HIP Member Spotlight: Sicily, Italy

Heroic Imagination Project
Trained by Refugees

An inspiring story of African refugees in Italy learning the HIP lessons, teaching them in their communities, and creating new tools to inspire connection and empathy. 

Gruppo giocherenda.jpg


the refugee situation in Italy: 

In Italy, as in many other Western countries, racism towards migrants and refugees is on the rise.  In fact, since the establishment of the new Italian government, there has been an exponential growth in hate speech and hate crimes. Additionally, in some European countries,  those who give aid to an undocumented migrant are themselves severely punished.

In Italy, the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in search and rescue operations of shipwrecked migrants are criminalized by many media outlets and politicians, who accuse them of aiding smugglers. Although the courts have shown that the allegations are unfounded, it has become almost impossible for NGO boats to operate in the Mediterranean. Due to this, although two years ago one out of every sixty people died at sea, now one of every seven dies because they are not able to receive the help they need.

Feeding hatred and fear will not give us security, but in fact will put us in more danger, and therefore we must stand together and protect our common humanity.

African refugees teach solidarity to Western Countries:

A group of around ten young refugees from West Africa landed a couple of years ago in Sicily, started living in Palermo, and decided to create an association to help the country where they now lived.

After a few months in Italy, they began to look at the social relationships around them and observed that they are often marked by mistrust, anger and fear. They noticed how poverty and marginalization affect Italians, the considerable distance between some social groups, and the inequalities among the different parts of the city. The refugees cared about their new home and wanted to do something to improve these situations. They came to the conclusion that Europe needed “Giocherenda” and that it was their job to spread it.


Giocherenda is a term in Pular, a language spoken in several countries of West Africa, whose meaning is close to the concept of "solidarity", with nuances closer to expressions such as "the strength rising from union", "an awareness of interdependence" and "the joy of sharing”.

Together they asked themselves how they could share the experience of “Giocherenda”. The similarity to the Italian word "gioco" (game/playing) was the clue to solve the puzzle. They started to invent and build cooperative games, in which there were no losers. By playing with those games, one could learn and experience Giocherenda.

Click here to view some examples on Giocherenda's Etsy page. 


Collective resilience

The boys of Giocherenda, like many other refugees from Libya, faced many terrible ordeals during their journeys. They are all survivors.

But which factors increase ones likelihood of survival? From their stories it becomes clear that what was most crucial was creating bonds of solidarity with others. During their journeys some people got sick or injured. Their survival depended on the mutual care, compassion and fraternity they developed. Dine Diallo, the president of the Giocherenda Association, shared that he managed his fear by never forgetting that those around him, even his abusers, were human beings, also affected by their own fear.

Giocherenda, a sort of “collective resilience,” allowed them to survive the difficult times together.


Training refugees as HIP EDUCATORS

HIP's partners in Sicily, working with the young refugees, found them not only to be incredibly resilient, but also found they could easily understand the dynamics of social psychology, because they had directly and vividly experienced many of them in action.

Knowing their challenging pasts, but witnessing their strong faith in the future and their proactive attitudes, they seemed the perfect examples of “heroes,” according to Dr. Zimbardo’s definition. For this reason it was thought that they could became impactful teachers of the Heroic Imagination Project (HIP) lessons. 

Through becoming teachers of the HIP lessons, the young African migrants have built a strong yet peaceful tool to spread solidarity. Their work has obtained remarkable results and offers a truly rich human experience.


Photo credit: Liou Tsang-Ru



The Wheel of Wishes: a new game created by Giocherenda group

Thanks to a generous donation, the group of youth was able to invent, prototype and pilot a new game called "Wheel of Wishes" to implement the HIP training in a playful and amusing way.

Playing the Wheel of Wishes game

Playing the Wheel of Wishes game

The goal of this game is to achieve one's own goals and desires. But, as in real life, nothing goes exactly as you wish or expect. Spinning the wheels, each player receives a bizarre identity. For example, you could happen to be a transgender refugee who lives in a castle in Alaska. In addition, the allies, the resources and even the obstacles you get are not the ones you had planned. Trying to give meaning to the identity and the condition in which everyone is, however difficult or absurd, the players must compose a story for how they come to realize their dream.


This game is very helpful to teach the growth mindset because it stimulates the use of imagination and problem-solving skills. It is also a training in resilience; the player has to accept his or her own condition, but at the same time transform handicaps and obstacles into resources, understanding the power of the situation and using that to reach their goals. Finally, the “Wheel of Wishes” also creates space for serious thoughts and discussion about discrimination, equity, and the rights that should belong to every human being.


HIP workshops conducted by the young refugees of Giocherenda in 2017/2018

Clelia Bartoli and Cristina Siddiolo, the senior HIP trainers in Italy, formed the Giocherenda group and trained them in three Heroic Imagination Project lessons (Developing a  Growth Mindset, Combating the Bystander Effect, and Bias Reduction) which they had translated into Italian. 


  • October 2017: Workshop to train staff at a luxury fashion company
    • The youth spoke about everyday heroism and having a growth mindset, and shared videos, testimonies, debates and games. This event, perhaps a bit bold for this company, had success both professionally and emotionally. One participant shared: "Seeing these guys, listening to what they have experienced, and witnessing their willpower, spurs you to believe that everyone can realize their dreams."
  • March 2018: Workshops in the Zen district, one of the most difficult ghettos in Palermo
    • Giocherenda made a HIP presentation in this poor neighborhood, largely controlled by criminal activity. It was very interesting to see that this district actually welcomed, respected and listened to the refugees, probably because the Zen youth recognized the difficulties the refugees faced and in this sense their “authority” to teach them. 
  • April 2018: Local high school
    • A private school attended by upper class students, who were also welcoming to the refugees and impressed by their ability to reveal so much about the bystander effect and lead constructive discussion.
  • May 2018: African asylum seekers hosted in a Sicilian reception centre
    • Giocherenda offered a workshop about the growth mindset for other refugee teenagers arriving without their parents. For these youth, the Giocherenda group and their explanation of the heroic imagination was very inspiring.
  • June 2018: Local neighborhood
    • An intervention in a poor and difficult neighborhood about the lesson on bias reduction. The local buys living there often felt marginalized by the wealthier parts of the city, due to their social background. The African migrant youth, recently arrived in Sicily, actually taught their Italian peers about how prejudices and social exclusion work and gave advice on how not to feel like foreigners in their own city, by engaging more actively with their communities.
  • July 2018: Students of the California State University, Fullerton USA
    • A workshop for a group of American students, coming to Italy to study abroad, and inquiring about human rights issues. They were very happy and moved to meet with Giocherenda about the HIP program.

In April 2018, the Giocherenda group was invited to the European Parliament to participate in some meetings about youth, education and social inclusion. During those meetings they also spoke about the work with the Heroic Imagination Project. Two members of the group were also awarded by the European Agency for Education “Erasmus+” as “Role models in resilience”.



Moving forward:

The Giocherenda group has many requests for HIP workshops. However, their next challenge is to figure out how to provide the workshops while also supporting the needs of the members, who go to school and are in need of paid work.


Giocherenda in the news:

Write here…

Write here…

http://www.indire.it/2018/03/28/quando-raccontarsi-fa-bene-agli-altri-le-storie-di-resilienza-premiate-a-firenze/ (Above photo - on the cover of the Erasmus+ journal:)




The Giocherendas: Dawda Barry (Gambia), Bandiougou Diawara (Mali), Hajar Lahman (Maroc), Ibrahim Ture (Gambia), Gassimou Magassouba (Guinea), Mustapha Conthe (Gambia), Omar Sillah (Gambia), Saifoudiny Diallo (Guinea), Amadou Diallo (Guinea), Yahaya Tarnagda (Burkina Fasu).

Original text and translation by: Clelia Bartoli and Cristina Siddiolo
Edited by: Melissa Shaffer

Read the full report here.

A creative group of young refugees in Sicily brings solidarity to Europe