While the Mediterranean tragedy of people escaping from war and hunger continues, in a mountain municipality in northern Italy, the hospitality offered to migrants turns into a revival of the community and the region.
Five years ago, the town was classified as having one of the lowest socio-economic communities in the Piemonte region. But the entire community learned about hospitality towards others and today, 30 refugees, almost all Africans, besides a family from Kosovo with three children, have been living for eight months now, in a housing unit owned by the Cottolengo Institute.
“We have adopted them,” confided two eighty year olds sitting in the town square. They had done so during the war, specified the President of the “Pro Loco” organisation, with the Jews and the members of the Italian resistance movement. History repeats itself. The mayor, Lisa Giacomo did not have to convince himself and the 180 residents of the village. Out of these, only 90 live in Lemie all year round.
It had already happened in 2011, when the problem of hosting the migrants and refugees arriving on the Italian coasts with rusty boats still was not such a burning issue. Already then, for Lemie, that arrival of ‘friends’ had symbolized the rebirth of the community The 12 children taken care of by educators and the parish priest were baptised in the parish Church during a ceremony which went down in the history of the town. It was a feast. All the families with the children were welcomed by families and other children of those alpine valleys.
“Of course, at the start we were a bit surprised,” Lisa explained, “the population here has a a very high age bracket average, and it’s not easy to open oneself to others. Or at least, this was not the case. I didn’t have to give a lot of explanations since no one asked any questions. Giving hospitality seemed but a natural thing .” And the situation today is still the same as in 2011.
And as in the past, the men and woman that arrived from Libya and other sub-Saharian countries will have to work, and make themselves useful. “With the Province of Turin in 2011 we had also implemented some job offers. Now some are applying for ‘restitution volunteer work’ which is useful to them and also to us.” the mayor remarked.
And not only do these ‘refugee friends’ wish to stay in Italy, but the community itself is asking them to stay. “The citizens immediately accepted them, but what’s more, welcomed them,” confirmed Lisa, “and a couple of residents found jobs as educators with an association related to a cooperative.
Problems? “Only bureaucratic ones. They applied for protection as refugees, but the time frames are very long.” Then the transportation issues: “I will ask the agencies managing the coaches for Turin to help them, since I think it would useless to make them pay the bus tickets for Turin.”
On asking the mayor if the village has been reborn due to the migrants, he smiles and opens his arms . “Look at this valley. It is full of second homes, that open only in summer. Many young people continue to leave, even if their bond with valley is still strong. The new people who have come have brought some liveliness. Just go to the playground on a sunny afternoon and finally you will see children playing, shouting, enjoying themselves. They have even saved the school.” Excuse me? “Certainly. Five children more in school allowed the school to keep more teachers and a better quality in education. What else can we ask of these friends we have welcomed among us? The family has been extended and Lemie is no longer small and marginal. We want to be a different village, new and open to all.”