My ESC experience, between solidarity and sharing

Friday 20 March 2020

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When I left for Palermo, leaving abroad and experience another culture by immersing on it while helping has always been a dream. After 3 years in university, I decided to take a gap year in order to discover a new region in Europe, and to discover myself, because it was my first adventure abroad.  It was also my first time in Sicily and I remember my first impression when I arrived: people speak loudly and shout in the street, you need to be careful to cross the street but at the same time don’t wait for someone to let you cross, and the garbage is very often the queen of the street. After a little time to adapt, I can say that I loved living in Palermo: it’s a wonderful city both for the architecture and the history but also for the welcoming and friendly atmosphere.

Palermo is a city that never stops, who lives day and night to the rhythm of the horn, of the vespe that don’t slowdown in the little streets, and of the fish sellers in the Vucciria market. The kids run at any time of day, during the grandmother’s gossip in front of the houses. But this joyful mess is most of all, and forever a land of welcome. Sicily is geographically and historically a place where continents and cultures came together, and that is not a surprise if the island and especially Palermo is a multi-ethnic and an intercultural city. Actually, with the arrival of many migrants from Africa, Asia or South America.

From the beginning to end of my volunteering time, I worked at the Centro Astalli, a center for welcoming refugees and asylum seekers. I was involved to help in the various services of the Center, as reception to welcome and orient people towards our different services: doctor, lawyer, Italian school, help for a job. I helped for the primary services: distributing breakfast, proposing a shower, laundry, giving clothes and food, helping to find a place to sleep or with all the administrative procedure, having a talk. I also took part to two projects of CESIE: the first one was a project with refugee minors about health, where I played the role of mediator between the stakeholders from the health institutions and the young. We did different workshops about right and access to the health system, gender violence and equality or prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. The second was a linguistic tandem’s project in a high school with Italian students. Where we were sharing the time in two parts: the first period in English and the second in Italian and we had some basic conversations in order to help both of us with a foreign language. In the context of the ESC – European Solidarity Corps, we went to Roma for one week for the On-arrival training, where we spent a beautiful time and met other ESC volunteers in Italy.

Other than the fact that I felt useful in working by direct actions, this experience has been so much rewarding thanks to the relationships I created: with the other volunteers at work, with the users of the Center, and generally with the voluntary sector, very active in Palermo. Finally, with the other ESC volunteers and my flatmates, become friends… I have never met so many people in my life, but I also learnt to enjoy to spend some time alone, because living with seven other people in a super active city I sometimes felt the need to take a step back! Moreover, on a personal level, I clearly improved my Italian and my English, I travelled around Sicily, I climbed the Etna, I ate (a lot) of pasta. I also discovered heavenly beaches, I sometimes drank (too much?) Nero d’Avola or Limoncello, I danced to the Ballarò Baskers Festival, I ate ice creams (in December too), and I visited a lot of churches. Finally, I said “Ciao!” and “Grazie” a billion times and I didn’t sleep much.

As the image of Palermo, I can say that my ESC project has been an example of multi-cultural experience. Through my job and my social life, I found the values I came looking for: sharing and solidarity, respect and tolerance, and lastly human rights and equality. I enjoyed at 100% my experience, which made me grow both in a personal and professional level, and I will always keep Palermo in my heart.

Eva MADELAINE

European Solidarity Corps volunteer Project: Mapping Solidarity

CESIE