Christmas for good!

 By Gabriella Galloro

Jake is twenty years old and loves hanging out with his dad, Lorenzo loves walking and doesn’t stop even when it rains, Mimmo has great confidence in others, he would follow anyone “blindly”… Jake is twenty years old and suffers from tuberous sclerosis, Lorenzo it is a pup that lost the use of his hind legs in an acceident, Mimmo is blind. Come with us to discover a new energy, one that drives voluntary associations…

Have you ever had a colleague who was really enthusiastic about his work? I have! Her name is Elena Romagnoli and she loves the work she does on sustainability! For several days now she has been busy with Christmas stalls, the ones we see regularly every year outside of the canteens raising money for various charities.

Elena is the person who has found a space for everyone, one day the canteen of the second building, another at that of the fifth … from 1 to 22 December! But does enthusiastic friend stop there? Not at all! After a meeting, with Alberto Piatti (who is head of Sustainability), all of the colleagues who had applied for a space for their stalls, driven by a corporate commitment to enhancing internal volunteer experience, she came up with another idea: “Gabriella, you should meet these colleagues, and hear their stories!”

Stories? What stories, I asked! Eniday tells stories about energy, be serious! … OK, I’ll come and listen … but Elena, I can’t promise anything!

And so one Monday morning that I find myself in a cold meeting room expecting meet incomprehensible acronyms of various voluntary associations, one much the same as the other and to hear a dozen stories … each identical to the other … but it only took a moment to realise I was wrong, when I looked into the eyes of Marina Biancone, a woman who reminded me that we are never too old and that the loss of a parent is always a painful event. This was why she had decided to remember her father in a concrete manner and thanks to the Foundation Francesca Rava – NPH Italy Onlus she adopted Monica, a Mexican girl that she went to meet with her son. The 15 days they spent together changed them profoundly, because there are places where a gesture is of incalculable value and that everything is more beautiful when it can be shared. Marina is the mother of three children: two boys and a girl, and this phrase sums up her commitment as a volunteer.

Marina Biancone, the second from the right

Striving to ensure that small boys and girls grow up to become become responsible adults was the spirit that inspired Emanuela Pozzi, an AVSI volunteer, who with 26 other colleagues, over many years, distance-adopted 6 children. She told me how eagerly she and her colleagues wait for the periods of the year when they receive news, and updates on their success at school and their life experiences. With her there is also Paolo Cavassi who, also for AVSI, is actively engaged in creating fundraising events. Because even a small gesture, at any latitude, can do a great deal for families in need.

I do not have time to greet Monica and the “children” of Emanuela who I find in the classroom, in the fourth grade with Maria Claudia Perini. She shares her memories of a classmate, who died of leukaemia, and allows me to have a sense of the pain of a parent who loses a child. Because leukaemia recurs in her life: twenty years ago, a close friend of Maria Claudia lost her daughter Chiara. But the pain can be an important tool to support those who face the same drama. They founded the Friends of Chiara, which supports the Maria Letizia Verga Committee of San Gerardo in Monza, a reference point for families of hospitalised children, thanks to the construction of accommodation, the guarantee of continuity of school work as well as the care, also psycho-social, of the children.

Then I find myself talking with Cinzia Brescianini and Stefano Ferrara about their children: Diego and Jake. Cinzia takes me with her to the edge of a football field. We watch her son Diego, it’s a Sunday much like any other: the support of parents, the shoots of the coach for a poor pass and then everything stops … Diego’s heart stops. The sports club is too small and they don’t have a defibrillator. Cinzia tells me that she could have closed herself away in her pain, but instead she is now busy with the Diego Riviera Association bringing defibrillators to all football fields and in four years they have managed to donate 30 and have trained 500 people in the last two years. Support also comes from colleagues who, every year in spring, buy flowers at her spring stall.

Cinzia Brescianini

Jake meanwhile is 20. Stefano, his father, is the classic gentle giant: large hands and eyes of an incredible sweetness when he proudly talks about his son who suffers from tuberous sclerosis. He tells me about the challenges that his son and the family face every day and the knowledge that the Tuberous Sclerosis Association, of which he is part, is actually for all of them a big second family, because in sharing also the pain becomes more bearable.

Ernesto Rossi, of the Fede e Luce (faith and light) movement, deals with children with mental disabilities, and summarizes in one word the meaning becoming part of a community: friendship. Because only if you are a friend can you feel part of a project, and can find a way to smile and (why not) even laugh in and through adversity.

And one who has made of adversity a strength is Lorenzo, a little dog form the “Gino Bianchi Kennels” AZL (Association Zoofila Lombard) a non-profit organisation from Casalpusterlengo of which Claudia Andena is a volunteer. Her commitment began in 2005 after losing a bet with her son. Which was how she met Lorenzo, a little dog that had lost the use of its hind legs following a road accident. But that did not stop him. Today he gets around with a little cart and has not lost his enthusiasm for life.

Looking at Claudia it is not difficult to imagine her in the rain with Lorenzo trotting along beside her. It seems to me enough, but my trip with Elena continues. We still have to meet Stefano Cavestri and Declan Delaney. Their commitment as volunteers for Emergency and the San Donato Food Bank, driven by the need to do something.

Stefano Cavestri is an Emergency's volunteer

Stefano tells me about the difficulty of inventing new and effective ways to provide practical support for Emergency and the importance of creativity in talking about issues, apparently too distant from us, like war, but above all the civilian victims of war, poverty and land mines. A daily challenge! Declan shares with me the gratifying experience of small gestures. Of the difference a packet of pasta, sugar and biscuits can make for a family in need. Because the work that Declan does for the food bank is hard work, and includes going out during his lunch break with colleagues to collect supplies from schools. The San Donato Food Bank helps about 60 families, not only with small parcels but above all by listening. And there’s nothing better than being welcomed into a home and knowing you have found a friend, especially when the emergency has passed, and as often happens, those who have received help, then indicate other families in need.

Wow! What a day … Elena was right, there is so much energy in voluntary associations and this creates wonderful stories … and this experience has shown me that even among the most painful tears love can emerge and that during the hectic Christmas shopping it’s worth stopping in front of one of the stalls and buying some gifts (chocolates or small handmade goods), because behind a person, there is also a memory.

It’s time to go back to the office. But this time let me greet you with Giuseppe (Mimmo) Iuzzolino to tells me to go ahead, I’ll follow you “blindly”. A member of the Italian Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired Mimmo lost his sight at university. But this did not make him lose his sense of humour, his desire to realised himself. In what is now now a familiar environment he moves around with ease and is an example for everyone who knows him. Because losing your sight as an adult requires an inner strength that not everyone has…

And with Mimmo we switch off the light in the room. I stop for a moment, but my eyes do not get used to the dark… in his place I don’t think I would have made it, but let’s go! … Merry Christmas to all these volunteers, I hope that also this year our colleagues will respond to your call with their usual enthusiasm!

about the author
Gabriella Galloro