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In the midday sun, Maty
and Alma Cini walk through Garibaldi Square in Livorno. Almost 60 years separate them, but the young emigrant and the elderly Italian woman are beginning to get to know each other within the framework of a social project that sees mutual aid as a source of new hope in the port city. The Riconoscerci Solidali (Recognize Solidarity) initiative was launched last year, during the covid-19 pandemic, by the Mezclar22 association in collaboration with the Immigrant Women’s Services Center (CESDI, for its acronym in Italian) and with funding from the Waldensian Evangelical Church.
Its objective is to develop practices of labor inclusion and solidarity with migrants and refugees, helping the older inhabitants of the neighborhood. Young people do the shopping for them, bring them their medicines or simply keep them company.
PHOTO GALLERY | Elderly and immigrants keep company
With this, the volunteers earn some income, improve their Italian and gain knowledge about the city that is now their home. But the most important results of the project are the greater autonomy of those who participate in it and the new relationships that flourish between people who in other circumstances might never have known each other due to their differences in age, ethnic origin and social origin. The initiative is part of La Riuso,
a broader project of Mezclar22 that since 2017 offers activities for children, sewing workshops and Italian courses in the same Garibaldi square and its surroundings.
Garibaldi is a slum near the center of the Tuscan coastal town. It is often said of it that it is a difficult area, but in these streets the roots of the working class and the recent stories of emigration meet and weave a new social fabric.
Over the past few decades, many families have left the neighborhood to settle in suburban flats, and now mostly older people live in Garibaldi. But new residents are arriving, including city youth, low-income families and immigrants. Here, in a small courtyard surrounded by arcades that opens into the center of an old building, Cini, an octogenarian from Livornese, and Maty, find themselves among plants and stacks of books. Maty is 26 years old and Senegalese, but she settled in Livorno five years ago. “I had started my studies in Senegal. I would have liked to continue with the university, but when I had my first child, I could not continue ”, he says.
Livorno has always welcomed everyone, it didn’t even have a ghetto, but now, there are racist idiots here too
She still has a hard time speaking Italian and dealing with older people is not always easy, but she decided to take part in the project to improve her language skills and earn some money.
Alma Cini, 82, has traveled a lot, but has always lived in Livorno. He loves his hometown and cultivates his memory. His apartment is one step away from La Riuso and he says he joined the project not because he really needed it, but to meet the new residents of the neighborhood. “Livorno has always welcomed everyone, it didn’t even have a ghetto, but now, there are racist idiots here too,” she says indignantly while gently touching Maty’s elbow.
The two continue walking, slowly crossing the square just behind the statue of Garibaldi that, standing on its pedestal, looks out over the industrial port.
The city is located in a port facing the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. It was founded in the early 17th century by the Medici family, Grand Dukes of Tuscany, who needed a modern port, and since then it has been a bulwark of free trade.
Different peoples from various Mediterranean and European countries built the city, attracted by religious and commercial freedom. This is how many flourishing communities were born in Livorno. Today some traces of that history can still be found in what remains of the Jewish community, in religious buildings, old warehouses, cemeteries, mansions and palaces. Cini thinks that initiatives like La Riuso are part of a broad model, closely linked to the history of the city.
Lansseny is one of the most active volunteers. He was separated from his family in northern Mali when he was 18 years old because of the war between the Islamist militias and the central government of Bamako. She is now 22 and has lived in Livorno for four after a period in Lampedusa. Before arriving by boat on the Italian island, he spent time in Libya, where the police tortured him.
“I was lucky, I was only there for a year,” he says with a bitter smile. When he was sent to the Extraordinary Reception Center for applicants for international protection, located between Garibaldi and the train station, it was night. “As soon as I got off the bus, I ran into Giulia Tubino, a volunteer from the Mezclar22 association, who told me:“ Tomorrow morning, go to school ”. Tubino’s voice taunting him covers the laughter that follows: “You’re talking too fast, Lansseny. You want to say too many things and you eat the words. The old people don’t understand you ”.
Twice a week, Lansseny goes to the city market to shop for Piero Giannoni. The list that the old man writes always specifies in detail the delicacies that he has to buy. Due to his health problems, this 74-year-old really needs help.
Giannoni tells Lansseny stories about his family. He talks about adversity – his father was in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II – but he also tells funny anecdotes about the winery his great-uncle had in a nearby alley. For his part, the young Malian tells him about his dreams and his plans for the future: he would like to study, find a job as a mechanic and stay in Livorno.
In September 2020, Seydou, a 27-year-old Senegalese man, started meeting Grazia Pannilini, who lives next door to La Riuso. They would go shopping together at one of the neighborhood grocery stores. So, with the spike in infections and the first restrictions, Pannilini stopped leaving home. Her daughter, who is a clerk in a bar and cannot work at the moment, now helps her with the shopping. Seydou often passes by Pannilini’s window, which overlooks Piazza dei Mille, they exchange a couple of jokes and try to maintain the relationship that had already been created before Seydou started going to La Riuso. The young man had set up a small tailor shop in the courtyard, where there are a couple of sewing machines and a handful of scraps on a side table under the arcades. “I studied for eight years, but here I can’t find a job as a tailor,” he explains as he takes a coil of yellow cotton out of a drawer. “I could make small repairs at home, but the material costs money and with what I earn from some orders I can’t even buy it. This is not work ”. Seydou says that he left his home fleeing unemployment. “Same as all. And many die trying to cross the Mediterranean ”.
I can maintain relationships and at the same time be useful in this difficult time and not have to go to black jobs
22-year-old Malian living in Livorno
Now he has lived in Livorno for three years, works a few hours as a cleaner for a service cooperative and manages to combine his income with his activities in La Riuso, but he would like to try to move to find work. However, as with everything else in 2020, the project was interrupted by the global health crisis of Covid-19.
“In March 2020 we had to suspend the training, so the volunteers did not finish the Italian classes and the psychology workshops until July,” laments Filippo Del Bubba, one of the monitors of Mezclar22 activities. The project resumed last September, just before the second wave of the pandemic in Italy. Veruska Barbini, director of Mezclar22, adds that, although the activity of the association has been reduced due to these difficult times, “precisely this context demonstrates its indispensable role”.
Lansseny went through two consecutive periods of quarantine, of 14 days each, because in the center for asylum seekers where he lives there were three cases of contagion. In his opinion, now the project is even more important: “I can maintain relationships and, at the same time, be useful in these difficult times and not have to go to black jobs”. Social isolation is a real danger for the elderly population. Health risks and government-imposed restrictions have made social interactions much more difficult. “Thanks to this project, I can break the isolation,” says Cini. “I think for sick and needy people, this is even more important.”
Maty, Lansseny and Seydou, the refugees in Italy featured in this report, do not mention their last names for security reasons.You can follow PLANETA FUTURO in Twitter , Facebookand Instagram , and subscribehere
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