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Pandora: Palermo Visit - 17th July to 15th September 2017 by Yvonne Witter

September 19th, 2017

My office location in Palermo, Human Rights Youth Organisation was Via M Puglia No:21, Palermo.

I represented The Ubele Initiative, London on the Pandora Project, and visiting Palermo in Sicily to participate in shared learning. “The HRYO - Human Rights Youth Organization is a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded in Palermo in 2009 by its president Marco Farina, with the aim of strengthening Human Rights at a local and global level. Vision: The Human Rights Youth Organization believes in a world governed by peace and mutual understanding. They see education as an essential aspect of creating a reality that promotes and protects the human dignity of all aspects of equality and sustainability. As an organization, they see the importance of supporting local actions and developing the potential of human beings to contribute to a bigger process of change”.

Senem Kalafat the Co-Director of Human Rights Youth Organisation was my main contact. I am grateful to her, for her hospitality in my orientation with Palermo, and the key landmarks of this small city. The city has many historical buildings and is always buzzing with tourists. So by day many of the sites are a buzz with tourists and by night they become wifi hotspots as people are huddled on their phones on the steps of monuments. Or the spaces continue to be social hubs or locations for concerts. The ancient blending with the modern and contemporary, all co existing to create a space for all to use in various ways.

The work of HRYO is all about raising awareness of human rights, and providing education, training and advocacy to ensure that those who are vulnerable are able to access support, information and empowerment. My time was spent involved directly and indirectly with capacity building, advice and empowerment to the organisations and people with whom I had contact over the 60 days.

Quattro Canti or Four Corners, is a Palermo intersection that marks the city’s historical district. Located where Corso Vittorio Emanuele crosses Via Maqueda, the crossroads is situated in the area that has traditionally been the city's business and cultural centre. Quattro Canti remains an important feature of the city’s local cultural, and commercial makeup.

This central location served as a great meeting point prior to heading off down winding cobbled streets to meet up with projects. This historical perspective was really important to the duration of my time in Palermo. As I met the groups, I gained an understanding of the changes that have taken place influenced by the new migrant communities, and how that impacts on the rich cultural heritage of Palermo, and how migrants integrate or assimilate, into their new cultural landscape, and equally important how local people respond to the influx of new cultures introduced by migrant communities.

Much of my work was centred on impacting migrant communities, enabling them to not just survive, but also thrive with the right entrepreneurial skills, empowering them to join the formal economy in preference to the informal economy, where they could take pride in their entrepreneurial ventures, and build sustainable communities that can gain respect and acceptance by the host country.

Al Reves, Societa Cooperitiva Sociale, Palermo [sicily] is a Co-operative, located in a reclaimed mafia building in Palermo. The core business of this social enterprise is the Social rehabilitation of migrants, and vulnerable people.

An organisation that offers creative and occupational paths, for people in need. Social tailoring is the principal activity for a start-up project which re-cycles textile thus creating a multidimensional social enterprise. It is comprised of 8 members, the president is a Nigerian woman who escaped from her land and became an intercultural mediator. She is the only woman of colour, that started out as an Italian migrant, to head up a Social Enterprise in Palermo. Currently the Co-operative has 20 individuals; three employees who came from migrant or low income backgrounds, two interns, two people on work experience, two academic internships and ten volunteers. The cooperative is self-funded and has already supported 50 people through its programme. It runs a sewing workshop in the Paliarellu Prison. This environmentally responsible project uses recycled clothing and textile waste, to create new clothes and fashion items / accessories. The project works with migrants and Italians thus building cultural cohesion. The workshops have enabled people to become skilled at tailoring, and also develop entrepreneurial talent.

The project provides an educational and social / physiological support, for low income or socially marginalised individuals. One of the main challenges faced, was that of the concept of social enterprise in Palermo as a new one. The legislation and governance rules do not support the growth and sustainability of Social Enterprise so they are self-financing. The people involved in the project believe that an ethically run and Mafia free enterprise is indeed possible.

The mission is to develop a Social enterprise to promote social and economic inclusion and support for those facing hardship. The women need development and empowerment in areas of confidence, self-esteem and socialisation in their environment. They up-cycle raw materials into craft items and novelties too. They attend festivals to sell their wares. FXB might be a good example to look at

They also collaborate with other organisations within the cooperative that do tailoring. The costs of using the reclaimed building are zero rent. They pay electricity, water and taxes and buy their own gas.

The Redistribution of Mafia assets and goods

This whole concept of the reallocation of the Mafia’s ill-gotten gains via the government was new to me. It is a State Act that administers the confiscated mafia assets and goods, and the re-distribution process, and involves project proposals which the municipalities decide on, and regional parliaments become involved. The distribution of confiscated goods is open once a year for the bidding process. The successful applicants usually manage social enterprise or NGOs that target services for vulnerable people to include migrants, mental health, restorative justice programmes, addiction drugs/alcohol. Participants on programmes develop their own skills and build on skills that they already have. They are guided towards their capabilities and supported in their rehabilitation. Organisation does not have an accredited system for its programme.

SHOW ROOM reclaimed building – Sartoria Sociale Wear the Difference Is Bringing the world of Fashion Design and Social Enterprise together. A conglomerate of diverse groups and interests, the aim here is send out a single message which is to Acknowledge and Value Diversity. We are the Difference they say, and we make it by choosing ethical fashion. The challenge of the social enterprise established by Al Reves, is to give people their dignity by daily involvement, in order to enhance, through practice and handy-craft, the skills and the creativity hidden behind difficult stories and ghetto conditions. Rosalba Romano, Manager Sartoria Sociale, Creator and Director of Wear the Difference,

I think there is much this organisation can learn from FXB and recommended that they consider a fact finding visit. FXB is an international development organization with over 25-years of experience in breaking the cycle of poverty. Its mission is to provide people living in extreme poverty with the tools and support they need to become self-sufficient.

Consorzio ARCA

The only business incubator Consorzio ARCA is based in the University Degli Studi di Palermo, aimed at textile businesses, supported by funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Programme for research, technology development, and innovation. Aimed solely at the Textile and Clothing Market, [Textile and Clothing Business Lab] TCBL aims to renew the European Textile & Clothing sector. The partnership are exploring new ways to design, make, and work together. They are inventing new business models to open up attractive markets and become part of a transformative ecosystem.

In the process of building a business ecosystem, they work with artisans and factories, design schools and fablabs, App designers and machinery manufacturers. They focus on re-inventing their businesses as they explore new roles and opportunities. They seek to imbue the clothes they wear with ethical principles, environmental concern, and the dignity of work.

Le Donne Di Benin City – Women of Benin City

This is an Association of Volunteers; they have limited space and are grateful to a church which has given them a meeting space, a room behind a church, available for use every Wednesday. We visited with HRYO Staff Margherita Vaglio Tessitore and Marija Biljan.

Director Osas Egbon

A group of Nigerian immigrant women created this association in Palermo in 2015. They are involved with negotiating for a twinned city between Palermo and Benin City, Nigeria. The twinning would hopefully raise awareness of the two places and facilitate cultural and education exchange visits.

Our first meeting was to learn about the project. The second meeting and subsequent meetings were to ascertain how best they can be supported to thrive.

Benin is the capital of Edo State in southern Nigeria. Women in this city are sold by their families for a few hundred euros, and they become enslaved, by a sophisticated network of Nigerian Women running brothels as part of a criminal network of people traffickers and enslavers. Indeed these women have created an organisation that voices their concerns from their own perspective, and not wanting to be ‘spoken for’ by others, are themselves victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution. So, they offer mutual support, and life alternatives to the many young women currently coming through into the migrant camps, having been sold by their mothers to enslavers. Some with the knowledge that their daughters are to become prostitutes, and others believing that there are career and educational opportunities to be had in Europe.

Ostensibly, women from Benin City in Nigeria came to Europe to seek better lives abroad. The organisation Associazone Donne di Benin City, was created on the premise that the women are better able to speak to their own issues, and are better equipped to address the needs of women entering the system as slaves and subsequently running away. Approximately 300 up to 80% of under aged girls escape from the assessment camps and onto the streets. It is important to have a direct relationship with someone they can trust to protect them from harm, until there is an opportunity to provide women with credible alternatives to street work. Their idea is also to create a network with other organisations to empower the women, so that they can control their own lives. So this association’s aim is to create a redemption path for these women. The Women from Benin City work with others to achieve their aims.

The association members’ visit the refugee camps and provide advice and assurances to the women in these places. The women in the camps who have made the journey, are usually a product of a transaction, and are there to fulfil a promise to their purchaser. Apparently certain voodoo rituals are performed and pledges are made, which the women feel unable to break, so no matter what, they will escape from the camps and find their “captors” and begin the work. Many, if they have the association number, will call when they discover the brutality that awaits them in the house of the Madam. An Italian male, Nino is an advocate for the group and his work has been to educate Italian men to not purchase these young girls for sex. He also mobilises local politicians and international refugee organisations to support the plight of the women. It appears that there are many who benefit off the back of the ‘migrant crisis’. The financial rewards in cheap labour for domestic and commercial gain, exploitation of women, erosion of workers’ rights, name but a few. There is a lack of stability in education, employment or immigration status in Palermo. Women have been burnt to death, murdered in other ways. There are reportedly 300 camps in Sicily and in Oct 2016 there were 11,000 minors for human sexual trafficking, as reported to me by Osas.

HRYO is one of the organisations working alongside this group, and my role has been to provide capacity building support to the Associazone Donne di Benin City. To support HRYO in the development of the provision of a suite of training, and support in various practical skills development such as the women have expressed an interest in, in addition to enterprise support. The work of the organisation members is as follows:

·         Currently they support Nigerian women who are in refugee camps with advice and advocacy

·         Works as an interpreter and mediator

·         Campaigns to get the camps to allow the inhabitants to cook their own local food occasionally. Camps are run as a business. The funds allocated to run them trickle down to the inhabitants who live in appalling conditions. It is believed that organised crime might be involved in this too.

·         Campaigns and raises awareness of the unsafe, life threatening conditions in some camps and the lack of medical care given to migrants who are ill.

·         They are also making referrals where women have expressed an interest in going back home and wished that the process was not so convoluted and complex, when people express a desire to simply go back even when their families realise that they are in Italy under these conditions and afford to pay for their relatives’ return. There is still red tape to prevent these people from simply going back home, instead they languish.

·         They rescue women who run away from their captors and try to find them safe houses

·         The work tirelessly to get their voices heard as women who have been through the experience

·         They are involved with a programme at Mayoral level which has enabled them to have a plot of land to grow crops to sell

·         They are involved in a new initiative regarding the importation of goods from Nigeria to Italy. Women from the project will be seconded to go to Benin to make connections

·         There are discussions regarding the TWINNING of Benin with Palermo with the aim of providing education and awareness raising.

PUNTO LUCE Mothers’ Group at ZEN

On the outskirts, ZEN is extending the city towards the North. 30 years active 2nd zone women and children, Save The Children funded Punto Luche [Light Point], Mothers’ support group. Twice a week visits with Margherita or Senem to teach EFL to women who will join a group from HRYO on a trip to London. They were the most enthusiastic set of learners I had ever met!!

The area is serviced by only one bus and this makes it difficult for residents to travel out easily and do low skilled jobs which are usually unsociable hours. You need to have a car, bike or bicycle which is the situation with most residents in Palermo anyways.

It is a sprawling estate at least a mile long and the community facility is a great new resource.

It was summer time and the place was heaving with children, Save The Children really have made a difference in these children’s lives. The group also organises trips to the seaside during the holidays.

We prepared a Full English Breakfast and that went down a treat!!

VITAE – Violence Initiative Territorial Autonomy Empowerment supports women who have experienced domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health survivors, and ex-convicts. They provide Advocacy Guidance Workshops, and Skills Profiling Training for 4 hours a day for 8 months and are paid 450 Euro per month. An organisation called NEXT runs 3 workshops 2 hours in length 6 coaching, mentoring and advice sessions to enable the women to progress with their life goals, careers or business ventures. 20/25 women come through the programme each year.

Leonde Oulus Anti Violence Centre is a Women’s Refuge for most vulnerable. 24/7 hotline where people can be referred. It is a Holistic service, legal, psychotherapy. Vitae – Territorial Initiatives. Enterprise Programme Pathway. Psychologist, Giusy Chirco is an expert on orientation and balancing competencies.

NEXT Nuove Energie per il Territoria, director Maurizioi Giambavo is a charming man who was so enthusiastic about his Mindfulness approach to supporting enterprise skills development. He describes it as ‘transforming people into entrepreneurs’. A process dear to my own heart, which I have coined ‘the underbelly of the entrepreneur’. So I found a lot of synergy with NEXT, as they are concerned with enabling people to develop the skills to become successful in whatever they choose to do. Which could include starting and running a business.

F.I.D.U.C.I.A Famiglie Immigrate Donne Unitr Nei Centri Per Lavorativa Anolf is a NGO and the Director Laura Bondi is the convenor of a Legal Clinic at the Law School every Wednesday evening.

This centre is for immigrants dealing with residents’ permit – Social Skills; Legal; Medical; Communication; Language Courses. A new initiative was launched to train immigrant women regarding the benefits of forming a co-operative, on 25th July in the afternoon. Immigrant women often trade, but illegally as they are unable to join the formal business economy because of prohibitive regulations. They also limit themselves by depending on welfare, supplemented by working off the books and hiding from the authorities. The advocates for these women see this as a circular circumstance. Forming a co-operative is a reasonable solution to a situation where people need economic independence, whilst having the support of others. This could enable them to thrive and build healthy communities for future generations. Low paid jobs are no longer as available as they once were, because Italians are doing care jobs in the day-time, and cleaning jobs too. The part-time nature of this work, allows the Italian woman to have time for her family duties too. So the immigrant does the unsociable hours and their children’s care becomes compromised. An incentive if ever there was one for migrants creating an economy amongst themselves.

Capacity building HRYO Human Rights Youth managing organisation growth in the context of the management of Human Resources. Small organisations if successful, will expand their services and with this expansion comes new responsibilities, and an increase in existing responsibilities, to reflect the changes. Creating a Performance Management System to enable the organisation to manage new volunteers and staff was my task. Drafted a report outlining Performance goal setting using SMART tools and the process for a jobs and skills Audit. I also drafted tools which could be used to conduct these audits. We created tools for performance management and revised Job Descriptions and Specifications for all staff. Co-Director Senem Kalafat will lead on implementation.

STATO BRADO is the brainchild of Marco Farina the founder and President of HRYO. A new initiative which will provide Edutainment, and engage local people in the knowledge transfer regarding Human Rights issues using Creativity and Art. A range of activities will fill programmes throughout the year and engage the visitors to the venue with edutainment choices. It is a novel idea to raise awareness and gain sponsorship from beneficiaries whilst also creating an opportunity for performers who want to showcase their talent.

The space will also provide hot desking, meeting facilities, and mini workshops and seminars. The piazza directly outside is an ideal setting for extending to outdoor activities especially in the warm weather.

Last but not least I will most definitely miss the delicious Gelato Ice-Cream of which there are still many flavours untested!!


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