How is the world at the edge of the world: the journey seen by a cooperator

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There is a piece of the world that a tourist will never discover and that not even the eyes of the most avid of travelers are probably able to see: hell a step away from heaven. It is misery of starving children just a few kilometers from luxury resorts, the desperation of men and women in refugee camps in war-torn countries, the rubble of cities devastated a stone’s throw from those “unmissable” places where hundreds armed with mainstream guides line up to enter. IS a piece of the world reserved only for those unfortunate to live there, but also for those who dedicate their lives trying to make it a better place: a silent army made up of millions of aid workers for whom the journey is not a “holiday”, who are constantly on the move to bring hope, life and beauty to the most devastated places on the planet.

Paola Boncompagni is one of them: lhe works for some United Nations agencies and for the Italian Cooperation, is a consultant in the field of Development Cooperation and a specialist in Communication for Development, and now she talks about her work and her life in a book. Her name is The Earth seen from here (Utet), is a “Airplane diary” written entirely in flight – and strictly on the seat next to the window – over 20 years of missionswhich also allows us to understand where and how the cooperation programs operate, the dense network of stories, skills and passions that intertwine, telling about the many projects that we should all know.

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For example i cultural and artistic heritage protection programs for development in the West Bank or Cambodiathose of School Feeding that in countries such as Kenya or Tanzania allow children who go to school to secure a meal every day, the initiatives launched for street children in Guatemala City or in Caribbean islands such as Barbados: the island of dreams where luxury hotels have taken the place of the sugar cane plantations where the British employed their slaves, and where now the majority of the population is made up of young people living in conditions of extreme vulnerability. “The example of the Caribbean islands is proof that behind the appearance of wonderful places there is a very different realitywhich the average visitor does not even imagine because they often have no way of seeing, ”he says Paola Boncompagniwho in this interview tells us about her book, her travels, what she has seen and that all of us, as she herself writes “We should see once in a lifetime”.

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© Paola Boncompagni

What is the difference between traveling for pleasure and traveling as a cooperator?
“It is obvious that it is one thing to go to Greece for a beach holiday and another to go to bring aid to a refugee camp. They are extremely different journeys not only because as a cooperator you travel with established times and programs to achieve goals, but above all because you return with a different awareness: aware of the luck you have in having a home to return to, with a washing machine with where to wash clothes and a fridge with things to eat, after having witnessed conditions of extreme poverty that it is impossible to forget ».

How is that part of the world that we “common” travelers will never see?
“In a way it’s indescribable, because only when you walk in your shoes in these places and take a closer look at them do you realize what they really are. Sometimes I would like someone’s eyes to see: this is the only way to realize why we need to welcome people who knock on our door and who have difficulty entering ».

What does Italy do for developing countries?
“Italy does a lot and well, both at the level of our Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) and NGOs. The Italian co-workers have great intelligence, they are very good and also very empathetic and this element is fundamental with people who are ill and are deprived of anything. An example: once in Ethiopia there was an epidemic in a nomadic population, but they were very wary of drugs offered by white men. A complex situation, which was resolved by co-workers of an Italian NGO who made an anthropologist arrive on a mission on purpose: thanks to him they understood that it was necessary to give a concrete signal to show the nomads that they could trust, and that this signal had to pass from their animals, their only wealth. So they treated their cows and camels first and, given the results, they all finally agreed to be treated and the program was a huge success. Healthcare is just one of the many fields in which the Italian Cooperation operates, very active for example also in rural development and for the protection of the artistic heritage, they are also a driving force for development in these countries ».

For instance?
“The Italians have completely reprogrammed the National Museum of Beirut and, among the many projects carried out in collaboration with the institutions of the countries in which they operate, there are also the masterplan of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the rehabilitation of the Damascus Citadel. Seeing these projects in person is moving: it is proof of our extraordinary know-how, of the knowledge that we have been carrying with us for millennia, unique in the world. The other countries have understood this and are contacting us. Let me give another wonderful example: in the temples of Angkor Wat, for a project coordinated by the University of Palermo, there are Italian teachers who train Cambodian archaeologists. There I met one of the many extraordinary people I met in my travels: Professor Azzedine Beschaouch, a Tunisian archaeologist who studied in Palermo and Rome and then became one of the leading UNESCO world experts for the protection of artistic heritage in different countries of the world. . A special person. I have dedicated several chapters of the book to the Italian intervention in the field of protection of the artistic and cultural heritage because I firmly believe that our skill should be valued ».

Source: Vanity Fair

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