I arrived in Palermo in November 2019 for an European Solidarity Corps (ESC) long-term volunteering coordinated by CESIE. I came back to France 4 months later, more quickly than expected because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, these few months have been rich and intense enough to make me grow!
Just graduate in Sustainable urban development from a French school of political science, I was looking for a new experience abroad, in between the end of my studies and the workplace. I wanted to dedicate this time to do something for and with others, meet people from different cultures and backgrounds and improve my knowledge of Italian language and culture. Now, I can say that volunteering in Palermo has been indeed a good way to do so, but also much more!
Within the “Mapping Solidarity” project, I have mostly been working in a kindergarten for kids aged from 2 to 5 based on interculturality. There, I discovered a special pedagogy: with the educators and my fellow Portuguese, Spanish and Greek volunteers, we took care of the kids trying to foster their sensitivity to emotions, their autonomy and expression and to resolve conflicts with sincere dialogue. Apart from daily life, I also got the opportunity to imagine and implement a few workshops in English and French for the older kids. Sharing my knowledge and my own culture with the kids was both a very emotional and challenging exercise. Being someone who like to anticipate things and try to get always ready, I realised that sticking to this behaviour was not very productive in this context because nothing ever goes as expected when working with kids. And it is precisely what makes this work beautiful and special. I learned to start proposing something to the kids and then let it go, to be able to co-create the activity with them according to their curiosity and interests.
Apart from the kindergarten, I have also been involved lately in a linguistic workshop with high school students from Ballarò, a popular neighbourhood of Palermo. We had conversations with the students for one hour, speaking alternatively English and Italian. This experience was really enriching, both in terms of multilingualism and interculturalism. Among other things, I had opportunity to gained personal and professional talks about feminism, action for climate or job opportunities and I am happy to say I learned a few Sicilian expressions!
What I really appreciated in volunteering is being able to get to know the inhabitants, speaking their language and living by their side. This experience gives you the time to get involved in the city life. Thus, in January, I heard about a theatre in Palermo involved in the local community which was offering a dance course following the season cycle. I joined the winter and then spring cycles, where I met very welcoming people and discovered new ways to express myself and interact with a group.
Living with a team of volunteers has been also very nice, particularly for learning from each other and sharing our experiences, good and bad ones. We have had great times, enjoying daily life, night life, as well as beautiful travels around Sicily. Picking Sicily has a destination for volunteering also enabled me to spend quality time with two close Sicilians friends I met as an Erasmus student at Vilnius University 3 years ago.
However, this experience has not always been easy. In terms of cultural differences for instance, I got used to some beautiful things (such as the sense of hospitality a lot of Sicilians have, their spontaneous generosity) but I haven’t been able to get used to others (like the waste management or the culture of plastic). But after some time, I realised that this mixed feeling was linked to living in a city abroad, instead of only visiting it. Once, a volunteer friend told me something like: “If you only see the good sides of Palermo, it means you did not really get to know the city”. More generally, volunteering makes you feel part of the city because you give your contribution to the local community. For this reason, the closure of the schools and of all the activities of the city during the pandemic has been very sad.
Even if my experience has been shortened, I am grateful for all the things I have been given to live and learn in these four months. I keep with me a lot of laughs, the arancini taste and amazing sea and mountain sceneries. Palermo, tornerò senza dubbio!
European Solidarity Corps volunteer – Project: Mapping Solidarity