Tuscany and beyond

Syracuse students help L’Aquila quake victims

Joanna Weinstein
February 25, 2010

On Saturday, February 20, 15 students from Syracuse University Florence (SUF) experienced a different kind of weekend. Rather than jetting off to another country, a 5:30 am departure to the Abruzzo region was the start of the weekend for those who traveled to assist the victims of last year's massive earthquake.


 Volunteer organizer Vittoria Tettamanti has been planning to bring SUF students to Abruzzo since the earthquake struck, but she believed that immediate response would be less helpful than an alter effort. Instead, she started small, focusing on volunteer work in and around Florence. Now every semester, students volunteer a few hours a week at local elementary schools, reading to children in English and helping them to learn the language. This past September students also participated in Corri la Vita, a homegrown benefit race for cancer. The organizers of the marathon were so impressed with the students' dedication that they invited them to assist in the Florence marathon in November. Students helped hand out Gatorades, towels, and water at the start and finish lines.


 ‘But they always wanted to do more,' said Tettamanti. ‘In Italy, there is always down time, yet these students never stopped moving, always asking for more work. I think it's in their DNA, a sort of volunteer spirit or devotion that we just don't have here.'


 Last week, the student's commitment and motivation crossed regional borders. Although the Abruzzo tragedy has slowly disappeared from the headlines, it has not been forgotten, and the restoration is far from completion. During their two-day stay in l'Aquila, students cleaned gardens, cleared out streets, sorted out clothes to donate, played with children, and helped other Italian volunteers.


 This trip will be the first of many, explained Tettamanti. Her big dream is to spread her storytelling program in Florence to the children in Abruzzo. ‘If we can have children in Florence learn a little bit of English and share our love with them, why not do the same elsewhere?' she asked.


 Tettamanti, along with many others of the SUF staff, hope someday to find a sponsor that will help fund all of these trips, allowing more students to volunteer.


 ‘It's shaking the barriers of Tuscany and breaking them. We want an experience for our students that differs from their experience in Florence, to integrate them with Italians, and make a difference more than once. That is my dream.'


 Read Joanna's first-hand account on the TF student blog (http://www.theflorentine.net/


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