TdH: Sowing good in Sicily

Promoting the psychosocial wellbeing of vulnerable groups

According to UNHCR, approximately 22,372 migrants have arrived in Sicily by boat since the beginning of 2016. It is estimated that 14% of them are unaccompanied minors.

Two weeks ago we traveled to Sicily to visit one of the primary aid (also known as first reception) centers for minors. The center, Casa Freedom, is located in Priolo, province of Syracuse. Terre des Homes (TdH) Italy, our partner in this project, provides the children and adolescents at the center with psychosocial support. The center currently houses 60 minors, some of whom have been there since June 2015; considerably longer than what the law foresees.

Helping minors overcome their traumas

During our visit we met once again with Lorena and Sukeina, who work with the children at the center. Lorena is a sociologist and Sukeina is a cultural mediator. They are rebuilding the minors’ confidence and trust through support, activities and Italian language lessons. At the center we also met Ganda, a psychologist, who follows the most vulnerable cases and is always available for individual consultations or for helping Lorena and Sukeina when needed.

Lorena, Ganda and Sukeina provide each of the minors with personal attention. Their work focuses on using each person’s resilience and strengths to help them overcome their individual difficulties and traumatic experiences.

Throughout our day at the center we were lucky to meet most of the youths, who shared their personal stories with us. They were all truly inspiring. Omar, for example, is a young Somali who contracted tuberculosis while captive in Libya. Omar was imprisoned for more than a year for trying to cross the country. Upon reaching the Italian coast, Omar weighed 38 kg and was urgently hospitalized. He spent two months in hospital in Catania, and TdH staff have been the only human contact Omar has had apart from doctors and nurses.

It was humbling to see Omar laughing and working with the others with an obvious eagerness to start his new life in Italy. Seeing these young children and adolescents so committed to learning and improving themselves is nothing short of impressive.

Psychological first aid at the port of Augusta

Another important stop on our trip was meeting with Armando Gradone, Prefect of Syracuse. He shared with us some of the challenges Italy is facing welcoming migrants, especially minors. The lack of legislation and the lack of adequate infrastructure make it hard for local authorities to properly respond to migrant’s needs.

We are therefore very happy to announce that TdH has received the prefecture’s approval to deliver psychological first aid at the port of Augusta. During our trip we had the opportunity to visit this then-deserted port, a week before 342 migrants saved by the Italian coastguard vessel Peluso were taken there.

Starting in June 2016, TdH’s team will be able to identify the most vulnerable migrants upon their arrival and provide them with much-needed psychological aid. We are confident that this additional intervention will make a big difference because it will target people in need of psychological support in the earliest stages of their arrival.

We want to take this opportunity thank our partner for the immense work done in such a difficult emergency context. TdH staff’s dedication and passion for what they are doing is reflected both in the local authority’s trust and in the children and teenagers’ improvement and willingness to study hard and build a better future.

Finally, we would like to leave you with something 17-year-old Mahmoud Ciko, an Egyptian who TdH helped get his legal document to remain in Italy, said to us: “He who sows good, reaps it; and you have sown good for us.”