Vincent was only 3 when his father left their home in Ghana to start a new life for his family in Italy. His mother followed soon after.
Vincent knew his parents were working hard to make a better future for them, and he was well cared for by an aunt, but Vincent still felt lonely. “My friends all had their parents, but mine were gone,” he said.
His aunt took him and his brother to church services every week, but it wasn’t the Seventh-day Adventist church that he had attended with his mom and dad. “I didn’t feel like I was in my home,” he said, missing his own Adventist community.
Vincent joined his parents in Palermo, on the Italian island of Sicily, when he was 13. He didn’t speak the language, he didn’t know anyone outside of his family, and only one other kid at his school shared his dark skin.
It was an awkward time of transition.
Vincent is one of 30 million children who currently live outside of their country of birth. Another 17 million are internally displaced within their home countries (most due to violence and conflict). The term “children on the move” describes these children, all under 18, who have migrated or been forcibly displaced from the place they call home.
Dag Pontvik from ADRA in Italy says that everyone has a role in supporting children on the move.
“Integration is a very important key,” Pontvik says. “We have to go beyond offering physical support; we have to do more than offer food and shelter. We have to listen to children. We have to help them find belonging, offer them psychosocial support, and value their spiritual journey.”
Vincent didn’t find belonging, or “home,” again until he was rejoined with his church in Palermo. “God’s voice told me to go forward,” Vincent said. “He told me, ‘Go to church—there is something precious for you there.’ ”
In addition to Sabbath services held in a building where both the Italian and Ghanaian congregations meet, Vincent did find something precious at church: an after-school program organized by ADRA that changed his life. This program helps students integrate through language lessons, supports them with their studies, and encourages them to enjoy their new home through activities such as Pathfinders.
Now 16, Vincent feels that his past shyness is gone. His story is one of success, and on a warm morning in Rome, he told a room full of faith-based humanitarian leaders that he hopes he can help other children on the move have success stories of their own.
Asked where he finds his strength, Vincent didn’t pause before answering, “God.” And what would he tell other children on the move? “You can do it. Just go forward.”
Pontvik talked to the group about the importance of empowering young people like Vincent when they are in our communities. “Even those of us who work in this area can be guilty of stereotyping or even just categorizing—seeing someone and first thinking, You are from Africa or you are from the Middle East and seeing the differences when our first thought should be, You are a child of God.”
This story was originally published in Adventist World and has been used with permission.