Volunteering

When memories knock on the door

It has been a long time since I didn’t write something in my blog, and this evening is one of these evenings in which you look back, long the path you took and try to remember things, people, situations.
It was more than 10 years ago, oh my God… nobody told me that time would have run so fast… I was living one of the most remarkable period of my life, when I was student at the University of Bologna. I don’t have many pictures of this period, but I guess it’s normal, no smartphone, no camera, no selfie… and nevertheless my memories are quite clear, even if I don’t have facebook remembering me that.
My best friend Francesco was late with his studies, therefore for the Italian law (back at the time), he had to leave for military service or to choose civil service for some kind of associations. He was taken in an association assisting disabled people. In this way I got to know AIAS, a wonderful group which works to give a normal life to people affected by many different disabilities. They had a program of volunteering, for the free-time. It was simply based on this: if a person with a disability wants to go to an event, a concert, a sport match, whatever, you will be his/her assistant with a free entrance. You can imagine that, for a young student with no money, the opportunity to go for free to events and to do, at the same time, something good, it’s really attractive.
I had to pass an interview with the responsible for the free time. Alberto, the most improbable manager you could have imagined… earrings, unshaven, easy-going, but with the perfect knowledge and competences to handle this job. Alberto told me: “You know… many people start but they don’t find what they expect, or they simply don’t have the right character to handle certain situations. So, we always ask to the new volunteer two test evenings, in a center called Platani. You just have to help people to have dinner, give them food. It’s absolutely nothing difficult, but some people don’t continue after the experience.” I went in this center, and Alberto was right… it was one of the most touching experience of my life. Quite naively, I never had direct contact with disabilities or sufferance in general. The people there could not eat by themselves… they didn’t have the hands to do so… some of them could move only their head. Of course, my job was not strictly necessary, the center had quite high standard services, but it was a way to share a life moment, like dinner, with people from outside, chat a little bit. The first evening I didn’t speak too much. I admit the 20-years old boy was a bit shocked to feed other people like chicks… but the second evening, and the third were much better!
Alberto called me, asked me about my experience, if I would have liked to continue: “Yes, of course, I can continue, I like to come here, and it’s not a difficult job for me to feed people”. “No” said Alberto, “this was just a test, we need you to do different stuffs. For dinner, there are many old women volunteering. We need dynamic and young people for different activities… We want to give people the opportunity to live as much as possible a normal life, in any activity they want. Therefore, your behaviour doesn’t have to be the one of an old pitiful woman. You just have to be yourself, and be with them like you would be with any other person. They don’t look for pity, neither for the friend of their life, if you have to say f*ck yourself to someone, just do it.”

From that point on, I had a series of wonderful experiences, meeting amazing people. I can’t write everything here, but I want to share some of the most beautiful memories I have (all names will be invented):
– I remember when with a group of 10 people, we went to an attraction park called Mirabilandia, not far from Bologna. I was driving the small bus and in charge of Luca in wheel chair. We did all the attractions that were allowed also for disabled people and more… Luca was light and skinny, so for me was an easy job to just take him on my shoulders, when needed. At the end of the highest attraction Luca vomited… but he was totally happy.
– Bruno was an intellectual disable and didn’t speak too well, but he was the best mate you could ask for going to drink in a pub. He had a great quality. He was able to choose at a first glance the most beautiful girl of the bar and go directly to her to have a chat. I feel a bit guilty, I admit in this way I got many telephone numbers…
– Giulia and Giuseppe were a couple of people with Down Syndrome, they were dating… yes you understood well, they were dating! In the most innocent way you can imagine, and the cutest couple I ever seen. Giulia lived in an institute far from the city, and Giuseppe lived in the city centre with his family. I was the “chauffeaur” of that evening, just driving them until a kind of Village Fair and back home. I was almost invisible and really discreet, just enjoying the Fair as well.
– Filippo was a big fan of the local Basketball team “Fortitudo” and he didn’t want to miss a match. He had down syndrome, and he was really strong… really really strong… I had some difficulties to calm him down when getting too excited for the game, but hey… he was a real supporter! Never giving up, even when Fortitudo lost!
– I remember a couple of volunteers which organized their wedding in one of these centers. Old Granma’s and Grandpa’s volunteered to cook an amazing dinner, and me and other youngers were serving at the tables. It was an hard job, but was so fun!
I could continue for hours, with other funny stories, and people but this post is already getting so long, and many things I prefer to keep for me and enjoying the memory.
I started my PhD and I didn’t have too much time anymore (or at least, this is, what I tell myself), I left Italy, and I went to live abroad, where my language skills were surely a limit (or at least, this is what I tell myself), so I stopped my volunteer activity.
Ten years passed, and it’s perhaps time to don’t let this experience just a memory.