The Ballarò Campus: looking at the city with new eyes
In Ballarò, a historic district in the heart of Palermo, forty young people from all over the region have gathered for the second edition of the social and intercultural Campus entitled Guardo la mia città (I look at my city), promoted by the Focolare Movement.
It’s a hot beginning of July in Sicily. Famous in Italy for its traditional and colourful market, the Ballarò area faces multiple challenges: social and economic problems, high school dropout rates and deteriorated public spaces. “Last year we cleaned up the district’s sidewalks. This year, in accordance with the municipality, we have decided to reclaim a small piazza and make it accessible again, so that a playground can be built on it later on”, explains Claudio Villafranca, the project coordinator. Aside from cleaning and reclaiming urban spaces, Campus participants played games with the local children, took part in debates with experts from various fields and participated in two multicultural dinners. They also had the chance to meet more people and associations operating ‘on the border’ when they visited an accommodation centre for migrants and the Missione Speranza e Carità, which gives free food and shelter to more than a thousand people in need. The Campus, though, was above all about sharing and building relationships with the inhabitants of Ballarò.
That is what Angelica, Elena and Maria Paola from Caltanissetta did. The school year over, they decided to start their summer by spending a few days at the Campus. “The best part of the experience was when we brought groceries to the families in their homes” recalls Elena. “I was touched by the honesty with which one of the mothers told us about some very personal things and about the conditions of poverty they live in, but she also mentioned the support they receive from others. We were there to talk to them and to give something, but I didn’t really know what to say. So I just sat there and listened”.
For Maria Paola and Angelica, too, every moment at the Campus was an opportunity to think, and to try to relate to situations that are far from their daily experience. “The first day I introduced myself to the children” says Angelica, “and one of them started punching me. So I gave him all my attention and played with him that day. The next day, as soon as he saw me, he ran up to me and hugged me. I was moved”. Maria Paola’s most precious memory from the Campus is of an afternoon she spent at Casa di tutte le genti, a multicultural nursery school run by volunteers in the centre of Palermo. “When they asked me to go there to help I said yes, I was curious and I wanted to give my contribution”, she recalls. In the school, she met children of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. “One of the younger girls plaited my hair, that’s the memory I treasure the most. She was so happy and proud of herself; she tried really hard and did a really good job”.
The Focolare Movement community has been active in the Ballarò district for five years, building relationships of trust and friendship with many of its inhabitants and with other associations that operate in the area. The Movement and the people of Ballarò first came together for an eco-day organized by the Movement in one of the district’s piazzas, where they then celebrated Christmas together. After that came many more initiatives, like a weekly arts and crafts workshop for children, a Christmas market whose revenue goes to people in need, and the summer Campus, during which the district opens up to teenagers from other cities.
For Angelica, Elena, Maria Paola and the other young participants, perhaps, the most precious part of the experience was simply being there and being present. As young people who are constantly immersed in a day-to-day context in which it is very easy to get isolated and distracted, they decided to step outside the limits of their comfort zone, meeting people who live close to them in space, but whose daily lives are very different from their own. They decided to give something, and received so much more in return. That is precisely what the Ballarò project aims to do: to create a space for people to meet and generate change together. In Claudio Villafranca’s words: “The idea that the district welcomes us and that we, in turn, give it a new space, makes us realize that together, and only together, we can make a change”.
Per Angelica, Elena, Maria Paola e per gli altri giovani partecipanti, forse, l’esperienza più preziosa è stata proprio esserci, essere presenti. Immersi quotidianamente in un contesto in cui è sempre più facile isolarsi e lasciarsi distrarre, hanno deciso di uscire dai confini della loro routine per andare a conoscere realtà molto distanti dal loro vissuto, seppur così vicine nello spazio. Hanno deciso di fermarsi per donare qualcosa, ricevendo a loro volta tanto di più. L’intento del progetto, del resto, è proprio questo: far scaturire il cambiamento dall’incontro. Nelle parole di Claudio Villafranca: “L’idea di essere accolti dal quartiere e ridonare al quartiere stesso uno spazio nuovo, ci fa pensare che insieme, e solo insieme, le cose possono cambiare”.