Marie de Barquin gave up everything to become a tutor: “If the Mena no longer need me, so much the better”

In the light of a long career in the youth assistance sector, Marie de Barquin gave up everything ten years ago to become a professional tutor for unaccompanied foreign minors (UAM). Since then, she has attended more than 160.

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When she rings the doorbell of this multi-storey building in Marchienne-au-Pont, Marie de Barquin is both nervous and full of enthusiasm. It was Constance who opened the door for him, quickly followed by Franck (1). These 12-year-old Congolese twins are the first Unaccompanied foreign minors that she meets. After the death of their mother, they were first taken in by a grandmother who rejected them to the point of accusing them of witchcraft – a practice which is not uncommon in certain African countries and which leads many children to live on the streets. “They underwent a lot of torture to “unbewitch them”, specifies Marie de Barquin. Fortunately, someone alerted an uncle residing in Belgium who brought them with false passports, but he could not be their legal representative until they had official documents. This day of April 2013, when she goes back to the ring of Charleroi after an hour spent on the spot, the 50 no longer hesitates for a second: she must accompany these two children in their journey towards their recognition by the Belgian State.

Asylum applications up 12% last year in the EU, +27% in Belgium © belga

There followed almost three years of conversations, appointments with the lawyer, interviews at the Immigration Office and even a passage to the coast, to show them the sea. “They ended up getting their papers. They were two kids of great kindness… and strong Christians. When I wanted to put myself at their level to be able to exchange, they ended up believing that I was very practicing, ”laughs the tutor, discreet piercing in the nose, nicely tied gray hair. On the strength of this first experience, she then took charge of a Moroccan then an Afghan. She doesn’t know what happened to the first, but the second will soon be a dad. “Each meeting is different, we cannot generalize. Are we tempted to get attached? Sure! But what matters to me is knowing that I did everything I could. And if they don’t need me anymore, great.”

Frustrated manager

A social worker and psychomotrician by training, La Rochefortoise has always worked in the field of youth assistance. At barely 24, she finds herself at the head of Dunes et Bruyères, a temporary reception center for children placed as a result of family crisis situations. Her path as director then took her to three different institutions, which reinforced her in the idea that no other sector could suit her better.

In the early 2010s, her career already well advanced, Marie resumed her studies. A master’s degree in engineering and social action at UCLouvain “to take a step back and further professionalize my knowledge”. A real turning point that allows him to meet a Mena student tutor and which leads her, gradually, to realize that she is perhaps not made for the job of manager. “It was always the educator who had contact with the youngster, I found that quite frustrating.” After graduating, this mother of four follows her classmate’s advice and becomes a tutor. She passes the selection interview, undergoes training covering issues of accommodation, asylum and procedures, then meets five first teenagers. At the same time, Marie rows to “become someone” within the Reception and Educational Assistance Service that she runs near Hannut. “Internally, the former director, an alcoholic, let everything go. Restoring order was not easy, my team even sent a letter to the subsidizing power, accusing me of being next to my pumps. This disturbed me greatly.”

An audit later, the employees and the manager conclude that they cannot talk to each other. She is hesitant to step aside when she receives his notice. “The most beautiful slap that I have been sent.” By way of retraining, Marie initially counted on secondary education, in social sciences and religion. His five supervisions are then only a means of valuing his years of experience. Until 2015 and the migration crisis, which saturates the reception centers, where she goes regularly.

“I remember these kids hanging on to me saying, ‘Madam please, will you be my guardian? because without a legal representative, there is no procedure. It served as a revealer to me. At 50, I finally got my finger on what I was made for: direct contact with young people.” At the start of the next school year, the Rochefortoise left school and became an independent professional tutor, paid by the State. After fifteen days, she already accompanies a good twenty Mena.

1663515769 426 Marie de Barquin gave up everything to become a tutor
© Anthony Dehez

trusted mom

Marie’s office, located on the first floor of her bright house located in Buissonville, in Famenne, is filled with portraits of the 163 Mena she has assisted for almost ten years. Three quarters of them received a positive response to their asylum application. On paper, the function of tutor is purely administrative and consists of accompanying the young person throughout the steps to obtain a passport. Explain the asylum procedure, prepare for the main interview with the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS) and sign documents… broadly, the task could be summarized as follows. “At each first meeting, I also explain how I can help the teenager and why I am paid.” Then, Marie goes a step further and launches the discussion. About him or her, school, what’s wrong… “Many call me “mom” or rather “mamy”, lately. I do try to put a limit though, in case they require more physical attention or 24 hour availability. I often tell them “I will never be your mom. Your mother is the most wonderful person in the world. But when we’re together, you and me, I look at you with your mom’s eyes.” Sometimes, the contact is less good and the tutor admits that the young person can use it somewhat… “It’s normal, when you know what they went through. They are so damaged and isolated that if they feel someone is receptive, whether it’s functional, emotional or a combination of the two, they can jump at the chance.

Normally, the mother of the family simultaneously takes care of three or four dozen young people, whom she meets individually twice a month. Some fellow tutors tell her that she does too much, that she broods over her Mena too much. She does not care. “I know how much the lack of regularity in contact and of trust prevents these people from having strength, from becoming someone.”

A few years ago, Marie accompanied Amadou, a young Peul who claimed to have left Guinea because he was threatened with death by the family of a Malinké girl he had impregnated. “I explained to him that I had heard this story many times before, but he maintained his version for almost eighteen months.” It was only after receiving the negative opinion from the CGRA that Amadou finally told his true story. When his tutor asked him why he hadn’t been frank earlier, his response was: “But ma’am! You are all white and I am all black. The person who told me to tell that so that my request would be accepted more easily was a Fulani. Like me.” “It is to avoid this kind of disappointment that I so often meet the Mena I am in charge of, even if establishing a bond of trust can take months, even years.”

Avoid false hope

Until she was forced to part with it a few years ago, Marie de Barquin drove for a long time in a gray-blue Berlingo covered with stickers adorned with hearts or the symbol of pacifism. Many laughed about it. She was very proud of it. “Love and peace drive me, I wanted it to feel. And then, for a slightly cracked guardian, the car is important when it comes to moving a Mena who has found accommodation. The former director calls herself “a bit” an activist. Of course, she wants to make the general public aware of the fact that these kids “do not come to take the money from the Belgians” but can, on the contrary, participate in the economy and the construction of society! However, she also intends to avoid giving them false hope. “Every report or documentary that discusses their cause can represent a kind of danger because it can nourish in these young people the hope of a favorable outcome. At my level, I must never make them believe that I will find a solution at all costs. It happens, for some cases, that I can no longer do anything. And it’s very hard.” Fortunately, there are others, more positive, like these four Kosovar “little princesses”, this particularly intelligent Afghan teenager or this half-Congolese half-Angolan baby. “These stories allow me to exist, to feel deeply alive and useful. It’s the best I can do to allow these lives to flourish at their true value. Because Marie does not see herself as a woman of discourse, rather as an actress in the field. “I will constantly do my best to support those who are capable of carrying on a struggle, but I will remain where someone is always needed. Where it will always be useful to give happiness.”

(1) All first names have been changed.

His biggest risk

“Drop my teaching job and invest myself 100% in supporting Mena.”

His mantra

“Do you remember every day that you are there to build?”

His biggest slap

“My departure from the youth assistance sector. I received my notice when I thought I was a director at heart.

Its key dates

November 1989 “I’m becoming a ‘tummy mom’ for the first time. Something phenomenal.”

December 1989 “Romanian dictator Ceausescu is overthrown. Seeing all these children suffer the war made me a “wolf mother” and constituted a founding event for the rest of my life.

2010 “Christine Mahy has been appointed secretary general of the Walloon Network for the fight against poverty. She is one of my mentors, along with Gandhi and François Gemenne.

2013 “By taking charge of my first Mena, I become a ‘mom from the heart’.”

2022 “I join Sarparast, a group that brings together around fifteen active professional French-speaking tutors and defends this status.”

We want to say thanks to the author of this write-up for this outstanding material

Marie de Barquin gave up everything to become a tutor: “If the Mena no longer need me, so much the better”

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