By: Laura Gravina
Coming back is always harder than packing and leaving. Going back to the places where you grew up and lived most of your life means that you have to sit down, think and finally compare the person who left 10 months ago with the one who recently stepped in from the door.
It’s a really weird feeling, because most of the things around me didn’t change much but I just can’t see them through the same eye. My small suburban flat – which my parents are still paying the mortgage for – suddenly looks like a luxury palace, my bedroom seems too big and too full with unnecessary things… and the sea here in Genova has never been so blue.
Traveling and living as a volunteer means changing the way you see things and how you approach problems in life. In 10 months you learn how to take care of yourself as well as to trust others, even if you barely know them, as we all need to lean on someone from time to time. If you’re thinking about living such an experience, be aware of the continuous challenges you will have to face and that this will also be a journey through yourselves, which will make you grow up and gain lots of confidence and awareness. Volunteering is an act of faith, and love, and bravery. It implies learning how to open your heart, wider than you ever have, knowing that the time will come to say goodbye and that your heart will break a little. But that’s also what will make you a better, richer person at the end. I will never be thankful enough to all the people I met, to all the ones who opened their homes and their lives and made me feel like I was already a part of that community.
Not everything remains the same, and sometimes things do not change for the better. I went back to Italy, while in the meantime the government and the politics have changed and I can’t recognize my country anymore. I see people getting always more divided, hating on each other, remaining indifferent in front of thousands of women, children and men suffering, remaining indifferent even when these people lose their lives trying to reach Europe’ shores. I guess neither racism or xenofobia ever disappeared from Italy. It’s like a disease you can’t get rid of and is always been there, now it just got too big to deny it. And I wonder, what’s the cure? How can I go on with this situation while I spent my last year believing and working following the exact opposite values?
Argentina and Argentinians taught me many lessons: despite of all the issues and difficulties, what I saw was a breathing people, struggling to create a better place, unafraid and moving forward – not backwards. Argentina too knows what it’s like to live under a dictatorship, they know the violence and the repression. Argentinians did not forget those dark years, they’re still demanding justice and truth for what happened and – although preserving the memory is important – they’re looking at the future. Argentinians absolutely love to discuss about politics, they have no problem to talk about their ideas and seem to have no problem in disagreeing and still respecting other people’s minds. So many young people are involved and passionate about their politics, and between one mate and the other they won’t stop thinking and imagining a better world, questioning themselves how to get there, and while doing this they already started the process. I believe it is in the moment when people stop doing this that makes them easy to fool and to turn against each other. I have always deeply appreciated the energy and the grit of Argentinians. Whether it was about going out to party – because “life is like a carnival and should always be celebrated” – or about working double/triple jobs just to afford a decent life, they don’t rest. I had the chance to participate to a couple of demonstrations in Buenos Aires, and those moments have been between the most inspiring I had during my stay. It was not just because of the massive amount of people strolling through the streets, neither the strength they showed enduring hot and cold weather, or the police repression. What got me the most was the energy I perceived, that was more than hope and determination, it was knowing that they were walking the right path and that they were going to get – eventually – what they wanted. Think about the grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, who have been looking for their disappeared nieces for decades. Think about the thousands of women who – on a winter night – spent 24 hours in front of the Congress while inside they were discussing the legalization of abortion, and they won. And they managed to do so because they where together, even with their differences.
Same goes for what I learned through my voluntary service in Fundacion SES, an NGO working in the social and solidary economy area. I came to realize that economy does not have to be a monster controlling and destroying our lives. Economy is one of the most ancient human activity, that impulsed us to travel the world and to learn how to communicate with each other. Social economy shows us how much more helpful it is to cooperate instead of fighting, how migration is actually a natural and positive force we should embrace instead of stopping, and how much more value it can bring into our lives if we try to understand it from a more human perspective.
Argentina is a so-called “developing country” – and during this last year I understood how this definition doesn’t automatically imply being in disadvantage if compared to “developed countries”. Sometimes being late can be helpful, because we can see the paths other people walked already and avoid to make the same mistakes. I had this feeling for the whole time I stayed in South America. That is that the same space separating the South of the World from the more developed countries could also be a space to build something different – and better – from what exist already. What kind of development are we talking about, if we let thousands of human beings die in our seas for the sake of it? And how do we invert this tendency after years of being told that this was the best world we could hope for and we did not have to worry about it anymore, to the point that we all started to think just about ourselves? Finally, I came to a conclusion.
Do not let anyone fill up your minds with hatred and fear. Take your backpack and fill that up. If you’re thinking about a voluntary experience than this is my advice: go, just go. Give your time away for free, give things you don’t need for free, give away the best parts of you and let it grow like a seed… and you will feel incredibly free. When you’ll come back such words like “borders”, “migrants” and the classic dichotomies like “us and them, mine and yours” will make no more sense to you. You will cross borders and you will be migrants too. It only takes to go to the other side of the wall to realize that – no matter how we look at it – a wall will always be a wall and there’s no right side of it. It will always throw a shadow on all of us.
When you have more than you need, add more chairs to your table and make friends instead of closing the door. It’s the best gift you can ever do to yourselves.