Our initial journey to Palermo was supposed to be an easy two flights, from Liverpool to Milan and then Milan to Palermo, but due to flight delays we missed our connecting flight. The journey quickly turned slightly chaotic, the next flight was two days later and overly expensive, so we drew our own path which involved sleeping on an airport floor, a quick beer in Milan, trains through the Italian countryside, broken suitcases, pesto in Genoa, €8 pints, a port strike, a museum tour, and finally a 24hour ferry.
It was tiring and challenging but I saw more of Italy then I had expected and got to know my fellow volunteers very well. As we managed to traverse an unknown country knowing very little Italian, with low battery on our phones, we felt ready for our next challenge.
This began with a week long training program including memorable ice-breakers, in depth discussions and an intense role play of the reception in Italy today. This included tours of Palermo and the centres we’d be working in: Il Giardino Madre Teresa – a kindergarten -, Il Gabbiano – a homing centre for unaccompanied minors – and Centre Astalli – an extensive centre providing numerous free services from breakfast to legal aid.
Inspired by this we’ve begun to plan our projects and join existing ones. On Fridays I help Giorgio to teach basketball to young children, this week we regenerated a local garden, every Wednesday I teach a free English class to varying students both migrants and Italians.
Through our activities in the last month I’ve began to feel more comfortable in each centre and making friends seems easy in Palermo, there’s always lots of smiles and invitations in this city despite the obvious language barriers. But we overcome these challenges by immersing ourselves in Palermo’s many events such as Art Migrante, an informal open evening exploring inclusion through art. Mediteraneo Anti-razzista, a weekend long sporting event that aims to bring cultures together through basketball, football and volleyball. I attended a beer festival where we joined three native Palermitans enjoying beers from around the world and this week we have Palermo Pride. Whilst next week there’s a monthly BBQ in a rejuvenated garden to support the historical Ballarò market.
Palermo is uniquely gritting and enchanting, and it has its fair share of issues, yet in true Palermitan style it is tackling them with determined community action. Of course its winding streets can make you feel lost but it’s a very open city and the more you participate the more Palermo becomes home.