Tales of women at Sea


17 years old, Ghana

23 May 2023

Seventeen-year-old Kofi is the eldest of four children and the only boy. His father was a farmer and his mother looked after the household. They had little money and sometimes his mother was forced to beg in the street. Unable to continue his education, Kofi accepted an invitation to Libya from a former schoolmate who told him he would be able to work there and earn enough to continue his studies, either back home in Ghana or in Europe.

Earning money in Libya turned out to be a lot harder than he expected. While looking for job opportunities, he met a man who demanded sex and threatened him with violence. 

“The guy told me that he would help me only if I agreed to have sex with him. I told him no. He tried to confuse my mind so I would have sex with him. I refused so he brought out a knife. He wanted to force me so I tried to escape and was injured.” 

I hope that when I arrive in Italy I can work hard and take care of my mother and sisters

Eventually Kofi found a job but he soon learned that his father had been killed during a conflict between local groups back in Ghana. The death of his father left him with the responsibility of taking care of his mother and three younger sisters, aged 14, 11 and 10, who had been sent to an orphanage because his mother was too old and unwell to care for them. 

“I lost my father when I was in Libya. My mother cannot take care of my sisters so she sent them to an orphanage because she is getting old. Now I am very happy because I hope that when I arrive in Italy I can work hard and take care of my mother and sisters. That would be the best achievement of my life.

I will not allow my sisters and my mother to suffer like me because I have faced so many challenges and I know how a person feels when he or she does not have anything. […] If only I had the chance, whatever they need I would provide it for them. I want to work for them, not even for myself… I want them to achieve their goals.”

On his first attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea, Kofi was arrested by the Libyans and spent four months in prison. He blames the news of his imprisonment and torture on his mother developing high blood pressure and being unable to care for his sisters. 

“Since that time she got sick because she got [high] blood pressure. She [her health] has not been normal so all I think about is that if I arrive safely I can bring her [here] so that they give her good treatment and I can even take care of my sisters and remove them from that orphanage.”

Kofi hopes to be able to continue his education in Europe so he can earn a decent salary and send his sisters to school and provide for his mother. He speaks about his love for them, saying: “I love them because those are the only people I have in my life.” 

To Kofi, it seems to be an honour, a struggle worth enduring, to be able to provide for the women in his life. A resilient young man, full of hope and looking to the future with bright eyes in spite of the violence and torture he endured in Libya, Kofi says: “Pain does not kill so never give up.”

*Name has been changed