The actress Maty Sarr has since 2018 been working in Senegal with the volunteer network Migrants as Messengers (MaM) and running a theater group of returnees through the Senegalese Association for the Fight Against Irregular Migration (ASMI).
Sarr returned back to her home country after having arrived in Europe with a boat and realizing that life there was not what she had imagined. Currently the actress is using social theater as an artistic tool to share the experience of her migration journey.
The story of this personal and collective commitment was narrated in a press release issued by the International Oragnisation for Migration (IOM) on December 5.
Unique artistic collaboration
The theater group has worked with other Senegalese artists and has thus far developed four shows with over 50 performances. Sarr said that the creative process offers a safe space for expression, inspiration to young audiences, and encourages social connection.
This year, Maty and other MaM volunteers were participants in a unique artistic collaboration between Haiti and Senegal. They collaborated in a creative residency with two artists focused thematically on migration -- Fatoumata Bathily, an award-winning Senegalese film producer; and Guy Régis Jr., a Haitian playwright and theatre director, the IOM press release noted.
At the outset of the creative residency, Guy led a theatre workshop on his play, "L'amour telle une cathédrale ensevelie" -- a universal story of a migrant's journey in search of a better future. The play follows the journey of a son who is desperately trying to join his mother in what he believes to be an El Dorado, it added.
The workshop, with 10 volunteers, provided an opportunity for the group to share their migrant experience, while learning the text and songs of the play, the statement read.
Maty noted her admiration for the process and the group's work, and said, "What impressed me was the talent that the volunteers displayed to enrich this play."
What is Migrants as Messengers (MaM)?
Migrants as Messengers, according to its mission statement, is a peer-to-peer awareness-raising campaign that empowers young people in West Africa to make informed decisions about migration.
The campaign is carried out directly by returned migrant volunteers who share honest accounts of their migration experiences with their communities and families.
Through interviews and on-the-ground activities, these volunteers engage their peers so they too can share their stories.
Authentic storytelling, peer-to-peer engagement, community activities, and dissemination through social media and messaging platforms make these stories accessible to wider audiences, including local decision-makers, community leaders, religious leaders and potential migrants, MaM states.
Migrants as Messengers is funded by the Netherlands Government and implemented by the International Organization for Migration in Côte d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
MaM aims to reach migrants who might be unaware of the dangers and risks of exploitation of migration journeys through North Africa. Moreover, research reportedly shows that potential migrants have a general distrust for information campaigns and are more likely to believe reports from their own social networks.
Returned migrants who engage as 'Migrants as Messengers Volunteers' share their stories to peers via video recordings and in person. The campaign relies on authentic first-person testimonies, that according to MaM aim to achieve change through emotional identification rather than just relaying information.
MaM volunteers performing at Institut Français in Dakar on 6 July 2022 during the Senegal-Haiti creative residency event.PHOTO: IOM 2022/Amanda Nero