What’s happening at the Baobab Cultural Center in Rome is absolutely amazing: Roman citizens volunteering to work every day to welcome migrants and guests.
The center was made available to host refugees after the two big evacuations of Ponte Mammolo and Tiburtina Station, and now it welcomes about 300 people per day. Most come from Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan. They stay for three or four days and then they leave, hoping to join their relatives and friends in northern European countries.
The Baobab Cultural Center is a unique reality in the broad panorama of help centers for migrants in Italy, as it is the only one totally "self-managed." In fact, the Eritrean community of the capital has been running the center for years.
The place is also well known by civil society organizations for hosting a 2010 dinner organized by Salvatore Buzzi, the former president of the social cooperative called 29 Giugno, who was later tied to the 2014 Rome corruption scandal nicknamed "Mafia Capitale."
From milk to medicine
After the scandal, the center was closed and then re-opened to deal with the immigration emergency of June 2015. Now dozens of volunteers prepare and supply meals, sort clothes, and help attend to every other need of those arriving to the center on a daily basis.
The supportive response of local associations and citizens has been immediate. Every day people come along with bottles of water, milk, pasta, biscuits, clothes and shoes, toiletries, medicines and so on, and most of them remain to give a helping hand too.
Though managing the situation is never easy, the organization at the center is pretty efficient. A big dormitory has been set up with bunk and camp beds, there are toilets with showers, a storehouse where all the donations are placed, a wide dining hall and an infirmary with first aid equipment.
Medical staff is available at the center two times a week on routine visits: the Italian Red Cross has provided a mobile aid station with doctors, nurses and cultural mediators.
Feel at ease
In the center's kitchen, 10 volunteers prepare about 500 meals for lunch and just as many for dinner. Guests help too: some cut the bread, some wash the fruit, some fill the bottles with water.
When the food is ready to be served, migrants queue up and wait for their turn tidily. They are always grateful; “thank you” is one of the first expressions they learn.
There’s also a sort of boutique at the center. Volunteers sort donated clothes, separating them by size and putting them on shelves. People who need a change go there and they can choose the item that fits them best.
After they’ve lost almost everything, they are very happy when they realize they can wear something that makes them feel at ease.
Many parents bring their children’s toys as well, and a play area for kids has been arranged too. There are about 10 children each day at the Baobab. Some volunteers from Save the Children take care of them and give support and assistance to the mothers.
It’s quite astonishing how everything works, even in the midst of difficulty. Citizens made this possible. Spontaneously donating their belongings and time, they proved that Rome is able to welcome refugees and show solidarity, and they contributed to build this little piece of a better world.