Grazie, Abarraka, Shukran, Dhan Yabada, Merci, Thank You, Gracias, Tesekkurler
I am Gizem, 27 years old Turkish woman who has been living in Belgium for the last 3 years. I did my BS in Psychology and specialized on research and migration during my MS degree in Belgium. Migration has become a real life fact as well as a field of profession to me throughout the years. This constituted my great interest to commit for the voluntary work in the project named “Empowerment through volunteering activities” at the Associazione I Girasoli, an organization carrying out protection projects with both asylum seeker families and minors (SPRAR). My activity days were mainly in Milena, but I also assisted to the Girasoli in Sutera. I was very warmly welcomed –as warm as Sicilian heat 🙂 – by the members of the organization and the locals of both Milena and Sutera.
My volunteering activities were started in Sutera, a historical town settled on top of a hill in the moorland area of Sicily. I Girasoli organizes an event named “Welcoming Refugees” every year in this town and I helped them with decorating the town and making it ready for the guests. This is a 2-days-long event consisting of traditional meals from different cultures, short-movie screening, music and flow-art activities, as well as discussion sessions on the current issues of migration in Sicily and Italy. Even though I have a very limited understanding of Italian and miss the opportunity to fully understand the discussions, I am very happy to be part of this event. Importantly, this event led a very peaceful and fun environment which reinforced a positive interaction between refugees and locals, including me. This was a truly a different episode of the reality on migration in comparison to what I had seen about Italy in the mass-media (usually pointing out the negative issues) before coming to Sicily.
Milena, which is another small town close by Sutera, was the main destination for my volunteering. I spent my time with asylum seeker minors and, also, with few families residing in the town. There were 14 asylum seeker minor guys coming from Gambia, Somalia, Mali, Ivory Coast, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Egypt. We did an art workshop (creating a migration-route map), half-structured conversation tables (accompanied with West African style made green tea so that we were calling it “Green Tea Conversations”) and cinema nights. I also joined to the Italian courses in the centre, museum visit in Milena and several religious ceremonies such as Baptism and Eid Al-Adha.
The art activities, together with the time, led me to create a trustful relationship with the guys. We created a tolerant ground that we could share our opinions freely on sensitive topics such as religion, nationality and our past experiences. We talked about being religious or atheist, our migration journeys, cultural and legal barriers when you migrate, as well as our future goals. I must tell that my knowledge about the routes they took to reach Europe and what one experiences on the way has undoubtedly widened with their stories. I am more than ever sure that, with their words, “migration is not a crime”; it is a very humane response against man-made conflict or systematic inequalities around our globe. I, as a migrant in Belgium, stand more in solidarity with other migrants for safe and human migration after the lessons they taught me during our conversations.
I am very happy that I came to Sicily, to this beautiful island with warm and welcoming habitants. Since Sicily has been a nest for many different cultures throughout its history, it led me to take a journey through different cultures. I did not only learn about Sicily and Italy but also about the cultures of West Africa, Asia, Middle East and Europe. And most importantly, I am very grateful that I met the guys staying in the centre who challenged my horizon of reality and made my voluntary work such a wonderful and unforgettable experience! I am surely more hopeful and grounded and motivated to continue my way to be a part of a social change for a better world!