Photo: Unsplash/Julie Ricard

When “saving” others is not enough

Her decision to become a social worker and the opportunity to work in reception centers for migrants. Serena recounts the story of her relationship with an Afghan girl and her family.

I decided to become a social worker as an adult, starting from my desire to spend time with people who are defined as "vulnerable": children, the elderly, the mentally ill. I did not really know what the job consisted of, but I remember perfectly well when I decided to do it: in September 2015, after the death of little Aylan, the Syrian child found lifeless on the beaches of Turkey. That fact determined my decision. I got the qualification and accepted the first job that, by a strange coincidence, was offered to me: working in extraordinary hospitality centers with migrants. They do not teach you how to work with these people during university internships and almost all of my older colleagues do not have any experience,. Thus, literally not knowing where to "put my hands", I got busy, trusting my intuition and asking one thing every morning: "Lord, reveal yourself in my day."

The first face I encountered was that of a ten-year-old Afghan girl who opened the door of her "home" to me on the morning of an inspection. Given her incredible resemblance to my daughter, I immediately connected with her. And she became attached to me as well. The story she told me, together with her father, is that of a family like many others who had fled Kabul and the war. The Taliban with their guns pointed at them are a living memory that becomes a nightmare for the children almost every night. I started to go to that hospitality center as soon as I could, trying to free myself from my commitments to teach this little girl and her two little brothers to read and write, and thus begin a path towards their school admission. I took them letters to color in, vowels to learn and an alphabet to say out loud, which became our song. Every time we met it was a party; she would give me a drawing or show me that she had written pages of Italian words on her own.

The day that, together with her father, I took her and her little brother to school, they held my hand and even though I entrusted them to wonderful teachers who immediately took their story to heart, I felt a great yearning towards these children. Two days later, I went back to talk to the teachers and they, surprisingly, let me into the little girl's classroom and when she saw me, she got up from her chair and ran to hug me. We hugged for quite a while, and her and my joy in front of that victory (school, finally, after two months in Italy!) was so palpable that I was moved. And so was she.

But this heartbreak continues, even when I see them happy. It is not enough for me to solve their problems. I help them with their doctor, school, documents.... But I wonder: what will become of them, of their destiny? What will become of the other four Afghan brothers, deaf and dumb, whom I visit weekly and whom I do not know how to help? What am I in this painful reality if I do not bring the joy of an encounter?

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The point is not to "save" others, but to seek the Lord every day, to ask for His Presence because this is how He reveals Himself: in the big, wide-open eyes of a ten-year-old girl.

Serena, Arezzo, Italy