By HEIDI VOGT
The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 18, 2006; 3:19 PM
THIAROYE, Senegal -- At a funeral in this Senegalese fishing town, mothers wept for their sons _ dozens of whom drowned when the wooden craft they hoped to take to Europe was caught in a storm. Then the mothers decided to stop it from happening again.
The group from that March funeral has grown to 357 women _ all having lost a son, husband or cousin who set out on a perilous voyage hoping for a better life.
Yayi Bayam Diouf, who lost her only son, is the head of Thiaroye's women's association. The 48-year-old woman said members have persuaded residents to monitor the nearby coast and report any suspicious activity.
They also hold meetings with young men to persuade them not to leave, and work to support the mothers and wives whose caretakers have died in the crossing.
"Instead of just staying put and crying and thinking about our children, we are fighting the migration," Diouf said.
Spanish officials say more than 23,000 illegal migrants have reached the Canary Islands since the beginning of 2006 _ more than five times the number in 2005. A Canary Islands official said last month that more than 500 bodies have been recovered in the waters between Africa and the Canary Islands so far this year.
In most cases, Diouf said, it was mothers who sold jewelry and household items to fund the voyages. When the men die, the women are left with no money and no male breadwinner.
The sons "are the workers, and they've worked to help their mothers and sisters, because their fathers are old," she said.
Diouf says little about her son who died in the boat that sank in March. She says she doesn't want to go into the details of his life, saying only that he was a fisherman who made a mistake. Although she didn't finance his voyage, she said she approved of his plan.
Her group in this town a few miles outside of the capital of Dakar is filled with women who have changed their minds about the appeal of the dangerous trip to Europe, and now express guilt that they helped finance their sons' deaths.
It's not a stance that everyone agrees with in Senegal _ where many would-be migrants and their relatives argue that the journey is the only option they have to improve their lives when jobs at home are scarce and traditional work in fishing and agriculture don't easily support large families.
Some of the women in her group have stopped selling fish, a traditional business for women on the coast, "because it's the sea that swallowed their sons," Diouf said.
Ndella Daffe, 50, said she paid about $600, or about half of her son's passage on the boat.
"He was the oldest, and then he left, and now he's gone," said Daffe, taking a break from making the couscous that she now sells for extra money. "I used to have money from fish. But now I sell couscous. I don't go to the sea, because I'll just cry after."
The women make about $15 a week by selling homemade couscous and fruit juices, Diouf said. They also help many mothers buy fish to resell.
Diouf said she thinks the meetings with the young men in Thiaroye have been effective, partly because of the influence a mother can have on her children.
The women also have enlisted the help of the town's champion wrestler, Baye Mandiane Fall, who has a strong following and competes in matches in Dakar.
"He's a star. The young people love him," Diouf said.
Fall, 26, said he gives money to young men to persuade them to stay, and provides free meals and medicine at a wrestling training program he runs.
"I have many friends who came to train with me and who then died in the sea," Fall said.
He advises the young men not to go, a command that can carry a lot of weight from a linebacker-sized man who is stopped constantly as he walks down the streets of Dakar by teenage boys wanting to shake his hand.
Diouf said she believes they've kept some teenagers from taking the boats, but stopping the migration is even harder in Thiaroye than in some other places, because the smugglers often provide free passage to local fishermen to pilot the boats.
"We don't want them to leave, we want them to stay here and work," she said.