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Citadel Group Study Abroad Programme, from Charleston, USA

Insights into the work the Citadel College Group fulfilled here in their month in Naples supporting migrant and refugee organisations as part of their college course on human rights:

Barbara, 62 years old 

 

The non-governmental organization we work with (LESS) has contracted with Pizzerias to teach the proper making of pizza to selected refugees seeking political asylum. This is so they can become certified as Pizzaioli. The $1000 fee for a four- to six-month placement on the job-training course is paid by the NGO or through donations. We have been told that a certified Napolitano Pizzaiolo can easily find work. Hamid, the youngest Afghanistan man at one of the shelters I visited, is currently in a Naples program. He was selected to begin his classes after Ramadan, owing to his quick learning of Italian. Hamid was excited about the classes but admitted he still favors his traditional dishes. We informed Hamid that at times we too miss our traditional food. We encouraged Hamid to complete the program and attempt to adapt to a new culture while retaining his own.

 

Todd, 20 years old from Charlestone, USA

 

I work with a group of 12 individuals, 6 of whom are a family from India. The other six are from various African nations, such as Ivory Coast, Mali, and Burkina Faso. They live in a structure, or building for asylum seekers, in Mugnano, which is a suburb in the outskirts of Naples. Mugnano is well known for its extreme poverty-stricken conditions. My job consists of assisting my local coordinator in any way possible, to work with the children in the family, and to provide a sense of normalcy in their lives.

I have had the opportunity to go out to the structure twice this week. Both days I accompanied my local coordinator. My immediate impression of Mugnano was overwhelmed by the trash in the streets. Trash and waste of every kind littered both sides of the street. Furthermore, the living conditions in large worn-down apartment buildings reminded me of a city that was still developing. Mugnano’s reputation of poverty is well deserved.

When we arrived at the structure, I noticed the difference in the level of cleanliness. The sidewalk in front of the house was swept; the stairs were swept; and everything was in proper order. I walked in and met everyone who lived there. I think they were a bit uneasy with me at first, but I have grown very friendly with them. Most of the men from Africa only speak French, except for one individual who speaks English very well. The family from India speaks English very well and helps me by translating for me with the other men in the house. Everyone in the house is so nice and friendly. They have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome whenever I show up. It is amazing how people that have left their homes can have such a positive demeanor and attitude towards a complete stranger.

Tucker, 33 years old 

 

In the two weeks we have been volunteering here, I’ve had a good chance to listen to the many stories of the men who live in the center. For the most part, they are the same: fleeing West Africa from joblessness and harsh governments. Most of them have made perilous journeys across the Sahara and into war-torn Libya, hoping to find passage across the sea to any European Union state that will take them. Along the way, their statelessness and desperation make them the perfect targets for exploitation.

 

One man I spoke with had fled Gambia, because he was a wanted man by the Jammeh regime after his village had protested against unchecked government excavation of their land. Several of their small children had drowned in the massive holes the excavation had left behind. His forehead still bears a formidable scar to remind him of his current status with Gambian police.

Another man from Nigeria had left under similar circumstances. After he was accused of smuggling contraband in a government vehicle, he was incarcerated and administered beatings daily. After he was released, his family decided that he no longer had a life in Lagos.

Based on the conversations with many of the men, it seems there is little to no redemption for those who fall on the wrong side of the powerful. Becoming an enemy of the state essentially means that you are now living on borrowed time.

The Nigerian man struck out through Mali and made his way with two truck-loads of others across the vast desert of the western Sahara. The conditions were pitiful, and as dehydration and sickness claimed the lives of several, the only choice was an unceremonious burial in the hot sands of the desert.

 

As their small convoy neared population centers, highwaymen would speed alongside them, demanding money for safe passage. If they did not have the money, a quick burst of Kalashnikov fire would be shot into their vehicle as punishment. After reaching Libya, the Nigerian man was imprisoned by Arabs and beaten three times daily, often on the bottom of his feet. When asked why he believed he was imprisoned, the man could not offer an explanation. Like the Gambian man, his head was covered in scars. “I never used to wear my hair long for my entire life,” he tells me, “but the scars are too embarrassing to show. They are a way of taking your manhood.”

 

For the most part the refugee center feels like a purgatory. Although the staff do all they can to care for their “guests,” the uncertainty of successful asylum for the 90 men seeking refuge within the building means that little fanfare echoes about the hallways. Instead, most of the men are quiet and reserved, reflecting a feeling that they carry as many scars within as their bear without.

Christopher, 20 years old 

 

At work, this past week was great, because I had more opportunities to interact with migrants than ever before. Within the office, I worked with other staff members to prepare a walking tour of the Otra Botanical gardens for the migrants. It took careful planning and preparation on my part, because I had to give part of the guided tour in English. When we eventually got to the gardens, there a group of roughly 30 migrants. We gave them a two-hour tour of the garden, and I gave the English version of each section of the tour. The whole event was a success; everyone had a great time and learned something new about the garden. I felt all the preparation paid off, since I managed my English delivery of the tour successfully.

 

Emily, 24 years old

 

The volunteers in our team have been split up to work with different volunteer sites. My classmate, Tucker, and I have been assigned to a site called Virtus. This organization helps refugees adjust to Italian life as they wait to receive asylum from the government, a process that can take up to two years! So far, our work includes sitting in on Italian language classes and assisting the students with their work, or even helping them practice their English. Angelo is the primary Italian teacher, and one of my favorite people here. He is an excellent teacher, and the students really enjoy his lessons. Our other friend at Virtus is Marta, who helps keep the organization running. Both of these people have made our experience more enjoyable.

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