Each summer, hundreds of Italian youth volunteers workin fields seized from the mafia by the Italian government. Their mission is touphold legality in Sicily. This April, an American university participated inthe project for the first time.
Through Syracuse University in Florence, 12 studentsjoined the effort. The university’s involvement began a year ago, after itcollaborated with the Region of Tuscany by organizing a conference on thearrest of mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano. As a result, academic directorBarbara Deimling saw the importance of offering students an opportunity topersonally engage in the issue and realized that the struggle against the mafiais an international problem. Twelve young adults joined the initiativeLiberarci dalle Spine, which for nearly a decade has been assisting the victimsof mafia crime by cultivating seized lands and creating work for Sicilianyouth.
To recruit the 12 students, SUF launched auniversity-wide competition, sponsored by the university, ARCI, the Region ofTuscany and the cooperative of Corleone. In their applications, students wererequired to discuss the stereotypes that besiege southern Italy and the ways inwhich such assumptions are unfounded. The winning submissions ranged fromessays to photography to slide shows, some in English, and some in Italian. Inher application, for example, student Rebecca Evangelista expressed a strongsense of determination: ‘When I think of the South, I think about sacrifice. Ithink of selflessness and hard work’.
The 12 studentstraveled to the small town of Corleone in Sicily and, despite language barriersand cultural differences, helped to create a vineyard by mounting stakes in apreviously uncultivated field. The students also enjoyed a moment in thelimelight: with vice president Federico Gelli of the Region of Tuscany and thepresident of ARCI Regionale Toscana, Vincenzo Striano in attendance, a ceremonyfor the students on April 3 received much media attention.