THE JOURNEY: An African Migration To Northern Italy, 1976 Till Date

Originally started as a research project into the presence of African migrants in the city of Verona, from 1976 till date.7

Learn through the experiences of these people and you will understand why we have remained so passionate about the project for over 5 years!

Breakdown of the project!

Early 2013: I have just finished a course on film making  with New York Film School Direct and I needed to test out what I have learnt.

This project has been very interesting to us from the start. When we started in early 2013, the intention was simply to do a small test research on the presence of African people in Verona, having just finished a course of filmmaking online with the New York Film School Direct. But we soon fell in love with the project, and what the people were telling us about their experiences was so interesting that we eventually broke up the project into the current 4 parts.

 

  • The Journey – Africans In Verona
  • New Faces Of A Neighbourhood
  • The Colour Of Our Children
  • We Refugees – Verona 2016

While we continued the project with our limited resources, we got a lot of satisfaction both within the migrant community, the Italian people and many cultural institutions. The videos were screened across different places, from the multiple times at the University of Verona, the University of Padua, University of Brescia, Gorizia and many other places.

In fact, the debates that were created during all these screenings and presentations did not only serve as a source of encouragement to us, they equally helped us to understand that the society was interested in the conversation we were proposing. And that these African protagonists were equally happy to share their years of migration experiences so that people could hear their versions of the story for the first time.

The question now is, do you want to hear these uncommon stories that have kept a lot of people thinking? Do you want to know why these Africans left their homes and came to Northern Italy, from 1976 till date, what they passed through and why some never

1st part: The Journey - Africans in Verona

This is the first part of the project and its target was to analyse the experiences of the first African migrants in Verona/Veneto within the last 30-43 years. In this part of the project, you will hear directly from the protagonists themselves, reading the book “The Journey – Africans in Verona”, on why they left their home countries for Italy, what they were expecting and what they eventually got on their arrival.

“We came here, starting from zero. We didn’t have anything. Even the first friend we made, we made it ourselves, thanks to our personal effort, so we didn’t even have a friend, to start with.” –Hamid Barole, An Eritrean poet and writer

This narration is very important as a migration experience. It might appear that we are talking about these few Africans who travelled to Northern Italy out of their own free will. What could be so interesting in that? Well, it’s actually far deeper than that and you will find out yourself.

If you pay enough attention to this story, you will definitely find part of yourself in it, irrespective of whether you are a migrant or not. And if course, if you truly understand what is meant by human migration, you will know that there is no person on earth today who is not related to migration in one way or another, so this story is not just about some people.

Beyene Zerazion, “Eritrean, oculist medical doctor”

with his friends in front of Arena, Verona

Jean François, “Ivorian businessman” with his friends in a feast.

Charles Ani, “Nigerian, architect”

with his fellow students during his University days in Venice 

Osifo Robert, “Nigerian, ex-President of the Nigerian Association in Verona” in his house

2nd part: New Faces Of a Neighbourhood

The objective of the second part of the project was to explore the territories where most of the first Africans stayed when they first came. We wanted to see what kind of real changes have occurred over the years. It was also interesting for us to pay good attention, so we could understand the type of dialogues that were present in most of the territories before the arrival of the migrants, both Africans and others.

Why that strategy, you might ask? Well, we wanted to compare and contrast, and in most of the cases, quite frankly, the migrants didn’t change the type of dialogues, much of which were already fragmented because the people living in some of the neighbourhood were not all from the same place and didn’t really know themselves well enough to have a real harmonious relationship.

In this narration, we gathered testimonies from both migrants and the residents themselves, on how the presence of African migrants might have, of course, added to the atmosphere of less than 100% friendliness.

However, we equally listened to a lot of beautiful things from such a mixture of cultures or intercultural fusion as in Veronetta of Verona, Arcella of Padua and in some related neighbourhoods of Vicenza, where the residents explained how they have lived together with their differences all these years.

 

The objective of the second part of the project was to explore the territories where most of the first Africans stayed when they first came. We wanted to see what kind of real changes have occurred over the years. It was also interesting for us to pay good attention, so we could understand the type of dialogues that were present in most of the territories before the arrival of the migrants, both Africans and others.

Why that strategy, you might ask? Well, we wanted to compare and contrast, and in most of the cases, quite frankly, the migrants didn’t change the type of dialogues, much of which were already fragmented because the people living in some of the neighbourhood were not all from the same place and didn’t really know themselves well enough to have a real harmonious relationship.

In this narration, we gathered testimonies from both migrants and the residents themselves, on how the presence of African migrants might have, of course, added to the atmosphere of less than 100% friendliness.

However, we equally listened to a lot of beautiful things from such a mixture of cultures or intercultural fusion as in Veronetta of Verona, Arcella of Padua and in some related neighbourhoods of Vicenza, where the residents explained how they have lived together with their differences all these years.

“The type of dialogue in the neighborhood was such that the question of “the other” was not an issue – it was not considered necessary to face the question of “who were different” from us. It’s true that we are talking of Veronetta, but I think we can comfortably expand it to other neighborhoods in Italy and in the western world in general. For a long time, people have been living with this kind idea of lifestyle because we have been educated based on individual identity, therefore the dialogue between different people had its initial difficulty in this regards.” -Danielon Marco

“The people are not curious. One of the problems is this; the lack of curiosity to know the others, to understand how the other (the foreigner) lived in his country…, what kind of food do they eat, what language do they speak to communicate…? The local people are not interested in these and this is not because they have no intellectual capacity to understand certain things, but simply because they are not interested to know. That is the point.” -Marcelino Marrundo

“The same people that have been here for a long time were not talking among themselves, also in the place I was born. Verona and its provinces are certainly not famous for much talking. Like the others, I equally had the negative perception, a sort of self-defense that there is always somebody out there who wants to take away something from you… therefore, you don’t talk with those you do not know and the others too were not doing very much to first start the process of dialogue. Also, when the first migrants came into the territory, many of them were evidently different from us and they did not understand Italian language well.” -Pierluigi Grigoletti

“People do not take into account that this neighborhood is a lab for whoever is interested in learning about the phenomenon of immigration… In Veronetta, you see different kinds of people. There is a high concentration of people from different cultural backgrounds, so shame on anyone who is afraid because of this. Where the danger lies is that if we as parents have a problem, the problem automatically falls on our children. If you look, you will see that some of these children, Ghanaians, Nigerians, Senegalese, Moroccans, do form groups from time to time, and they talk among themselves.” -Moustapha Wagne

3rd: The Colour Of Our Children

This story was inspired by an unpleasant incident that happened in the province of Vicenza, some 30 years ago. This act of discrimination against the children of African immigrants in Veneto/Italian schools has become a long-forgotten event for some. As we trace the 30 year-old incident, zooming our lens on the Veneto cities of Verona, Vicenza, and Padua, it quickly becomes clear that the outcome is not what you would expect–the case and its related experiences was not limited to Vicenza and Veneto alone, and where Italian society in general is concerned, not much has changed over the years.

This story was actually the first we separated from the original project and it’s about not too interesting elements in the Italian educational system: the discrimination of non-Italian children within the school.

Something has definitely changed now. No doubt about that. However, this part of the project was still important for us, to know how we get from where we are today and to evaluate how far things have really changed.

The research was projected to look into Italian schools and it attracted voices such as those of school directors, teachers, parents, social workers and students themselves, all to drive home the point: “what is really going on about cultural diversity within the schools in Northern Italy?” It’s probably the hottest argument in the entire project and we are so happy to have faced the issue and added our small voice to the conversation.

Ethiel France – the main protagonist of this story

“I needed to start primary school because I got here (Vicenza) at the age of 5 and a half, almost 6. At the time, my father had recently been involved in a serious accident and he could not do very much. My mother had just come to a place she didn’t know very well and she was still struggling with Italian language, so we basically relied on her cousin in Vicenza to help us and take us everywhere we wanted to go. I remember I went with my parents to the local council in preparation for my enrolment in the primary school…

The person we met in the council did everything that needed to be done and he told us to go and see the priest who was heading the school in the town. We went happily to see the priest, but right there our day grew cold with the reaction of the priest who said to my mother: ‘Well, sorry I cannot accept your daughter in the class because she is of the coloured…’ This, the priest said, was to avoid a difficulty on the part of Italian children who had never seen an African child before and would find it difficult to socialize with me.”

“In most cases, children live diversities within the school systems as a normal way of life. However, there is a certain difference between how they live it in the school and how they perceive it in terms of cultural diversities in the sense that in the schools, cultural diversity has become an attitude in that there are the same children who come from other countries and they found themselves having to live among their classmates from other cultural backgrounds.” -Mariluisa Damiani, a teacher and researcher of multiculturalism and cultural diversity in the school system.

“The teachers expect two main things from parents. The first is for parents to share in the values the school is proposing, the importance of being in the school, and learning what is required to live better. The second is for them to be present with their children, to help them study, because sometimes the children are abandoned to themselves in their inexperience about school demands.” -Ernesto Passante, head teacher of Veronetta schools, Verona at the time of interview.

“There was one good example with my daughter of primary three. We were reading her book, which contained some short stories about vacations. At a point, she stopped me and said: ‘Mommy, today we read this story in school about Nigeria, of some children who were going to school in Nigeria, of food and of moimoi…’  As she was telling me, I could see the enthusiasm on her face. The names of the children in the book were Igbo names and I had to translate the meaning to my daughter, and she was very happy that that story was part of Nigeria. If they continue to do things like this, a piece from Africa, one at a time, these children, when they return from school, will be forced to ask their parents some questions, and that will lead to a healthy conversation between the parents and the children, and most especially, it would help the children to deepen their knowledge about Africa. I know this might not interest many Italians, but it interests us Africans. It is important for us that our children know about our cultures and our origin.” Jennifer Iloegbunam, a Nigerian cultural mediator in Verona.

“As a mother, it appears to me that the school is equipped to receive children from different cultural origins. For example, there are cultural mediators who accompany the educational process, and there are afterschool programs for children who do not understand Italian language very well. This year, for example, there was a child who came from Mali with no understanding of Italian. He came on 4th September and school started on 12th. She obviously did not understand anything in Italian, but I could see that in just three months, she was already communicating with her classmates. The school appears to me to be ready…because in the didactic circle where my daughter is placed, there is a special teacher of reference appointed to the non-Italian children. She mediates between the other teachers and the parents of the children.” -Cadigia Hassan, a cultural mediator and journalist in Padua.

“The programs in our schools are given by the ministry of education in Rome, therefore, they cannot be modified, except in some minor areas. They have now even taken off the study of geography from the senior secondary schools…I don’t know why. I don’t see that as a good decision. Following the ministerial programs, there are very few possibilities of modification. I think the regions can ask the ministry of education to introduce other formative programs, but I really don’t know what the spaces of regional intervention are.” -Giorgio Santarello, director of Padua provincial administration, work and formation section,

“In Vicenza, there are nine functioning networks of schools and projects to promote integration. In the beginning, the formative offer was directed to create basic linguistic aids, but now, seeing the huge presence of second generation and foreign citizens in the territory, the proposal has also become a means of preparing children for the labour market. In any case, the presence of more cultures represents more challenges for the school, and not only, but also of enrichment and of the necessity to mediate.” -Domenico Martino, director of the ministry of education in Vicenza, at the time of interview.

4th: We Refugees - Verona 2016

This is the 4th part of the project and it’s equally very important in its own right. It’s the part that represents the political aspect of the story, more than any other.

In this part, we tried to explore a new phenomenon of migration, which is completely different from the one we have studied since 2013. At a point, we too came to understand that there was more to the whole story that we have thought and we decided to reach out to more people who knew better how to answer our questions.

For the above reasons, there are more than just the voices of some African refugees who narrated their survival stories: “from the African desert to their tortures in Libya and the life-and-death crossing of the Mediterranean Sea to Italy”. Here, we equally hear the voices of the politicians, University lecturers and journalists, all making sense out of the story.

Final Transformation of The Project

You too might have been wondering what happens now that we have finished the 4th project? Well, we refugees is actually not the last part of the project. In fact, the title of the project (The Journey) should have said it all from the beginning. Journey is a state of continuous movement towards a destination. Now, here is our destination:

Thanks to the positive feedbacks and the wealth of experience we have gained in our more than five years of research, the project has gradually transformed itself into an online eLearning platform, dedicated to skill acquisition for the migrant community and much more than that.

This, in fact, is the best part of the entire project, in that a great part of the difficulties, complains and limitations we heard in the migrant community can now be turned into a solution that can replicate itself in multiple ways.

The new title of the project is now “A-classes eLearning” and through this solution, we intend to continue serving the community and the entire humanity with the best of our ability. We know you believe in our project so add your name to the list below as one of those who have worked in this project, by joining us today at www.aclasses.org.

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