Children who thought they would have never ever agreed to face a professor nor “waste time” with a book in their hands, finally return to school. Yet, that is exactly where one starts all over again, beginning a journey first in the safety of the community walls, then finally returning to school, the right place for children of that age.
School understood as therapy, a goal, and a future. When the children and teenager hosted in the Civitavecchia Bridge Community go back to school – which is not yet the freedom to fully find themselves, a path they will gradually walk in the future – discover, to their own surprise, that they are not “worse” than their peers, but even “better.” In the sense that the wounds of the past, despite dating back to an early age, produced damage in their mature years. It makes them become a point of reference for the others. The victory of good over bad, a testimony of the ability to “give” again, a feeling that strengthens all the involved people.
A few numbers? Four hundred and thirty-one kids resumed school between 1993 and 2016, 101 qualifications, 112 high school diplomas, 61 university students, and 35 university graduates. And almost all of them finished their studies with good marks.
This is the situation in the Bridge community (Solidarity Center), born from the stubbornness of a (then) young priest, Father Egidio Smacchia, assistant pastor of Allumiere in 1978 in Civitavecchia. These realities are summarily defined as “recovery centers”, meaning that its guests are freeing themselves from an addiction, but what struck me was that the word “recovery” in this case is about the most simple values of life inside a community, rather than a story about drug addiction.
A sort of backward time travel, when “community” meant the country where one lived, when education came before everything else, communication among people was based on a descrete approach, mutual aid was the rule and dialogue was the daily bread.
When rules were rules, relativism had not yet taken root in our society, and we all knew each other; basic exercise to enable the encounter that makes us search our hearts and finally “know ourselves.”
“It was not easy, you know? – Says Father Egidio -. It is not easy even at present, but the perspective has changed with respect to the beginnings. When everything started, – he remembers – we addressed adults, who already had a long trail of critical situations and addiction behind.
Those were years when cases of AIDS began to be registered in Europe. It was unknown to the doctors, who did not understand the disease nor knew how to recognize it. We realized that these paths often led to funerals, instead of saving lives. And we said: we must change something, we must do something more, address the root of the problem.”
To do so, the Centre was closed for a year. Time for reflection, and to create a new path dedicated to young people and teenagers. “It was difficult even to understand what we wanted – Father Egidio used to say -. The families thought they could make it on their own, they did not want anyone outside their family to know their problem. Often, they dismissed it thinking it could be solved with ‘a couple of spanks’. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Slowly, our outstretched arm began grab this or that young person in trouble.” The first was a 14-year-old girl…
Here, at the Bridge Community, we call them young people, not “addicts”: “It is a wrong way to deal with the problem. It is all too easy to label someone – explains Giovanni Casarosa, psychotherapist and director of the center -. Defining a young person a drug addict entails a number serious prejudices related to it: it is as if we considered him/her a homeless, a desperate person, a thug; it means you classify the young person as unrecoverable.
Exactly the opposite of truth. They are young people who went through extremely difficult situations. Usually, it was not their fault that they got lost on the tortuous and painful path of growth; and remained trapped ‘inside’. These young people need to find themselves, of course, but even before that, they need to find support, so as to be able to build their own future.”
A Bridge needs pillars to be a steady structure. Father Egidio scored four of them: “Children themselves, the protagonists of this process; educators, all of whom are graduates, prepared, and constantly assessed, even on the basis of their personal life model; and families, an essential subject on a journey like this…”
All of whom are part of a way of life, all equal and important, each with their own role. It is the “peer pressure” that produces outbursts of positive energy, desire to live, the strength to overcome problems. All of which are “involved” and not “overwhelmed” by the other’s problems. A lesson that should be written with capital letters on the streets of the world.