A group in Italy is preparing immigrants, mostly from Africa, for jobs as beekeepers.
The group then helps to set-up meetings between these migrants and honey producers who need employees.
International aid groups say European Union (EU) efforts to reduce the flow of migrants entering Europe is leaving some businesses short on workers. The aid group Oxfam says Italy alone will need over 1.6 million workers over the next 10 years.
To deal with this issue, the Italian Cambalache Association created a project called “Bee My Job.” It trains migrant workers and refugees in beekeeping and finds them jobs in Italy’s agriculture industry.
Since being launched in 2014, the program has trained over 100 people, mostly from African nations south of the Sahara Desert.
Learning about bees
Bee My Job has helped people like Abdul Adan. He had never worked with bees before he migrated to Europe. In fact, his only interaction with a bee was when he was stung by one as a child back home in Senegal. The insect stung Adan in the mouth while he was eating fresh honey.
Today, he has become one of the program’s most successful trainees. He now seems very much at ease with the bees. He doesn’t cover his hands as he touches the insects’ homes and inspects their progress.
“I said I have never done bee work, I was really scared that the bees would sting me and people would laugh and look at me, but afterward I… said I will learn, and maybe one day I can do it in my country.”
Adan now works as a beekeeper in Alessandria, Italy.
Mara Alacqua is the head of the Italian Cambalache Association. She says the Bee My Job project is never short on trainees.
“Our beds are always full,” Alacqua said. “Every time a person leaves the project, and so we have a spare place, that place is covered straight away within two days’ time.”
As part of the program, the migrant workers also take language classes. This has been helpful for Adan who now speaks Italian.
A difficult life
Almost 95,000 immigrants and refugees have arrived in Italy this year. However, in the past two months, the number of new-arrivals has dropped to more than 50 percent of what it was last year. Some observers have linked the drop to increased action by the Libyan coast guard to stop boats carrying immigrants to Europe.
Before arriving in Italy, Abdul Adan lived Libya. While there, Adan says, he was held hostage, tortured, and forced to work as a slave. He later escaped on a boat to Italy.
“To do our work with bees, it’s not a work that is hard,” he says. “I had already passed through stages that are harder than working with bees. If I tell you the Libyans who took us for work, you know how much we had to eat? One piece of bread a day, and we worked hard.”
Francesco Panella is president of a group called Bee Life EU. Panella has worked as a beekeeper for more than 40 years. He feels that migrant workers are important for Italy.
“In reality, we have a huge problem in our country,” he says. “On one side, there is a huge problem with unemployment. But the other issue, it’s not at all easy to find workers for agriculture.”
Panella added that Italian agriculture is based on the work of foreigners.
Both of his children are immigrants. One works in Great Britain, while the other is in the United States. He says that he thinks about this when he offers work to migrants.
One of the main threats to the training program is a drop in honey production. Panella notes that Italy’s honey production this year is down 70 percent from average harvests. He thinks rising temperatures and chemical pesticides are partly to blame.
While the program is helping migrants find work, life far from home can still be hard.
“I feel very lonely,” said Adan. “Sometimes when I think of my family, it makes me want to go back home, but that’s the story of immigration. … Maybe one day I can go back to my country, or one day I can bring my family. No one knows what the future holds.”
I’m Dan Friedell.
Ricci Shyrock originally wrote this story for VOANews. Phil Dierking adapted this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
beekeeper – n. a person who raises bees
honey – n. a sweet viscid material elaborated out of the nectar of flowers in the honey sac of various bees
sting – v. to prick painfully
pesticide – n. a product for killing insects or other creatures