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Volunteer Review: Jessica D., Refugee Project in Italy

Beautiful architecture in Southern Italy

I chose the Refugee Project in Italy, because I have always been interested in working with refugees in as much of a hands-on role as possible. I am currently at medical school and I had some time during my studies to do some volunteering. I liked this project because although it has predominately care-based activities, it also includes teaching, social integration, and the opportunity to establish activities of your own. It enabled me to embrace the Italian culture and lifestyle, and the cultures of different refugee communities.

I found the project very organized and structured, which was an advantage over some other refugee work I was looking at. The pre-departure support was excellent. I was given all the information I needed and it was easy to contact the team if needed.

Arriving in Italy

A view of the landscape in Italy

As I arrived in the evening at Lamezia Airport, Projects Abroad arranged for me to stay in a hotel overnight and travel to the project the following day. This was all organized and included in the project, and again I was kept well informed.

The project is based in a small village in the region of Calabria in Southern Italy, which has several hundred inhabitants. It was quite rural – about 20 minutes from the train station and nearest town. There is a shop that sells all the groceries/toiletries that you may need and a restaurant/bar where they serve all the meals during your stay. You will have three meals a day which are varied and home cooked.

The nearest ATM is in the town so make sure you have cash and budget accordingly, although it is relatively straightforward to go there if you need to. You will share an apartment with other volunteers of the same sex. It is very comfortable and well equipped, with Wi-Fi and a washing machine.

My Refugee Project

Narrow streets in Italy

My main role during my project was to help care for a disabled child. I went with him twice a week to his doctor’s appointments and experienced how his condition vastly affects his life and that of his family. I took him to the children’s crèche a few times a week for him to interact and play with other children. He had four other siblings and his parents needed our support to manage his condition. It was really rewarding for me to know that I was actively helping and improving their situation every day.

Another activity that I was involved with was teaching English classes. You can organize these sessions yourself which is quite fun! There are also construction and gardening tasks to help with. A lot of the community members work on these tasks, so you are really helping them. This work also helps to promote sustainability by keeping chickens for eggs and growing fruits and veg.

There is also the children’s crèche and activities for older children and teenagers. The women’s night is really fun. It’s a social event for women of different cultures in the community. I’ve never thought of trying Arabic dancing and I can’t say I was good at it, but it was a good laugh!

Jessica helps a child on a slide in a play room

More generally, I was given the opportunity to meet and interact with a lot of refugee families and hear their stories. This is a really valuable aspect of the project, and one of the things I enjoyed the most. The community were so welcoming. Knowing how to say “hi” (“ciao!”) will get you off to a good start, as everyone says hi when passing in the village! If you can learn some basic Italian beforehand, this will help you out. There are Italian lessons available, though.

We were often invited into family homes, given food from different cultures, and both the refugee and the Italian people taught us so much about their lives. On my first day, one of the guys made me a homemade African curry and taught me how to play the drums! It was a privilege to be able to become so close with these people in such a short amount of time. They loved learning about our lives too. I’m often quiet to begin with before I find my feet, but everyone made me feel so welcome.

Jessica enjoys the view during her volunteer project

During the project, I wanted to undertake a health promotion activity for the refugee community and I wanted this to be something that could be continued long-term. Another volunteer and I presented a teaching session on minor ailments and childhood vaccinations. I discussed with the Volunteer Operations Manager other topics that could be covered in the future, such as mental health awareness.

Obviously not everyone will have the same interests in medicine as us, but I wanted to show you that the project has the scope for you to generate your own ideas for activities within the community based on your interests and skills! I think this is a really great component of the project, but please don’t worry if you don’t have any ideas at the moment. It is not essential to do something like this, but if you think of something, everyone is very approachable in trying to make it happen.

Final thoughts

Scenic views in the South of Italy

Finally, I wanted to say that a lot of my self-reflections during the project were also really beneficial and something that is a positive of volunteering in general. The other volunteers became great friends of mine and we traveled to Sicily one weekend. I would definitely recommend traveling around Italy whilst you’re there if you can – it’s got so much to offer! It was a bit challenging to join a project by myself with people I did not know, but it gave me a lot of confidence and satisfaction to know I had achieved this. Everyone, including all the staff, are so nice and friendly!

The project makes a real positive difference to the day-to-day lives of this community, and we became real friends and part of the family with those we met. I have learnt the importance of looking for the positives in small actions and changes that you can make here and now, because you will not always be able to change things on a wider scale. I’m so glad that I challenged myself to try volunteering and this project. The things I have learnt have been really rewarding and all the people that I met and bonded with will stay with me forever.

Jessica D.

This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.

This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.

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