Welcoming those in need, self-financing, the struggles against the mafia and against poverty. Emmaus Palermo was created to bring together social anti-mafia action and the struggle against poverty into a single vision of sustainable and dignified social and human development, in contrast to the current dominant economic system and the closure of borders.
The economic and social context is one of a wonderful land ruined by a politico-mafioso-Masonic power system that over the years has erased basic rights, such as the right to education, the right to an effective healthcare system and the right to conduct business. In Palermo, the mafia has killed hundreds of honest business owners, journalists, magistrates, policemen, trade unionists, free men and women. After the mafia massacres of 1992, there was a moment of awakening in Palermo’s collective conscience. Today, thanks to the young people who were children in 1992, various new movements have been launched: activism, association building, social enterprise and anti-mafia practices that are demonstrating how the mafia can be fought and eliminated through the simple, responsible behaviour of all citizens on a daily basis. Emmaus Palermo is active above all in the most peripheral contexts and in those that are neglected by the authorities. Palermo and Sicily score highest in many of Europe’s negative rankings (for example the early school-leaving rate, the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs), or the alarming data on youth unemployment and on relative and absolute poverty ).
Thousands of poor families in Palermo live off the collection of iron or used material; it was important to make it clear that the establishment of Emmaus in the city would not threaten those who use the second-hand market for informal work. That is why we strive every day to make it clear that our work is not intended to compete with others, but rather to help everybody in need.
Palermo is a symbolic city, the capital of the Mediterranean, rich in history and different cultural traditions. More than any other region of Italy, this city experiences the drama of the migrant arrivals and the difficulties in welcoming thousands of young people who are fleeing war and persecution in Africa. Unfortunately, the Sicilian and Nigerian mafias have made pacts of friendship and collaboration at Ballarò, which means that those who work with migrants have a duty to keep the young people arriving here at a distance from these soliciting networks that control drug trafficking and street prostitution.
Emmaus Palermo was given a building that was confiscated from the mafia in the Vergine Maria neighbourhood. In the past, this neighbourhood was controlled by the Galatolo mafia family (famous for their diplomatic abilities in making ties with politicians and the secret services). The Galatolo also control the Fiera del Mediterraneo exhibition centre, which houses the solidarity-based second-hand market in Pavilion 3. There is great interest in Pavilion 3, which is occupied by Emmaus Palermo, because it is the biggest pavilion in the exhibition centre. Over the course of one year, we have had seven cases of damages, break-ins, clear intimidation, and theft from the market. We are also subject to a daily boycott by the porters at the entrance gate, who do not allow our clients’ vehicles to enter the centre. Despite this, the market still functions and allows us to welcome eight companions.
Unfortunately, Palermo city council would like to use Pavilion 3 for commercial purposes. It is vital for us to remain inside the centre, which is why we are looking for financing in order to rent it and to carry out work to secure it and make it fit for purpose.
Emmaus Palermo host eight people in difficulty in a property confiscated from the mafia. They are able to support themselves thanks to a second-hand market 4km away. Emmaus Palermo was established to unite the struggle against the mafias and the struggle against poverty. We are convinced that mafias and poverty are intimately linked, and that individuals’ rights must first be guaranteed if they are to regain hope.
Through many cultural events, Emmaus Palermo raises awareness about solidarity, poverty and social anti-mafia action. We collaborate with anti-mafia magistrates and other associations to create a strong political network that pushes the city’s institutions to do more, particularly as regards the housing crisis, the reception of migrant minors, and in the area of human trafficking.
Emmaus also carries out school visits on themes such as democratic participation and active citizenship, peace, non-violence and conflict transformation.
Among our main activities, one of the most important ones is the Volunteering Summer Camps. In two years, we have hosted 650 young people from across the world at schools in the city. The young people are involved in activities that enhance their skills and empower them: informal teaching in the streets with young people from the poorest neighbourhoods, welcoming migrants at the port of Palermo, preparing meals for soup kitchens, teaching Italian to migrants, supporting those with physical and/or mental ailments. The volunteers also help local associations with their important work in the Palermo region. All of this happens thanks to thirty organisations that collaborate actively with Emmaus Palermo during the summer months. The young volunteers tend to return the next summer, bringing along friends and acquaintances. To the present day we have been able to set up a movement of young people within Emmaus Italy which meets two or three times a year to actively organise the PASSIONE CIVILE summer camps and to act as the functional secretariat for the camps.
COMMUNITY: Some companions are very young and suffer from emotional or relational deprivation, as well as from shortfalls in their education. Family poverty has prevented them from being able to have learning experiences, which is why our objective is to help the human development of each individual, supporting them according to their own preferences. We offer them training courses outside the community, such as: evening classes, language classes, music lessons, driving lessons, and we also encourage them by allowing them to gain valuable experiences such as travel through European volunteering exchanges.
Two leaders (Nicola Teresi, graduate in Peace Studies, expert in conflict management and educator in peace and non-violence; Riccardo Sanfilippo, graduate in Development Cooperation, expert in agriculture and maintenance of green spaces).
Eight companions: Antonino (21 years old) and Giovanni (23) from Palermo, Ciro (62) from Naples, Giordano (27) from Lombardy, Pompeo (50) from Puglia, Cyril (21) and Maxwell (21) from Nigeria and Alì (28) from The Gambia (on probation).
32 volunteers: political and human rights activists, educators, journalists, magistrates, lawyers, migration experts, social workers, simple people with a desire to defend an ideal and show Palermo that it is possible to do something new and original in the city – a far cry from the simple handing out of assistance or the temporary activities that characterise much of the project-based financing in social work.
Anti-mafia magistrates: three important anti-mafia judges are members of Emmaus Palermo. They help us in the in-depth analysis of the link between the struggle against mafias and the struggle against poverty.
Two schools are actively committed to activities that teach about peace and legality. They host us during the summer camps.
One national network, called ‘Misera Ladra’, is our political umbrella organisation for exerting pressure on institutions and the city government.
Thirty associations (members of ‘Misera Ladra’) actively participated in the process to establish Emmaus Palermo, and collaborate with us on the summer camps and on cultural events, solidarity actions and political condemnation. They mainly deal with social anti-mafia action, scouting, the social reuse of goods confiscated from the mafia, welcoming of migrants and minors, anti-racism action, social cooperation, volunteering against poverty.
Thirty-two volunteer members help with the second-hand market and/or collaborate actively in the organisation and implementation of events and summer camps.
Emmaus Palermo was set up following Emmaus Italia’s PASSIONE CIVILE summer camp in 2015. On that occasion, fifty associations were involved in a participatory process that led to the organisation of the volunteering camp. Four hundred young people from 27 different countries, with more than 1 100 hours of street work, informal education, support for the most vulnerable, Italian-language teaching, welcoming at the port and preparing meals: all of this was the natural spark for the creation of a compact group of volunteers, determined to continue the Emmaus experience in the city of Palermo. Having brought together a good number of associations, Emmaus became an important voice in the city’s political landscape. At the end of the camp, the group decided to stay inside the Fiera del Mediterraneo exhibition centre with their market. That marked the beginning of a political battle with the Palermo city council. By organising public and private meetings, cultural and informative events, Emmaus was able to achieve its predetermined political objective and obtained Pavilion 3 in the Fiera del Mediterraneo exhibition centre, transforming it from an abandoned site to a second-hand market that allows us to support people.
Since then (October 2015), the Emmaus market has continued its self-financing activity, but without proper authorisation to remain in the building (there is political consent from the Mayor and city government, but the bureaucracy is more complicated). It is a sort of ‘authorised occupation’. We would need a significant sum of money to be able to ask the Council for authorisation in exchange for renovation works (100 000 EUR).
During this first year, we have welcomed about ten people who have supported us and helped us. Those who have been able to leave the community (by finding new opportunities) still return to help us as volunteers.
Increase reception facilities by helping to free up and revitalise abandoned or run-down spaces for social purposes. We want unused city buildings to become places of sociality and solidarity.
Improve the energy efficiency of the villa confiscated from the mafia through solar panels and solar thermal systems.
Implement social projects with minors in the streets of two high-risk neighbourhoods: Guadagna and Zen.
In a year and a half, Emmaus Palermo has achieved significant results from a political perspective and in terms of a bottom-up transformation of reality.
Our first success was the creation of a community and the welcoming of eight people. The PASSIONE CIVILE 2015 Summer Camp was able to put pressure on the city administration and obtain a 2 500m2 pavilion at no cost, to be used for self-financing activities. Revitalising abandoned spaces is a major political issue in Palermo, where thousands of families are without homes and there are many abandoned sites. The Emmaus Palermo network played a decisive role in this, making its political voice heard and allowing us to achieve our objective.
A second success, thanks to the help of Emmaus Italy, was to take ownership of a property that had been confiscated from the mafia after just one year of existence. The community lives in that villa today, giving a practical, living example of the struggle against the mafia through the social reuse of confiscated property. All of this was the result of a huge effort of listening, organising meetings, and planning for a possible change through the power of perseverance.
Finally, Emmaus Palermo has at last been able to secure the creation of a TECHNICAL ROUNDTABLE ON POVERTY within Palermo City Council. After four years of repeated requests from local associations, the voice of Emmaus Palermo (which brings together fifty associations) was decisive. During a Roundtable on Poverty and Mafia, in the presence of anti-mafia magistrates and numerous representatives of civil society, the Councillor for Social Activities agreed to the establishment of the TECHNICAL ROUNDTABLE ON POVERTY which meets on a monthly basis and involves the city’s institutions and representatives of the voluntary sector.
Emmaus Palermo is now a recognised social partner in the city. Our activities always receive press coverage and our events are highly attended. We often receive invitations to speak about poverty and social policies. Our volunteering camps are never able to meet the demand for participation in them.
We receive very many requests for hosting and help from people in difficulty, and our ‘family’ is increasingly growing to include people who only work with us during the daytime, benefitting from our company and sharing daily meals with us.
1) We would need a financial support to renovate and rent Pavilion 3, which houses the market.
2) We would need a medium-sized vehicle to transport goods (sometimes the lorry is too big for the streets and layout of Palermo) and also a vehicle to transport people (4/9 seats), to increase the number of volunteers during the summer camps.