Lampedusa: An Island of New Beginnings

March 10, 2016

3 weeks, 504 hours, and 30240 minutes is the time we have spent in Italy researching for our mosaic, and we are on our last day of the trip.  During our three weeks, we have had remarkable interviews  with people from different organizations, councils, and reception centers, but this day had to be one of the better days that brought everything on our trip together. Before we left Dickinson College, most of our reading pertained to migrants beginning their journey to Europe in Lampedusa. Finally, we have come to Lampedusa which is seen as a passing point into Europe for those migrants wanting to look for work in Germany and Sweden.

We began the day by going to a museum that featured belongings that were left by migrants along the shore or in the water. The museum is called Collettivo Askavusa (the Barefoot Collective). The structure of the museum is built into the rocky side of the coast. Inside, empty bottles, mostly water bottles, lined the wall with Arabic inscriptions. Additionally, there were religious statues and a fishbowl filled with religious texts from the Quran and the Bible, discarded life jackets, flip flops, and empty cigarette packs. The walls outside of the museum were decorated with different colored pieces of wood from boats that were confiscated.



 When entering the museum, the most striking object was an off-white umbrella with different comic inscriptions on each panel written in a black sharpie. With a closer look, you will see that each of the five panels criticized religious figures and European policies that reinforce the idea of Fortress Europe (borders). One of the panels featured the Pope walking on dead skulls.


Pope Francis, however,  visited Lampedusa in 2013 to bring attention to the migration crisis and to remember migrants that were lost at sea. As a present to a Catholic church in Lampedusa, he gave a cross with Jesus being sacrificed on a cross of paddles to signify the hardship of a migrant’s journey and to memorialize the many who have died attempting to cross the sea.


The parallel between Jesus’ suffering and the migrants’ suffering during their journey was powerful. At the back of the Church is a nativity scene placed in a boat at sea.


After visiting the museum, we met with Dr. Pietro Bartolo. He was the doctor who inspired the director of Fuocoammare , Gianfranco Rosi, to make a film about migration in Lampedusa. Dr. Bartolo provided Rosi with a flash drive of photos and videos of migrants he provided medical assistance for. Recently the documentary film, Fuocoammare, received the Gold Bear award at the 66th Berlin Film Festival. Dr. Bartolo is a sincere and soft-spoken man. There are many volunteers and assistants that come to help periodically, but Dr. Bartolo is the only constant doctor in Lampedusa at the only hospital on the island. He is, also, the only one that completes autopsies. Over the past two decades of working in the medical field, Dr. Bartolo has worked with and provided medical assistance to 250,000 refugees and migrants.


During our interview, he spoke of the different patterns of migration to Lampedusa from North Africa. He commented that in the early 2000s smugglers would travel with migrants, bringing them closer to the European border. Now that European policies and borders have changed to extend the European borders and security controls 30 kilometers off the coast of Africa, smugglers are providing smaller and less reliable boats for migrants to use, knowing that the migrants will likely be rescued by the Italian navy boats or Frontex. This increases the risks of migrants being injured due to the overcrowding in small boats. Furthermore, Dr. Bartolo told us why he gave Gianfranco Rosi the flash drive to produce Rosi’s docu-narrative film: he felt that it’s his duty to share the migrants’ experiences in order to prevent the violence against them from reoccurring. In our interview with him in Lampedusa, he mentioned that we are witnessing a second Holocaust, but there are many people who are not aware of the situation  and/or people who chose to ignore what is happening. He wants to raise awareness so those who are in power can change the legislation and approach the situation in a more humanitarian way.


Our last interview of the day was with the Mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, and two other members of her cabinet.


During our interview with Mayor Nicolini, she stated that one of her main foci during her campaign and throughout her term has been the focus on immigration. Lampedusa has received many migrants since the late 90s but especially between recently in 2010 and 2013. Her goal is to provide assistance to migrants coming into Lampedusa, but she also calls on the European Union to provide more assistance to Lampedusa and Italy.  Additionally, she mentioned the distribution of funds provided to Turkey by the European Union to assist refugees and migrants, and her concern that the funds were not being used to improve the migrant camps or support migrants.  Mayor Nicolini stressed the need for the European Union to work together to assist in-coming migrants and to assist member states, such as Italy and Greece with large inflows of migrants.

We would like to thank Dr. Bartolo and the Mayor Nicolini and her cabinet members for their time and efforts to help us understand the current migration situation in Lampedusa! Below are photos from the Collettivo Askavusa museum and other photos of Lampedusa.



Bologna’s “Besta” Middle School

As it rains outside, we’ve piled into in a colorful classroom with neon green trimming. Bookshelves line the walls and we hear children chattering in the hallways. The morning bell rings as we begin to talk to English teacher Guiliana Pancaldi. We’re at Bologna’s Istituto Comprensivo No. 10, a middle school whose mission focuses on normalizing diversity. Istituto No.10 differs from its counterparts in Bologna as 34% of its students are immigrant children. Guliana explains this further as well as issues of integration, learning curves, and cultural adjustment.

The school’s mission is “integration, well-being for students, and increasing knowledge for secondary school as well as life.” One tool used to to achieve this mission is the use of learning intensive labs, Guiliana tells us. According to Italian law students cannot be placed in grades more than one year above or below the target grade for an age group. This means a 12 year old student who may be at a first grade reading level cannot be put in class with students below age 11. To counteract this Istituto No.10 has subject specific labs. Students in need of extra help in certain areas such as English or math are enrolled in a small specialized class separate from the regular flow of curriculum. In labs, the teaching is fit to the student’s pace and the class size is much smaller allowing more room for personalized and effective learning. Guiliana says children who have migrated to Italy are often in need of lab time depending on their level of Italian. Some students know no Italian when they arrive at school which makes everything more difficult for them. Lab are meant to help ease this difficulty and ensure all students are being properly prepared for future.

Guiliana explains classroom demographics are also an important in terms of integration.

Teaching children aged 11-14, each classroom is constructed to have diverse and proportional demographics of students. Foreign students are put in classrooms with native born Italians, and classes attempt to be 50% boys and 50% girls. Students’ nationalities include Pakistani, Afghani, Romanian, Peruvian, Czech, and Chinese among many others. It’s key to normalize this diversity at school, says Guiliana, because often it’s not normalized outside of school.

thirty-four percent of the school’s students are immigrants. With this in mind one of us asks how the teaching of Italian culture and respect of a student’s home culture are balanced. Crucifixes adorn seemingly every room in the school, and the Vatican has sponsored an optional Catholic education program for one hour per week. It’s a hard balance, explain Guiliana, and one that makes communication between staff and students imperative, as well as parent/teacher relationships. It’s clear that Istituto No. 10 has a vested interest in the personal lives of students and uses this relationship to help strike a cultural balance. It seems teachers are encouraged to be aware and use their best judgement in certain instances. Respect for a student’s home culture is a priority among the staff although in cases of violence at home she admits there will be intervention or at least a denunciation of that lifestyle.

In addition to Guiliana we also spoke to the headmaster of the school, Emilio Porcaro, who has begun work with an adult school in the area. He spoke of the past negative media attention place on Istituto No.10. As there’s a high percentage of foreign and immigrant students, there has been past controversy over the nature of the school’s mission and strategy. A portion of the public accused the school of segregating foreign students and creating a “ghetto”class but after an investigation of how the tailored labs were working, the school has become a model for others schools needing to integrate immigrant children.




Meeting Hayat

Meeting Hayat El Youssoufi
On Tuesday afternoon the mosaic group met in the Dickinson Center in the city center to speak with a woman named Hayat, who was the former president of the Consiglio dei Stranieri for the Province of Bologna. When Hayat first came into the room, I addressed her in Arabic by saying, “Marhaba!” which means hello. She seemed genuinely surprised that I addressed her in Arabic. When she came in she was first wearing a scarf around her neck, a crotched [CSCU1] hat and long sleeves. She seemed really happy to be there with us. However when she sat down next to me on the couch, she seemed nervous. We immediately jumped into the interview and she started to describe the council that she used to run.

Hayat is now a 30-year-old Italian citizen. When she was 14 years old, she and her family migrated from Marrakesh, Morocco to Imola, Italy. She graduated from the University of Bologna with a degree in Economics and when she was 21 years old, and she was elected as the President of the Foreign Resident’s Council. During that time, the council consisted of 30 members, 4 women and 26 men. The Consglio dei Stranieri was a council that the Bolognese provincial government created in 2007to give apolitical voice the migrants living within the district and to give their opinion/advice to the regional authorities on migrant issues. When the council was created in 2007, 9,200 people out of 43,000 possible voters who lived in the province of Bologna voted. The voting percentage was 21% and within that 21% number of voters, they were split up by 17% of women voters and 25.2% percent of men voters. On the ballot, there were 275 possible candidates (for more information, please see below for the link to their website).

The council only had the power to advise the Bologna government on what they should do. An example Hayat gave was the topic of Hijab. When France was in the process of implementing laws that the Hijab was banned, Italy too was discussing the issue. She said that due to the Italian people’s perceptions and opinion on what the Hijab is, the council wanted to discuss and bring to light the true meaning and significance about the covering. She said the Hijab was not a form of oppression and degradation. Contrary to popular Italian thought, it was a sign of freedom and confidence. The council decided to advise the Bolognese government that the Hijab should be allowed, however due to security measures, the Council advised that the naqab (the full facing covering) should not be permitted. Other topics that the council discussed were issues on violence against women, discriminatory laws against foreigners, security, and refugee problems. In 2014, the council ended due to the Bolognese provincial government changing its structure.

During the rest of the interview, Hayat provided commentary about the difficulties she faced as a young woman serving as President of the council. Due to her being 21 years old, some of the other members did not treat her like the intellectual woman she was, but instead as a little girl. She stated that she needed to prove herself as a leader and eventually the initially difficult members within the council respected and followed her lead. In addition, she talked a little bit about her family. She spoke very lovingly about how her father truly was the one to push her to do her very best and to run for presidency of the council. In regards to her mother, she mentioned that her mother always encouraged her to not marry young like she did, but instead pursue her education, and have her independence and liberty before she started to think about marriage. Hayat’s mannerism and facial expressions were very loving and happy when she was talking about her parents.

It was a great pleasure to interview this amazing woman. She has done great things not only for her own community, but also for Bologna. There were times within the interview that we would make eye contact and there was this warm and special connection between the two of us. During these times she would give me such a big welcoming smile that would touch the corner of her eyes. I’m really looking forward to working with her next week with the Clothesline project that focuses on gender violence.

Here is the weblink to the city council!

-Nadia N B Hajjar