Maris arrived in November from Latvia to join our “European Solidarity Voices” project in Ciampino, Italy, volunteering for our partners of Associazione Il Chicco who run a community with people with disabilities. He’s been supporting the staff with artistic workshops (such as ceramics, music, theatre…), sport activities, recreational activities games, walks, visits…), and he enjoyed the company of people with disabilities (watching a film, having a chat, sharing daily life activities).

All this, until unfortunately he tested positive to covid! So his daily life had to be rearranged quite a bit…

The project is funded by the European Commission through the European Solidarity Corps programme and the Italian Agency for Youth.

This is his story so far!

My name is Maris and I am a 29 year old youngster from Latvia who is doing his European Solidarity Corps volunteering project in Italy, working with people who have disabilities. I have been in this project for a little more than two months now. I decided to do an ESC last year in summer, because I had noticed the there is too much routine surrounding me, nothing really changed; day in day out it remained the same and for a young man it can be very detrimental to live in such conditions both mentaly and phisicaly. So I started to search for oppurtunities to change this. I registered in the European portal, set up my profile and started searching. I sent my applications to several places, but to no avail and so a couple of months past without any change. One day I received an invitation by a organization to participate in a project with disabled people. At first I was a bit skeptical, but I accepted the invitation, filled out the form and sent it away. Some time passed and I was invited to do a video interview and I was very excited about it. We did the interview and not long after I was accepted in the project and was venturing out of my dull life to an unknown land, to Italy.

Two and something months have passed since my arrival here and I am still getting used to things around me, I am still learning something new everyday and improving myself in the process. The people I met here are amazing, they are full of so much compassion and respect for others as caretakers and also as people who work / live here in “Il Chicco”. Even if there is a language barrier between me and most the people here (a lot of Italians do not speak English and if you do not know Italian as myself, then you should better get to learning), I never really feel like I am not understood and somehow we manage to communicate. The people who live here who are called “ragazzi” are all different and personalities in themselves. They all have a different disorder to a varying degree, but all of them are great people with their own personal standing and attitude. Once you get to know them personally and spend more time with them you start to see how they are all special in their own way and what their needs are. I had some minimal experience before in working with people who have had disabilities, but I am gaining more and more of it while I am here and spend time with them. Up until now mostly we spent time in our house due to Covid (there were three, now two) doing different daily things with them like watching the television, talking to them, playing games, showing books, going for small walks etc., but now the daily center has semi reopened and the ragazzi can do different activities and partake in workshops.

Sadly one of the houses is not going to the day center for now, my house, because we had the spread of Covid and Covid positive cases. I myself also was Covid positive and it was nothing pleasant not to say anything more, we all had to be isolated and some of us still remain in isolation up to this point. For the caretakers it is not easy but I really feel for the ragazzi, because some of them do not understand why they have to be in their rooms and not be with their friends, spending their time doing what they like, so it must be really hard for them, but on the lighter side we are slowly getting our health back and not before long we should be back and kicking to our daily activities with everybody doing their things. For the future I hope this never happens again. After this has passed I can start seeing the guys again and resume helping the people who work here.

That was more or less on how things have been here lately, but I also wanted to talk about some of the challenges that I have faced thus far. One of the biggest ones is the language, although I came here not knowing anything in Italian and I jave learned how to minimaly communicate in their language I feel like I am not progressing fast enough, but I think that this is self doubt mostly, but I have to push myself to learn it and some days it does not come that easy. Another thing that I am getting used to, but still not 100% used to it is the laid back attitude of Italians. I come from the North, where more or less we have a “you say, you do” mentality, but here people are more laid back and take their time, to which I am still often times not used to. And be wary of the traffic in Italy, this goes out to people who want to visit Italy. More or less it is a bit of anarchy on the streets, police cars get stuck in traffic jams, cars not stoping for crosswalks, pedestrians crossing streets at random locations, drunk drivers and the speed limit is just a number. So do be careful. 😅

On a more positive note, Italians have amazing food and this is absolutely the place to come to if you enjoy and like padta and pizza of which they have a wide variety of. And their country is also filled with history, culture and amazing nature sights. Have been on a couple of hikes. One of them was around a volcanic lake “Lago Albano” and the other was on a historical Roman road “Appian Way”. Rome is filled with cultural spectacles and history like the – “Colosseo”, “The Spanish steps”, “Pantheon” and so much more; but I bet that Italy as a whole has a lot to behold.

More or less these have only been my two first months here and I am very happy that I was invited to participate in this project and that I have met such amazing people.

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