Calabria as a potential land of reception! From Badolato to Riace: the project SolidaMente and its new models of integration

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Calabria could become an example of excellence in terms of immigrants reception. Mariella De Martino, president of the association International House, is firmly convinced about it. Since 1996, her non-profit foundation for social promotion has been active in the territory of Calabria, and especially in Reggio Calabria and its province, promoting dialogue and intercultural communication. De Martino has two praiseworthy cases in mind, those of Badolato and Riace, that have distinguished themselves for their innovative approach and sustainability, to such an extent that they have become role models adopted throughout Europe. “Badolato was the first attempt to face the problems of immigration by means of a realistic analysis of the territory’s resources and critical points”. An alternative reception project, undertaken jointly by C.R.I.C. (the Regional Centre of Intervention for Cooperation)and the Local Administration, constituted an attempt to deal with two different aspects: the necessity to repopulate the by-then uninhabited town of Badolato and the need to house Kurdish immigrants.

Besides these agencies, other associations were involved in the project – and International House was one of them – to put their expertise to good use in favor of the immigrants’ plight. “The project has shown” explains De Martino “the successful outcome certain ideas can achieve in the social context”. Of course, the initiative also had its weak spots: on the one hand, the scarcity of job offers preventing employment, on the other the willingness of Kurds to resume their journey towards Germany in order to reach their families. “For the project carried out in Riace, these elements were taken into account”. In this case, cooperation between local people and the exiles proved to be a source of strength, as the residents provided refugees with a place to stay and the latter repopulated the town in return: a model of excellence which was the inspiration for Wim Wenders’ for short-film “Il Volo”.

There is nothing to be surprised about: “Calabria has a natural vocation for hospitality” continues De Martino, who strongly advocates the necessity to keep the models of the ’90s alive by adapting them to the present situation. “Since 1998, migration flows have increased and become permanent”. Which calls for a further effort to pursue an intercultural approach. “In a multicultural world, the  intercultural strategy is the only possibility” explains De Martino; a versatile education to promote dialogue between different ethnical groups. “Besides focusing on foreigners, the intercultural approach aims to improve local sensitivity in order to encourage diversity”. A working method which is apt to represent the philosophy of International House “Our association is the sum of the contributions of different cultures and human resources, each offering their own particular abilities”. This is the reason for the association’s specialization in the inclusion of immigrants, animated by the conviction that their native culture can be used to facilitate their integration in our region.

“We strongly believe that this is the route to follow in order to transform Calabria into a land of reception, although we are aware of the fact that we cannot make it alone” Mariella De Martino has very clear ideas about what to do and regards the network of institutions and local associations as the right strategy to improve the capability of intervention on the territory. “The ongoing crisis and current international affairs are fuelling intolerance. For this reason, we need to collaborate and understand that hospitality in a social context as difficult as ours is a good practice, which goes against the trend set by political choices. Immigration is a resource against social decay”.

A good example of this is SolidaMente, a project financed by the Por Calabria FSE 2007-2013 (5th Axis – Transnationalism and Interregionalism, 2nd operational goal) which is aimed at countering the phenomenon of   human trafficking and looks at the network with social economy as a way to create new opportunities. Not only can the project count CIF, Recosol and Rete dei comuni solidali  among its partners, but it has also initiated a process of virtuous cooperation with the circuit of Calabria Solidale (a network of enterprises for the transformation of agricultural products in observance of the principles of lawfulness, transparence and solidarity)for the realization of professional apprenticeship programmes.

“We are an example of excellence when it comes to the choices we have made and still make” concludes De Martino, who insists on the necessity to go on with the promotion of immigration in order to make it a symbol of integration.