Beatrice Pianetta, 25 anni, from Corvino San Quirico (Pavia) Master’s degree in Philosophy, faculty of Letters and Philosophy, Milan campus
I hope to keep the images of the red dirt roads, the people walking and the boda-boda with me forever. Everything was amazing simply because it was unimaginable. Boda-boda are the Ugandan motorcycles that can be used as taxis to dart through the traffic. The first time I climbed on board one it was love at first sight. You could see the real Africa whizzing about on that bike with the wind in your face and no helmet on your head. Mine and Martina’s experience at Bishop Cipriano Kihangire Nursery & Primary School in Kampala was full-on from day one. The only thing I wanted to do was to observe the children, their eyes and faces, their uniforms, exercise books, their behaviour. They welcomed us like nothing I have experienced before and in a way that only children can. In an instant they removed all barriers. I felt happy when they embraced me and touched me. The children were inquisitive, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, they learned a lot of Italian words in just a few lessons and completely wrong footed me with all their questions. Like Gloria, in the 5th year of primary school, who on one of the first afternoons we spent together asked me how you say “orphans” in Italian. I told her and so she asked me if there were orphans in Italy. I said: “Yes”. With a perplexed look on her face she said that she thought families loved their children in Italy and didn’t get rid of them. I didn’t know what to say. After my years of studying philosophy I wanted a simple life, a simplicity and tangibility that is only attainable when your only barrier is yourself. I returned home knowing that the red soil of Uganda will always be there waiting for me and that the next time I see Daniel, 2 years of age and the youngest child at the school, he will be a few years older and a few centimetres taller.
Martina Locatelli,24 anni, from Galbiate (Lc) First-year Master’s student in Education Consultancy for the Disabled and Marginalised, faculty of Education Sciences, Milan campus
In Africa you might sometimes spend the whole afternoon waiting for the rain to stop and the storm to blow over. So you can finally play outside. This is how Beatrice and I spent the final afternoon at school, sat under the portico of Bishop Cipriano Kihangire Nursery and Primary School watching the pouring rain wet the red soil and form huge puddles. But I didn’t find that last afternoon boring because I spent the entire time thinking about the month I had spent in Uganda: I thought about the voices of the energetic children calling “Teacher Martina” or “Teacher Beatriz” so they could receive some attention, a smile or a handshake. I thought about the joy these Ugandan children had given us, children that have a real desire to learn and are enthusiastic about any game you suggest playing. While my mind was wandering I noticed a child sitting under the table next to mine and I asked him to come and sit with me. Seven year-old Victor was very shy and didn’t smile or even seem very happy about going home the next day. He just snuggled up next to me and we watched the rain together. Then I remembered that in my bag I had the “The Jungle Book”, which I had also used during my lesson. I decided to look at it with him. We started looking at the pictures and commenting on Mowgli’s story and gradually the other children joined us, interested and enthusiastic, as ever, about learning something new, knowing more, asking questions and listening to the answers. And so we began making up stories about Mowgli, the boy who grew up in the jungle, and talking about the animals in the forest, in the savannah, in Africa, and also those in Italy. It was a special moment that I will never forget. This is the image I would use to summarise (if it is possible to summarise a month in a snapshot) our Charity Work Program in Uganda because it really was a month of simplicity: the BCK school and its thousand children, who every day waited impatiently in front of the gate; the “field behind”, the red soil playing field, which became our place for letting off steam after class; the “big circle”, which we never got tired of playing during break time with the Nursery children, the smiles and wide-eyed amazement of our pupils, who couldn’t wait for their “little Italian lesson”. But also lots and lots of outstretched hands around us trying to grab the first balloon, the first coloured ribbon or the first ball that Beatrice and I would attempt to hand out to start the game. Of course, things weren’t always easy and sometimes the children’s desire to play was so strong that chaos ensued and it was difficult to keep the situation under control, but I think that this also helped me to grow as both a person and a professional. From a professional point of view I realised that the real difference when working with children is the amount of passion and belief you have in your work because this is the only way you can transmit something. From a human point of view, I learned that it is always worth cultivating relationships and that, as a missionary father very dear to me used to say, “we have to work hard not just to see tangible results but because it is wonderful to be able to sow the seed of Hope. This is Faith”. And when you are fortunate enough to work with children you can touch Hope with your hand and your heart.
I didn’t know what Mal d’Afrique was. Now I have returned to my everyday life, I do. I think it is that knot in my stomach every time I think about Africa, a sense of emptiness, as if I had left a part of myself there. It leaves me feeling slightly lonely amid the chaos that surrounds me and sends me into deep thought and reflection that others can’t comprehend because it is difficult to make them understand the significance of your experience. I didn’t think the Charity Work Program could have such an effect on me. It allowed me to grow, to see the real value of the things we often take for granted in our society and in our routines and, at the same time, also to appreciate the little things in life, from a simple smile to a caress, to a word of comfort. My most amazing experience was delivering, on my own, a beautiful baby boy, having been given the chance to help with the birth of a child. Then something happened that I don’t think would happen anywhere else in the world: the father said to me “what is your father called?”, and I said: “Paolo, like my maternal grandfather and also my second name”, and he replied: “Ok, we will call our child Paulo in your honour”. I was struck dumb, I couldn’t believe it, my heart melted when I heard those words and I still hear from the mother every week who sends me photos of little Paulo and calls me “Auntie Fede”. These are the kind of things that can happen in Africa, special and unique emotions that stay with you forever. I will miss lots of things but especially the children with their genuine smiling eyes, their hugs that transmitted all their affection, their happiness just at seeing me and them calling me “muzngu” (European man). I can say that Africa has changed me, has left an indelible mark on me that will stay with me forever and help me to become a better person. I will return as soon as I can because the emotions I felt there I had never felt anywhere else. Thank you Africa!
Giuseppe Tremamunno,23 anni, from Gravina (Ba) Fourth year Master’s degree student in Medicine and Surgery, faculty of Medicine and Surgery, Rome campus
Who would have thought? Who would have thought it would be the most amazing and profound experience of my life so far? Before leaving for Uganda I was enthusiastic but also scared as I would be going 9000 km from home. But once I touched down I felt welcome right away, it was a rainbow of colours. Here the colours are strong, cleaner, rawer. The important things are what matter, everything revolves around simplicity not appearance or aesthetics. It is a cultural question and can be seen in the little things like maybe arriving in the morning to see the patient’s entire family sleeping on the floor just so they can stay as close as possible to their loved one. It is then that you realise that there in front of you, in those rooms, you don’t just have a patient with a bed number who has this problem or that problem which today or maybe tomorrow they’ll be able to put right. What you have is a man with a family nearby with whom he can talk, converse, celebrate if things go well or cry if there is a solution but it is out of his grasp. Out of his grasp because Benedict Medical Centre doesn’t have the most sophisticated or expensive equipment, everything is based on dialogue, physical contact with the patient: another approach to medicine but also to daily life. In fact, from day one everyone welcomed us with big smiles, everyone was ready to lend a hand, to offer words of encouragement to make us feel at home right away. At the Benedict we found a large family made up of capable, willing and helpful people who are more than just doctors and nurses. There were many memorable moments that I took back to Italy with me at the end of my experience in Uganda where I understood that you need to broaden your horizons, ignore clichés and approach your everyday activities from a different angle, whether in your relations with people or at work in the hospital. But unfortunately the three weeks that seemed so long before I set off weren’t enough in the end: you realise this when you say goodbye to those children with whom you played all day under the sun with a punctured ball, making them happy because you were their muzungu, white man. Although I never would have thought it, I hope to go back one day.
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