On July 18, 16 volunteers from the European Solidarity Corps arrived in Italy to support the local population of Norcia, an Umbrian town which on 30th October 2016 was strongly affected by Italy’s most powerful earthquake in thirty-six years.
Many people have seen an earthquake on TV – but not many people have lived through the reality and the horrific aftermath. The impact was felt across Italy – even the metro system in Rome was brought to a halt. In Norcia the destructive power of the earthquake is clearly visible. Jack, a volunteer from Sweden, states, “personally I was aware of the impact of earthquakes – but to see the long-term consequences here in Norcia really makes you think”. Once you set foot in Norcia you can see destroyed buildings and areas blocked off by tape and railings. The earthquake flattened the historically significant Basilica of Saint Benedict and ruined many of the town’s beautiful churches.
The Italian News broadcast a powerful image – a group of nuns running frantically across Norcia’s main square. No one died during the earthquake that hit Norcia, but many were injured. The human impact of this natural disaster is perhaps most significant in terms of displacement. Many people had to leave their homes and live in containers or elsewhere, even 3 hours far from their working place. Almost two years after the natural disaster, some locals are still not able to live in their own houses and it is estimated that only two hundred people live inside the city walls. “To imagine having no home and to not be able to cook for two years is very upsetting” Mimi, a volunteer from England, observes. “I am half-italian, so I feel a deep connection with this country,” reveals Mimi. Her family was welcomed to England fifty years ago. “By volunteering, I have the feeling that I can give something back to the people of Norcia”, she expresses.
Costantino is the project’s only volunteer from Norcia. He provides an important link with the locals and he has personal experience with the earthquake and its aftermath, He gives us an insight into the atmosphere in his hometown, informing us that “sadness and depression was a common sight among the people – even hopelessness due to bureaucracy and the change of lifestyle.” However, two years after the earthquake, the mood has shifted in a more optimistic direction. “I really believe in this project. I hope we are able to have a positive impact on the children, elderly and disabled people in Norcia”, he states.
Motivation for the project is abundant. “If young, healthy people have the opportunity and time to do something good, they should definitely take it“, states Polish volunteer Natalia confidently. She is convinced that the volunteers can make a difference in the everyday life of the people of Norcia.
The volunteers plan to make a difference in Norcia by organising a variety of activities. Simone, the project’s mentor from Associazione Kora, states “the people here have suffered greatly. We should appreciate daily progress. With every activity that happens in Norcia, there will be a development in the right direction.” They are working closely with young people, the elderly, and the disabled. Volunteers are holding an info-point, informing the locals about the opportunities that the European Union offers and the tourists about the events in Norcia. They are also offering free weekly English and Spanish lessons, spreading environmental awareness by cleaning the parks with local kids and organising a series of debates focused on European issues.
Selene, another Italian volunteer, is from the nearby city of Foligno. In her opinion it is important to just be there for the people of Norcia. “Sometimes, there is a bit of a closed minded mentality in Italy,” she muses. “It is really important to give the people of Norcia good energy. We, as a diverse group of young people, may have different points of view, but we are all here for the same reason. Also, I believe that if we can help one person in Norcia, we can help the whole community”.
As well as wishing to help the community of Norcia, many of the volunteers also chose to participate out of a love for all things Italian. Marion, a History Student from France, is very passionate about Italian culture. Oksana, a student from Poland, is keen on learning the Italian language. Jose Manuel, a volunteer from Spain, states, “I really like Italy, the people, and the culture. I am convinced that we can make a difference.” Kostantinos, a volunteer from Greece, visited Italy before and decided that he wanted to come back to Italy with a meaningful purpose.
The volunteers hope to make a difference in Norcia – and to themselves. Emma, a volunteer from Ireland, says, “I hope that we can be a breath of fresh air for Norcia. In addition, we will hopefully take something of this spirit back home to our own countries.” Alvaro, a volunteer from Spain, shares Emma’s attitude. “Open-mindedness is very important,” he nods, “We all come from different countries and speak different languages – but there is the universal language of open-mindedness, of understanding each other because we all stand for the same thing.”
The project is organised in the frame of European Solidarity Corps, an initiative that enables young people to volunteer on projects across Europe with the purpose of benefiting local communities, as well as themselves. The aim is to build more inclusive societies, support vulnerable people, and to respond to social challenges.
This project is coordinated by Comune di Pescara, Associazione Kora and Vicolocorto, funded by European Commission’s Erasmus+ programme through Agenzia Nazionale Giovani – ANG and in partnership with Comune di Norcia.
Article written by Melanie Wolfram and edited by Emma Pollard and Giulio Mariotti