New Humanity Movement

Education and Culture


How a point of reference "for the school" and "after school" comes to life and develops in one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods of the Italian Capital.

by Paolo Balduzzi- Rome

In the courtyard of the Institute Di Donato, in Rome, kids are playing, there is a bustle of people entering and leaving the building, holding the little pupils' hands. Inside at this time it is hard to find janitors, at least in the usual sense.

It is easier to find Judy, Annabel, Francesca, Simon, everyone here has a name, being anonymous is not contemplated.

And it is even more likely that each of them is a parent, a volunteer, a grandfather, in short, someone from the neighborhood who has donated time and talents to follow an activity, a project, an after-school schedule.

Here colors are the norm: built in the heart of Rome's Esquiline, the most colorful and multiethnic area of the Capital, this institute is now the protagonist of a particular experience and leads a pilot project that embraces not jus the school, but also the families and the whole community that has developed around it.
In fact here the “Di Donato's Parents" Association operates. They restored the disused premises, that lied abandoned for years, drowning in garbage.

The reopening of these areas has triggered a virtuous cycle, that has seen a progressive converging of the energies of the various components of the school and the various institutions, in the name of a common development of the public good.

Nowadays the association counts one hundred members who provide voluntary forces in non-school hours, hosting sporting, recreational, cultural activities, and many services for children and adults, inside and outside the institute. Since December 2004, the Association is also the leader of the Polo Intermundia who has an office in the same spaces.

Francesca Valenza is one of the "mothers" of the Institute, and now chairs the association. She is the one that tells us something more:

«It all started some years ago, thanks to the will of the dean at that time, Bruno Cacco. At that time immigration was booming, there were big problems of integration between the various communities living in this neighborhood. Prof. Cacco thought of making parents a resource for the school, and the school a resource for parents, opening new integrated and shared paths, so that all individuals, from families to the district community were involved in a process of change and knowledge, in order to tear down the walls and defea the fear of the other».

In this way the "Di Donato School's Parents" Association was born.

«In a time when resources to school had already began to shrink, Bruno Cacco assigned the unused Institute spaces to the parents, who set up an association to manage these areas for the benefit of the school and the family. In this way school and parents have become partners of the same project: the school has something more to give to families and community, and accepts their support and assistance for all that the institutions, because of the limited resources, cannot afford to do. Families have space to share for seminars, after-school and sporting activities, to experience common get-together and training moments.

In seven years this has become a community school and, I would say, a community-land, because we are open to the city, and the needs of those around us, an experience of active citizenship for people from 0 to 99 year-old. The association has in fact entered a network of relationships with other organizations, projects, associations, who all aim at building a better city».

What are the projects you are carrying out?

«From simple after-school activities, to foreign language lessons, workshops on various topics: here everyone feels valued for what she actually is, even for her non-Italian origins, by providing school and society a talent, which is that a training and knowledge tool».

The last project you have undertaken?

«It is related to the development of the elderly, grandparents in particular. Our grandparents usually have more time and therefore, we engage them in different services, in order to make them active and able to give more to society, despite their retirement. For example, we have a grandfather, who is a retired engineer and now helps in the after-school mathematics lessons not only for his nephew, but for all the other children».

And then there is "A City built for Children" ..

«The city built for children is a specific project launched because of a "wound", in to sensitize the institutions on security and integration issues. On 10 July 2005 a pupil of the school, Mark Christian Matibag, died on his way here to play basketball, hit by a car whilst he was crossing the road, in a place which was not safe.

For us, safety is n all-accomplished matter, is a concept that refers to the cross-participation: cities are now designed with a specific focus on economy and adults, but they lack spaces to be together, to meet, and to make sure that the youth grow in peace and in relation with each other. Even safety needs space, starting with the young people: therefore the school, families and society as a whole must work together, not only to ensure that such tragedies never happen again, but in order to go beyond condemnation. In such a way we can move to proposals, broadly speaking securing the growth of young people, running public and institutional spaces for the integration of disadvantaged families.

In practice we offer a day of sports, games, entertainment, fishing, picnic lunch and dinners, dances and a reflection on the basic theme of the day:Because Mark's death calls us to commit ourselves as adults, parents and institutions, in order to accelerate the construction of a city suitable for all children, wherever they come from and whatever their social status and their citizenship».

To what kind of results do these projects bring?

«The kids say this school is nice because we can "meet" and feel their growth as a harmonious path; the values they live here are experienced also at home and in the places of the district they go to. Some institutions, the municipality, the province, the region have noticed this, and the European Union has recognized us as an institution of informal education, because of the respect of the values, that are part of their guidelines on education, such as equity and social inclusion».

Which is the additinal value of this experience for a parent, for a community?

«Here I speak for myself, but I represent all parents. this experience gives us a great enrichment, which has raised the quality of our lives. We can go on, because of the solidarity of so many people, whom we help and support, and from whom we receive. We are 100 parents, we are an extened family that meets regularly and happily, and that has made this neighborhood a "home". A parent who came some time ago said "now this is my family" and I think this is the experience that enhances all talents, all the possibilities, because then everyone will find the freedom to add from her side . Certainly there are difficulties, not everybody understands what is going on, but it is also true that only the one that never tries, does not make it wrong».

Francesca Valenza has to run to the meetig with the professors, after all, her children study here. But coming down the stairs, to the basements, while I hear a piano playing and children singing, I run into Judy and Annabel, two moms who live the same experience: the first from The Philippines, in Italy for 21 years, the second is Somali, in Italy for almost 27.

«In this school I raised my children - Judy begins- knowing its great educational value, not only for the quality of its lessons, but for the ongoing collaboration between study and life together; this allows me to say that here there is integration and training for all local residents, and that we do not feel foreign and Italian, but all together at the same level».

Annabel instead is a cultural and linguistic mediator: 

«We have got so many resources, in particular from the point of view of human relations, and here boys are not labelled as “foreign” but “migrants”, because they understand that diversity is a richness that makes us grow inside, by appreciating the character of our brother, of all the persons who are close to me, and evenually want the same things. So it is for us moms: we are a reference point to each other, with fathers, families, institutions. There are many problems here, but we face them together, no one is alone at carrying weights. And that makes all the difference in a big family».

© Photo Copyright Simone Ramella, Creative Commons License
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