Antonianum Youth Centre and the dream of a group of volunteers
It was the summer of 1990 when father Benvenuto Mendeni SJ, a jesuit missionary, came to Padua after ten years spent in Ciad. Here he became director of the Antonianum. Youth Centre, where he met a group of university students of the Missionary Student League. They had just got back from a volunteering camp in Burkina Faso. They were very sensitive to the topic of migration and reception. This is the reason why father Mendeni engaged them in an association: Popoli Insieme was officially founded on the 16 november 1990. The aim of Popoli Insieme, ever since then, is to overcome fear and prejudice of “the other”, by promoting mutual understanding and reception of those in need. The group of young volunteers started immediately by noticing and welcoming the first signs of the migratory pressure in Padua. Back then migrations were different from today and they were perceived as a “new” phenomenon: who got to Padua came especially from northern Africa and Eastern Europe and they were mainly men looking for a job. After initial struggles they could easily find a job, an accommodation and start to build their future.
In the spring of 1991, the first night reception center was ready to welcome migrants in need: volunteers had been working all winter to renovate the rooms of the “Casa del Fanciullo”. The center was open to migrant people of every nationality with residence permit and contract of employment, but without a place to stay. Already back then there were a lot of homeless people forced to sleep in the streets. In the Popoli Insieme reception center they could find not only a bed, but two volunteers ready to welcome them.
In 1994, the night reception center moved to a new venue in the Arcella neighbourhood, where it is still located today.
Refugees reception and Astalli network
From the simple will to help migrants in need, Popoli Insieme soon decided to dedicate its action specifically to refugees and international protection holders. In 2001 Popoli Insieme became part of the national network of the Centro Astalli in Roma (italian headquarter of the Jesuit Refugee Service). The aim of Astalli is to enhance everyone’s contribution to the cause by working on a local level for the same goals and values: accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees. The collaboration is very strong especially on what concerns cultural and educational projects in schools. This network allows us to experiment reception and educational best practices.
Education and awareness
In the beginning of 2000s, Popoli Insieme engaged in education and awareness workshops in local schools. “Finestre – Storie di rifugiati” is a workshop based on the idea of Fondazione Astalli that by listening to a refugee witness it is easier for students to understand forced migrations. The activities of Popoli Insieme, in those years, started to branch out in three different fields: reception, education and awareness.
Since 2003 we have been celebrating the International Refugee Day with public events and ventures. In 2005 we also held the first edition of the Training course for volunteers in migrant services, which still today aims to give new tools and knowledges to those people who would like to take on volunteer actions next to migrants and refugees for the first time, whether for those already active in this field the course represents a chance to be updated on topics such like asylum and receipt right, as well as on the phenomenon of forced migrations.
A new challenge: reception of asylum seekers
In 2014, the amount of people seeking for asylum in Italy was constantly growing and we were more than aware of the risks many of them were taking by overcoming borders escaping from wars, starvation and violence. This critical situation called us all to a radical action: we decided to put our experience to service of asylum seekers and their reception. In august 2014 we began this new chapter by inaugurating two accommodations, counting on a new staff and professional skills.
Since then, we carry on projects of first and second reception, in order to be next to asylum seekers and refugees in their path of inclusion in our community thanks to a professional staff and the precious contribution of volunteers.
Our story carries on
What started as a dream of a group of youngsters, has now become a well- established social organization and a reference point for asylum seekers and refugees reception, education and awareness on topics like forced migration, asylum right and intercultural dialogue.
Providing asylum seekers and refugees with a temporary home is not enough to build a community that is ready to meet, welcome and accept migrant people and to overcome stereotypes and prejudices. We believe that every person is important, as well as each story and perspective deserve to be welcomed and respected. This is the reason why we engage in news challenges like local, national and european projects where we are head or partners. We promote intercultural education and youth activities with volunteers, migrants and refugees and paths of inclusion and autonomy for those we welcome in our reception centers.
We can build more welcoming community, ready to overcome fear and prejudice to enhance diversity and individual value, only together.
Step by step, our story carries on.