Trapped by tape: obstacles to community service in Florence

Op-ed from our Floren-Teen

Francesca Cetta
October 15, 2018 - 11:40

During the past year, some friends and I dedicated much of our time to making heart-shaped pillows for breast cancer patients. This shape offers support for arms after surgery, and alleviates pressure on surgical wounds. Pillows were cut, stuffed, sewed, and packaged, and all the materials were obtained from donations. Although it was not easy—particularly during summer time, as we watched our friends outside enjoying their breaks—the image and thought of helping these strong women pushed us forward.

When distribution day came, we were all thrilled to show the women our work, especially my friend, whose grandmother had faced breast cancer twice. But as soon as we got to Careggi Hospital, we could only meet with the LILT (Lega Italiana per la Lotta ai Tumori) organization’s mediators, and had to leave the pillows there, as Italian laws prohibited us from encountering actual patients. We instead could only meet previous breast cancer survivors, who no longer needed the pillows. This left us very unhappy, as we could not understand the real reason behind these laws.

 




 

The government laments our generation’s non-involvement in activities, without realizing that our hands are tied, due to red tape and a lack of possibilities for students under the age of 18. We are constantly under pressure due to the ubiquitousness of phrases like “new generation”, “our future”, “the world is in your hands”. Judgment is constantly cast on us for our apparent unwillingness to perform community service, but many students here in Florence are unable to perform certain activities due to bureaucratic restrictions.

 

Through the International Baccalaureate diploma, we are introduced to the CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) concept, which encourages our generation to dedicate some of our spare time to activities, community service in particular. However, as much as we try to do our best and strive to contribute, we are continually faced with government red tape.

 

The recently issued legislative decree, Codice del Terzo settore, circulated on July 3, 2017, which aims to advance community service, particularly for smaller organizations, has not helped much. Online it seems easy enough to apply, and theoretically numerous non-profit opportunities should be available for minors; in practice, this is hardly the case.

 

Take the AVO (Associazione Volontari Ospedalieri), for example: the website initially says that there are volunteering opportunities for minors between the ages of 16 and 18, but dig a little deeper and you find that the courses are only open for students who are 17 and 18 years old (I found this specifically on the AVO Veneto site, but the same rule applies in the Tuscan region). Furthermore, it says “Il minore di 18 anni potrà essere semplicemente uditore e andranno inoltre considerate con attenzione le caratteristiche del reparto cui sarà destinato.”, meaning that minors may only have hands-off involvement and the regulations of the department will have to be analyzed in order to guarantee the minor’s access. This leaves us no place to turn.

 

My own personal experience further illustrates the difficulty of getting involved in volunteer efforts. I wanted to take the initiative of going to a nursing home in my neighborhood, where I’d keep the patients company, doing things like watching movies, talking, reading my new book, receiving the perspectives of other people, and spending time together. Online this seemed like a possibility; the offline reality of reaching the organizer was a nightmare. My mother and I called the Istituto San Salvatore multiple times, which was challenging to reach due to the limited opening hours. We even went there to see if a representative could speak to us, but the right person was always on her way out or just did not have the time. The only time we got to speak to someone—the secretary—she showed enthusiasm for the idea, but told us that unfortunately, due to my age (16), insurance would not cover me, and therefore I would not be allowed to help in the home.

 

In a later email exchange I had with the organizers, they expressed their appreciation for my willingness to help, but said flatly that they could not include me in their project due to their work organization policy. This proved to be another major disappointment, leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth, and a desire to make a change. We are never going to be able to help if we are constantly barred from supporting community service efforts and made to feel as useless as a white crayon. I, as a Florentine student at the International School of Florence, feel that we teenagers are trying to find our place in a frenetic society, which we struggle to break into, leaving us feeling excluded and facing a world of superficiality.

 

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