They are young, come from Australia, China and America. Before they arrived in the city they thought Naples was a pier where they could take the ferry to Capri and the bus to Pompeii. A place not even "that safe." Then they walk the streets, talk to people and come into contact with children. They experience the city on the front lines, in schools, among difficult kids and at-risk situations, and learn to love it from the bottom up.
Who they are. They are the volunteers of the International Naples Network (INN), a center that hosts foreign kids from all over the world. They are based in an ordinary apartment in a historic building. The boys come to the city as volunteers to teach English in public schools, to support language teachers, to do after-school activities, to write projects for partner companies or to deal with environmental issues. The impact with the city is not easy. But the result is unexpected.
They are young people who most often have Italian last names and arrive in groups of 30 because the facility cannot accommodate more. They stay in the city from a month up to a year.
The purpose was "to bring a breath of fresh air, a dose of energy to Neapolitan kids who are resigned at too early an age," Sara Cimmino, co-founder of the project, explains enthusiastically. "Here are children who dream little. They can explode if in front of them they have foreign kids who don't know who you are, they don't know who your family is, they are not judging you, they are looking at you with a huge smile."
Volunteers arrive in the classroom and use the appeal of English to capture the students' attention. The volunteers become a support for the teachers, an unusual help to complete that work of inclusion that, every day, the school tries to complete amid absenteeism, runaways, little attention. The native speakers are enthusiastic and motivated. They even pay a fee to come to Naples. But the experience pays off. Cheira, 19, came from Ireland to learn Italian and "to make a difference in life," as she says. Jenny is 23, an American and works for the Land Enhancement and Conservation Program. She loves traveling, the environment and culture. Today she is involved in monitoring and cleanup, rather than research.
One of the pivotal roles of INN volunteers is integration, as in the case of a Sri Lankan girl who, thanks to native speakers, was able to integrate into the classroom despite not speaking a word of Italian.
In Naples school classrooms, the reality is harsh, and often even Sara Cimmino, who accompanies volunteers, thinks on the first day that she can't do it. Then the children understand that "volunteers come into the classroom without any prejudice because they don't know the dynamics of families and the relationships between them. When they come in it's a level: all the same, the one with autism or the one who can't even say a word in Italian, let alone English," he explains.
Not only young volunteers arrive but also retirees like Margaret who, at 76, left Palo Alto and decided to come to Naples and be supportive of the English teachers at Foscolo State Middle School. They are volunteers who are sensitive to children's issues because they have studied or because they simply have experience like Xuanxuan, a Chinese, single mother with a six-year-old, supporting Casanova: "I know how much children need love, care and opportunities. I will do what I can to help them achieve their dreams." Ron Martin is American and works for Feet on the Ground, Vineyards of San Martino: "Working in Naples gives me a sense of satisfaction. I've always felt a connection to Italy and wanted to immerse myself in the culture rather than look at everything from a window."
But the relationship with Naples is not just in the classrooms. Outside of school and away from daily commitments, then, kids go out to Piazza Bellini, hang out in pubs and pizzerias, and fall in love with the city.
In March 2015, the International Napoli Network (INN), a worker-run service cooperative, was established.
INN's main goal is to connect a growing global volunteer network with a local network of non-profit organizations, associations, and social entrepreneurs.
Their other main goal is also to deliberately pair foreign volunteers with local talent and innovative thinking in order to boost local associations, social enterprises, and international volunteerism. Our objective is to act as a breeding ground for fresh concepts and initiatives that can benefit Naples and the surrounding area.
INN seeks to connect foreign volunteers and regional NGOs through its seven different programs and 30 partner organizations in NAPLES and ROME. Their local partners are committed to fostering social inclusion – in particular with regard to children at risk and migrants – as well as promoting local cultural heritage, English language, and environmental protection.
In order to do this, they are building a community of social innovators, an international network to accomplish Sustainable Development Goal 17 (Partnerships for goals) that combines the drive and enthusiasm of volunteers from the whole global society with the expertise of regional NGOs, associations, and social entrepreneurs and creates an alliance of social workers for a better and stronger global society of reduced inequalities.