Jail Volunteering with BeccaBIR
My Mondays were usually starting late and finishing late. Around 14:45 I would meet with other volunteers in front of the Carcere Minorile Beccaria. After a little talk on the bench in front of the imposing building we used to press the ring button in order to be let in. The first step was to leave our IDs, our things and mobile-phones, then, another two doors were necessary to be passed in order to reach the side of the building where our activities took place. We were usually 5 or 6 volunteers, some being in their 3rd or 4th year of jail volunteering, others, being juniors like me. On Mondays’ afternoons we helped in implementing a project called Porta Fuori, who had as purpose to build, through arts, a connecting bridge between the inside reality and the outside one. There were many actors involved in this project, us, the BIR volunteers, teachers, high school volunteers, and, of course, the boys.
Inside, the teachers were waiting for us and a group of high school volunteers were taking also part in the activities, in a scholastic process, which in Italy is called alternanza scuola lavoro. As we were waiting for the boys to arrive in the corridor, we were planning a little bit the activities of the afternoon, some of us were doing painting, some photography and others creative writing. As photography is one of my oldest hobbies I have gladly helped in creating and implementing some photographic concepts. The first weeks of the project were shaped around debating and exploring different photography techniques and choosing what ideas could we bring to live with the resources we had inside. But most importantly, the first weeks of the project were about getting to know the boys, their group-dynamics, understanding different methods to get them engaged and making them feel active part of the whole process.
And there were laughs and there were good photos and plenty of moved and blurred photos. And they were taking the cameras and having fun while trying to understand how the lens worked, and they shared our music with us and took fun group pictures. As the project was getting to an end, we knew that it was not about taking the greatest pictures nor becoming photographers, was about making them feel good and comfortable with being part of something else, completely different than their daily routine.
I usually got out of jail around 17:45-18:00, went home to rest for a little and then I prepared for my weekly Monday meeting.
Every Monday evening a group of motivated and active volunteers has their weekly meeting in order to plan and implement different big and small initiatives for the organization. This is my group of QDLini, or, as the acronym says Quelli di Lunedi (The Ones from Monday). I have started to participate to these meeting from my first week here, and, despite the initial language barrier, I have found myself welcomed by open, hard-working young people, willing to share their free time for small and big initiatives of the NGO.
Undoubtedly, the volunteers are the soul of each non-governmental organization, and the mission and values of a NGO are always shared through their voice. This year we created so many nice things together, just to name a few: banquettes, Christmas fundraising in a cozy library, a Facebook campaign in order to promote our summer camps, the famous BIR Lottery and the long-waited Spring Party. For sure there was a lot of work and a lot of fun!
My Tuesdays were usually spent in the office, helping with different office-work activities or learning Italian. BIR gave me a great opportunity, to get accustomed with the format and structure of European Projects, especially from a financial and administrative point of view. As my studies were in the economic field, I found it very interesting to understand how the project management for such projects works and how the budget is distributed.
One very keen project for me in which I was involved for a long time is called Me and You and Everyone We Know, a project which aims at preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools and which took place in four different countries. Besides giving a hand in the administrative side, I also participated as an observer in school workshops, which was a very interesting, multi-cultural experience, especially because of the topics confronted.
Wednesdays and Fridays
On Wednesdays and Fridays afternoons I volunteered at the youth center called Centro per Giovanni, where I did homework with children, usually aged between 12 and 15 years old.
I have to admit that it was a true challenge in the beginning, because as one can imagine, teenagers are not always so easy to handle. Therefore, besides having to get accustomed with different scholastic terms in Italian, especially technical ones from geometry or arithmetic, I also had to understand a group dynamic which was already established and to be very flexible in my way of working with them. I needed to prove adaptability and patience, as every child is different and has a different learning style, maybe some get bored more easily, maybe some get unfocused when the door opens or when a pen falls on the ground, maybe some don’t talk so much or don’t actively communicate with you when you put them a question or maybe some talk too much and even you lose track of their homework. You learn so many things from kids, sometimes even from just observing them.
On Thursdays afternoons, I used to frequent another social center, called Social Market which was an initiative to create a multi-purpose space for the local community, from where people could buy groceries at a small price or where children or pensioners could participate to different workshops and activities. Again, I used to work with children, doing together a variety of creative crafts.
Another group from BIR in which I was involved is called Testicom, the operative group which has as objective to promote in schools and youth communities our volunteering camps in Romania and Moldavia, altogether with the concept of being an active and global citizen. We usually met once a month, on a Thursday, having dinner together and then confronting our new school contacts or relating our closest testimonial experiences. I participated myself in some school testimonials which was an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and speak in Italian in front of young people. At times, I talked about my own country, Romania, as many of the students had many questions and curiosities, sometimes triggered by social and cultural prejudices. I felt so happy to see that there is so much interest among young people to get actively involved and to be change agents both in their local environment but also in more vulnerable and less fortunate communities.
During some weekends I was involved in a formation progress called WIP (Walk in Progress) where, with other volunteers, we went together through a process of personal growth. As the weekends passed by, we got to understand more about ourselves as individuals, we shaped our values and we addressed topics such as teamwork, leadership styles or conflict management. WIP was a great opportunity to connect with so many people from BIR, to understand that despite our different experiences, we were triggered by common values and we all wanted to direct our actions towards creating good and towards diminishing the inequality gaps in our society.
On several Sundays, I used to participate in a project which had as purpose to promote positive team cheering in sports, moreover, during the matches of the basketball team Olimpia Milano. There, with a numerous group of kids that proudly worn on their face the colors of their Milanese team, we used to actively and harmoniously support the players. There was always a great atmosphere, as the kids were living each minute of the game at its fullness, and, of course, we, the “big” volunteers, tired but happy, were part of their symphony.
This was how my EVS weeks went by, but none of the weeks were the same, they were always sprinkled with a little bit of something else. Of course, we are in Italy, and here you’ll learn a lot about the power of flavors, not only in the kitchen, but also in the everyday life, everything is better by adding a little bit of spice, a little bit of joy and spontaneity, because as one Italian work colleague once told me “Iulia, la vita ha sempre più fantasia di noi”.