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Vacation with friends

It is amazing how absurd our worries can be when, on the path of life, we meet those who struggle in the face of random and dramatically unjust realities. And their testimony of courage and resilience can be an invaluable gift for everyone and also for the search for meaning.

At least this was our experience at the end of living three weeks in Sicily with young refugees from Africa.

We are Andy (26) and Charly (31) from Argentina. After traveling and working for a while in Oceania, with the opportunity to get to know wonderful places and people and also to get to know each other a little more and to go to something more in-depth with ourselves too, we were so grateful that we felt the desire to give us time to serve those in vulnerable situations.

Through the Milonga international volunteer program, we arrived at a refugee center in Petrosino, a small coastal town in the south of Trapani.

The Casa dei Ragazzi is a second reception center, where fundamental attention is not paid to those who have just arrived, but a second instance is proposed for the promotion of the person. There we met with 5 guys from Gambia, all between 17 and 18. Since it was July, they were on vacation and were taking the opportunity to work, although not all full time.

We arrived ready to contribute according to need and with the imagination that it would be an extremely tiring task, but also without knowing in detail how the Center worked or what our concrete service would be. From the first moment both the guys and the staff made us feel part of the family.

However, our role was not entirely clear upon arrival. The lack of predetermined schedules and activities led to some confusion and frustration in the early days, but over time we began to understand what our best contribution could be.

We understood that the key to this shared experience was in relationships. Perhaps our contribution was not so much on a tangible level, but on the experience of building different and profound relationships in which cultural differences were not an obstacle, but a precious resource, an opportunity to learn and mutually enrich each other. And so we faced the future.

We then took walks to several small towns nearby; we went to the beach most days; we played ball, golf, ping pong, cards and even invented a training game to explore various topics that seemed important to the work team, such as Italian culture or road safety education.

We drank African tea as strong as it was good. And the boys tasted our South American Mate. They taught us how to cook corn in jars with embers and together we made the “Tortafritas”.

We went to listen to music and have a drink at the town bar. They told us about the Gambia and we about Argentina. Since they are Muslims, they also told us from the Koran and we admired their fidelity and discipline as we waited for them to go to sea when it was time to perform one of their five daily prayers.

As the days went by, they began to share their personal experiences and stories as well. They gave us their souls without limit. We have learned first hand at least some of the terrible problems and pains they have faced being only teenagers to reach a land where at first glance they are foreigners. And we felt the bitterness of an injustice with name and face that left us speechless for a few minutes.

We felt so small. So miserable in our vanity. So ignorant. So inconsistent because so many times we don't question our privileges.

And at the same time, very grateful for that loving shot of reality, for the safe presence of the boys there with us, and for the friendship of these champions.

The sad reality of the African exodus continues. They are their friends and their families. But also brothers and sisters of all of us. And for them, too, the challenge of integrating into a new culture continues, in a very heterogeneous society that has people who leave their lives to accompany them but also people who still see them with distrust and rejection.

For us these three weeks have been truly beautiful days. That initial fantasy of hard, strenuous work quickly fell through and practically ended up being holidays with friends. And before leaving, the boys also told us that they were very happy to have new friends and to feel more accompanied. It is also a learning experience for them.

Therefore, along these lines, we would like to help make visible this wound of humanity today and also to promote this wonderful opportunity to meet that volunteering offers us.

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