Syracuse’s Summer Campus12 September 2016
Ten days with 120 children and teenagers from three at-risk neighbourhoods: “We bet it all on the most fragile part of society.” The story of Nahomy Onate.
“Now let’s not call this an alternative vacation,” insists 21 year-old Nahomy Onate. “Many of us are regulars here on the Campus and so it’s no extraordinary experience for us but part of our life.” Nahomy comes from Reggello, Italy, close to the Focolare’s international town of Loppiano. She is actively involved in the Syracuse Summer Campus that was organized by young people from the Focolare.
The local gazette reported “Youth For A United World Encounter Syracuse’s Peripheries”. This will be the third consecutive year that the neighbourhoods of Akradina, Tika and, this year, Grottasanta have hosted this experience which focuses on building relationships and acknowledging the human dignity of every person. A hundred and twenty young people from 17 Regions of Italy spent 10 days together, animating the peripheries with workshops on dance, journalism, theatre, drawing, and more. Over a hundred children and teenagers between the ages of 6 and 13 took part.
“I had already been here for the second edition of the project and knew more or less what to expect. I was also familiar with the disadvantaged situation of this neighbourhood. But the moment we got here, the general attitude of everyone really struck me: we were willing and ready to give of ourselves for 10 days. And that’s what happened.” Nahomy explained that what was new this year was Grottasanta, another disadvantaged and at-risk neighbourhood of the city.
“When we arrived in front of the school where we would be conducting the activities with the children and teenagers, the scene before me really shocked me: The shiny sea seemed to frame the once grand and now run-down palaces that stood like symbols of the social degradation that had taken place. Education is often the first thing to give a sense of dignity to a human being, but the conditions of that school just didn’t allow it to provide anything to anyone. Yet beyond the gate were mothers, teachers and children who welcomed us with huge applause and with much hope for change in their eyes. This was all it took to make us realize that despite the short time we had at our disposal, we had to place all our bets on this most fragile part of society and give all of ourselves. This is what each one of us did, establishing close fraternal relationships with each one of them.
Following a very harsh argument between two little boys, my eyes were opened to the daily reality in which they live: Violence, taking revenge and indifference are the ‘values’ they are raised on. In front of that situation which had been created, we tried to explain to them that it was better not to respond to violence with more violence, that there are other ways, even though no one had ever shown them those ways.
‘Let’s quit acting like the mafia,’ said one of the boys, ‘I don’t want to see violence and revenge in this neighbourhood any more. Now, we’re changed.’ It only took a few days inside a whirlpool of mutual love for this boy to pronounce those words to his peers. The seed that we had been planting and watering over these three years and during those few days was growing. We were leaving something in them. We realized that they were the future and that it’s always possible to change and be different, to be better.
In those neighbourhoods of Syracuse you find only one of the many peripheries of Italy, and we no longer want to ignore so many situations that are happening even in our own cities, places in the world that are losing their values, their love and their courage. I returned home a bit nostalgic and sad: I miss each of the children, but I also feel charged and full of their love, their smiles and their will to change their world.”