory Coast has been told he can stay in Malaga, thanks to a campaign by fellow pupils at the Costa del Sol secondary school in Torremolinos.
Three months ago Abdoulaye Bamba hid underneath a lorry to journey across Africa to Morocco, and then travelled on board a small migrant boat to the Malaga coast. He was carrying no documentation, but tests on his bones indicated that he was 16 years old; classified as an unaccompanied foreign child, he was taken to the Virgen de la Esperanza migrant centre in Torremolinos.
Youngsters normally only stay there for a short time before being moved somewhere else on a permanent basis. However last week, Abdoulaye's fellow pupils at the school, fed up with having said goodbye to so many classmates in a similar situation, started a petition asking for Bamba (they started to call him affectionately by his surname as it was easier to pronounce) to be allowed to stay.
They were partly successful: the regional government's Ministry of Education decided that he should be transferred to the residential centre at the Ciudad de los Niños, in Malaga, because there he would be able to receive an education especially adapted to meet his needs. Although he is 16 years old, he only went to school in Ivory Coast for two years, and has only very basic academic knowledge. This special education will enable him to sit exams in the future and train for a job.
The teachers at the Costa del Sol school are pleased by the decision and convinced Abdoulaye will do well.
"He is very keen to learn and he has fitted in very well with the group, which is why the other pupils are fond of him and took action so stop him having to be moved elsewhere," said head teacher Ángela Vázquez.
She said the staff are very proud of the children for this initiative, and it shows that claims that these unaccompanied minors don't get on with other children are unfounded. At this school, which is one of the most multicultural in the province because of its proximity to the migrant centre, things are very different. "They're normally very polite, adapt well and are grateful for everything," she said.
The delegate for Education in Malaga, Mercedes García Paine, initially promised to do everything possible to ensure that Bamba was able to stay at the Costa del Sol school, until she was advised that immigrants who attend the Malaga centre are guaranteed an education adapted to their special needs and are therefore more likely to find work. He will, however, still have plenty of contact with his friends from the Torremolinos school, especially at weekends.
Staff at the school have often expressed their dissatisfaction with the regulations that mean that migrants like Abdoulaye are moved away after a few months, just when they have begun to make friends and settle down and started to learn.
"We want the best for Bamba, and we have very good reports about him," said García Paine, who herself adopted a Moroccan boy 15 years ago. He is now an army officer. "Some of the children run away from the centres, but many of them just want to make a life for themselves, to study and find a job," she added.
That is exactly what Bamba is hoping, although it will be a long way in the future. Almost as far away as the country he left behind, in search of the better life that is now starting.