HIP Member Spotlight: Sicily, Italy

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. 

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.

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