Migrant as Messengers helped Chylian start over. Now she heads her own returnee association.
“Starting over is not starting from scratch, but from experience”, This was my father’s favorite saying. My story is proof that one can start all over and still win in life.
I left Nigeria without completing my university education and left a four-month-old baby for my beautiful family to take care of. During my journey, I had so many negative experiences and returned to my family and community almost empty handed. They had expected that my journey would change so many things. My challenges gave me a very negative mindset about life, and I found it hard to believe I could do anything right. However, amid all that, the opportunity to volunteer for the Migrants as Messengers (MaM) project came and I embraced it with open arms.
I joined the Migrant as Messengers project in 2018 to use my story to educate young people and help them make informed decisions about migration. It was exciting as we carried out so many activities. I was involved in both on the ground and online, through activities such as radio drama, radio and TV interviews, video content creation, market sensitization, church sensitization, youth programs, roadshows or walks, school sensitization, town hall meetings, focus group discussions, film festivals, film projections and sports events. Prior to this, I was grappling with a failing business and faced some mental stress anytime I shared my story in public.
Volunteering for MaM was a great opportunity to learn ways of sharing my experience without hurting. The first training for new volunteers gave me a sense of acceptance and I saw love and dignity in everyone's eyes. My perspective changed for the better, and I started seeing myself as an advocate for change. This restored my self-love and confidence. I became more committed to contributing to my community and building good relationships. Working with other MaM Volunteers also made it very enjoyable. Every Volunteer I met had similar intentions; to impact others and help young people make informed decisions about migration. It was exciting to meet selfless young people who wanted to educate others because they did not want people to have similar horrible experiences as they did. Additionally, I have received several professional and personal development courses with MaM, where I’ve picked up a few skills. I’ve learned the right terms for sensitization, how to use social media, how to create good content (video, audio, and written contents), and even how support my peers with mental and psychosocial issues.
I particularly loved participating in the on-the-ground sensitizations such as townhalls, caravan shows and school sensitizations because they were interactive, which made it easy to evaluate the people’s knowledge and understanding. For example, after sharing my experience during a caravan show in Lagos, a woman walked up to me and shared her own migration experience and regrets. She was very comfortable with her husband and kids until an agent advised them to migrate. She sold their house and business in the best part of Lagos to get all that was required for migration. She lost everything and became indebted. Months later, she returned to find her family almost destroyed.
“My regret was that my husband and I made an uninformed decision that almost cost me everything, including my family. I am impressed that you can openly share your experience. I wish I had the opportunity to hear from someone before migrating. Now, I have the courage to educate people using my experience.’’, she said.
I also enjoyed being featured on the radio and in television interviews because it is an avenue to reach a larger audience with information on safe migration pathways and to receive some feedback. Furthermore, the exposure and lessons learned from community engagement under MaM, cannot be quantified, as community engagements created social cohesion by giving MaM Volunteers the opportunity to work with community leaders, youth leaders, religious leaders, and government bodies. These engagements also reach the vulnerable groups in these communities.
MaM also encouraged me to start my own returnee association. My inspiration to start an all-female organization, Female Returned Migrants Network (FRENMET), to support other returned migrants with mental and psychosocial issues and advocate for women and girl’s empowerment started after I joined MaM. My desire is to use FREMNET to raise more awareness and have an impact in local communities by using my knowledge gained through MaM. I aim to build good social media engagement, carry out sensitization campaigns, and empower and support more girls, especially female survivors of smuggling of migrants (SOM), trafficking in persons (TIP) and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV). I am very grateful to MaM and my intention is to recreate the basics of the MaM project in my organization and to use all the skills I’ve learned to build my career in communication and media.
Written by Chylian Azuh, President of the Female Returned Migrant Network (FRENMET) in Nigeria.