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Radical Resilience: Lessons Learned Through Service

Written by: Tori Lothian is majoring in Social Work Major at Saint Louis University (Class of 2020).

Tori Jumping

While I recognized the power of resilience before coming to Italy, it has become increasingly prevalent as a result of the individuals I have met at my internship, service site and travels. These are direct quotes from two African migrants who came to Italy at the age of 18.

“I did not come here to have fun or steal. I am in Italy because I want to study to become a teacher.”

“Today I am trying to find a job so I can send money to my younger brother. I want him to grow well.”

These young men are two of the most resilient, kindhearted, hilarious, down to earth individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, yet they have spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to prove their worthiness to others. In many people’s eyes they are not worthy of Italian citizenship, a job, a house, or even general political and human rights.

Migration has been occurring since the beginning of time and it will never stop. At the end of the day we are all human with inherent worth and dignity, and we must start viewing each other in this way. I am not saying I am in favor of a total open border migration policy, as I recognize that unregulated migration would be horribly detrimental to the economic, political, and social structures of each nation. However, there is no excuse for the inhumane way that migrants are being viewed and treated in the world today.

These last few weeks have been really educational, transformative and reflective. Here is a breakdown of what I have been up to:

Italian Language Classes with Migrants: The two young men I mentioned were migrants and they took part in our Italian class. We have been able to hang out in class and after class and we have had some awesome conversations. My Internship: I have been working at Piazza Grande which is recognized across Europe as one of the most innovative projects for assisting people who are experiencing homelessness. I am co leading an English Italian language exchange class, which is a challenge for all of us as we have people from Italy, Morocco, Afghanistan and various places in Africa, many languages are in the room. Last week I asked the group, “What superpower do you wish you had?” Literally every single person said they wished they had the power to heal, to make the world a better place. It is inspiring to see how optimistic these men and women are about their futures.

Service Learning: I am enrolled in a Human Rights and Immigration course which allows me to volunteer in Bologna. I have been working at Liceo Fermi high school in an after school program. The project seeks to integrate Italian students with migrants. Migration studies tell us that integration and sharing of cultures is critical to the future of these young migrants lives and to Italy itself.

Social Justice Travel: The school organized a trip to the southern region of Puglia. We met with and worked alongside refugees. We spent an afternoon with the Libera organization which is an anti Mafia NGO. We hike in a beautiful nature reserve and learned of the struggles to protect the land. We enjoyed an African meal and party with recent arrivals that included a dance troupe, they were really impressive. Perhaps the most heartbreaking encounter was at the CARA, which is a “Welcome Center” for migrants and asylum seekers arriving on rubber boats from Libya. Having Italy Center staff member Jan Nawazi co-lead the trip provided an important link in helping us to understand the psychological, legal and safety challenges faced when fleeing from poverty and war. Jan is a survivor who fled the Taliban at the age of 13 and eventually came overland arriving in Italy in 2008. He now works part-time for the Italy Center and is an important advocate for migrants in the City of Bologna.

Here at the Italy Center I’ve taken advantage of the academic offerings that have challenged me in ways I could not have imagined. My time in Bologna has been incredible, beautiful and empowering. It has been interesting to see the ways in which migrants react to me when they learn I am from the United States. They either get really excited and express their jealousy, or they yell at me and explain all of the awful things my country has done. This experience has challenged me to think critically about America’s place in the global conversation.

I am walking away from Italy with a renewed sense of hope and optimism for the future. The world is not a fair place, but I continue to be humbled by the individuals whom I’ve met through my Italy Center encounters and am inspired witnessing them using their struggles as a springboard for growth and change.

Please Note: To learn more about Tori’s Italy Center experience follow her blog. The opinions in this article are Tori’s.

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