Everything started with Alphin and his incredibly enormous 4 years old smile, still surrounded by very few teeth, at the Mother & Child Foundation (MCF). From that very first instant, Alphin’s wonderful smile – and that of other 100 children and young mothers around me – made me feel the sense of my service under a totally new perspective: I started to take some time for myself, accompanying them in their everyday routine life and observing in detail their gestures and daily activities under a new, bright, light.
Kerala is a State of South India, nowadays considered as the Indian Switzerland, with an extraordinary high alphabetization rate. Equally high, alas, it is the rate of child abuse, including physical and psychological violence towards children, often abandoned. Some of these less fortunate children and mothers find their home at the Mother & Child Foundation, a registered charitable organization licensed by the State Orphanage State Control Board and by the State Government of Kerala to give children in adoption. Children at the MCF come from different walks of life. Some are rescued from the streets, others from broken families: children of unwed mothers, alcoholic parents and drugs addicted, children of prisoners, and sexually abused children. The MCF’s doors are open for unwed, abandoned and mentally broken mothers, supporting and uplifting women and children in need, regardless of caste, creed or religion. Guests in such a safe home and environment experience love, peace, and the feeling of being relieved.
I served as a volunteer at the MCF for one year, looking after kids and women in different moments and activities: tuition classes, education, hygiene, nutrition and health. Soon I realized there that an overwhelming majority of the young guests were underweight, had white spots on their skin, and an uncommon apathetic and lazy behavior. Thus, I decided to regularly monitor the health conditions of kids and young women (particularly those pregnant), sending the collected data to a specialist in nutrition working in Italy, at a Rome hospital. I then suggested Joshy, the Secretary General of the Center, to use the scarce funds at our disposal to buy extra food of better quality, beyond the supplies kindly offered by the near food market, instead of just providing our Indian young guests with medicines and chemical supplements. Day after day, the change of food habits began to show positive effects not only on the health of children, but also on their mood and attitude. Sharing the meal, cooking together, became therefore fundamental moments in our daily life, allowing us to better know one another and learn about local traditions and memories.
Back to Italy, my extraordinary positive experience in India inspired me a new idea, developed with Mediterranean Perspectives, an Italian research center set up in Jerusalem in the year 2000 by Dr. Enrico Molinaro to promote activities and research about the Mediterranean peoples’ cultural, political and religious experiences, as well as the forms of coexistence between their respective collective identities. With the help of experts and friends, I am developing a pilot project for Israeli and Palestinian women living in rural areas aiming at emphasize women’s Resilience: a quality that enhances the local communities’ role in preserving their ancient knowledge and collective memories, adapting them to globalized modernity. I learnt from my experience that women’s empowerment is the most powerful response to the disintegration of communities, to the loss of self-esteem in relation to their creativity and income-generating capacities.
With my project I intend to involve local Palestinian and Israeli women in setting-up three main courses on 1. identitary cuisine, 2. organic sustainable agriculture, with the development of a bio-district near Jerusalem, and 3. comprehensive informative, preventive health care system for women and their children, focused on the relationship between a balanced food and lifestyle on the one hand, and the prevention of some ailments like obesity, cardiovascular and skin diseases, and diabetes on the other. The overall object of the project is to promote a multi-stakeholder framework for dialogue and cooperation, gender equality, and women empowerment in the region, contributing to tackle poverty in rural areas while placing women at the forefront of sustainable development. The project’s activities will involve different aspects of women’s life, from social awareness to daily health, education and economic life, promoting women’s access to financial and labor markets, as well as an improved work-life balance, while boosting the positive impact of women’s participation to economic life, in order to enhance local collective identities in terms of resource allocation and management, saving habits, trustworthy ties.
Everything started with Alphin, with his smile full of simplicity and lightness. He taught me that every day’s work and activities can build peace and joy, despite all the hardships. Women are essential to reach this goal. They can create a peaceful and secure environment for children and all of us to live in. They guard the secrets of our memory and the dreams of our future, as well as the ability to recover a wonderful smile.