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What It’s Like To Be Sent ‘Back Home’ As A Child

From 10 years old, I knew that every bit of bad behaviour I showed could be the final strike that sent my dad over the edge and made him fulfil his threats of sending me back to Namibia. 

Of course, back then I didn’t know he wouldn’t actually do it, but the stories I had heard – from my family friends at church and the cousins who were unexpectedly sent to boarding schools to the reality of having my own school friends here with me today and gone tomorrow – were more than enough to scare me into being a ‘good’ child. 

The idea of parents shipping children back home or ‘temporarily’ leaving their children in a different country is as old as the long history of migration for Black people with African and Afro-Caribbean heritage and it continues to be an integral, yet uncomfortable aspect of life in the diaspora. 

Generationally, and across the diaspora, it is known by different names, such as ‘barrel children’ in the Caribbean, to ‘diasporan orphans’ as known in some Southern African countries. For my generation, it is known commonly as being ‘shipped’.