The wifi in the slum, as he himself says, is not great but we manage to connect. So Nicolò Govoni, 27, originally from Cremona, he answers us from Nairobi. Indeed more precisely from Mathare, one of the most overcrowded slums not only in Kenya but in all of Africa. Here six hundred thousand people live in 5 square kilometers.
In the background there are children’s voices, the barking of a dog, some interference in the connection. We are (only virtually) within the international school that Nicolò Govono, who among other things was among the nominees for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, opened a few weeks ago with the non-profit organization Still I Rise, of which he is president and co-founder.
How did it all start?
“Almost by accident. I started my journey in the world of volunteering in India seven years ago in a very enthusiastic but also naive way. I had the classic difficult adolescence, failures, various problems and I left for India to look for something inside me. I have always cherished the utopian idea of being a doctor because I wanted to help people. My life has changed, not because the experience was good. I paid for the organization for this volunteer project and instead it was voluntaryism, that is, volunteering that pretends to be something that is not ».
How did you become cooperative?
«I stayed in India for four years, I realized this mistake, I didn’t want to leave the children of that orphanage knowing that I would traumatize them again, that is, abandoning them again, as happens when you leave and disappear. This was my beginning, many mistakes that led to awareness of what led to ethical volunteering, then cooperation ».
What do you do with Still I Rise?
“We open two types of schools: emergency schools in the most impermanent contexts, so Greece and Syria for now. They are informal schools, which provide information education, always of quality but which clearly fit the context of urgency, unpredictable, of these places, with a focus on medical assistance, nutrition, clothing. In Turkey and Kenya, on the other hand, we do international school, which is the next step compared to the emergency school. We do it because those in which we work are countries with difficulties but more stable and which can welcome many people from neighboring countries ».
What is an international school?
“An international school is a very specific thing. We offer a diploma, with a seven-year course of study, recognized throughout the world, which is also very expensive and available in many schools around the world but we offer it for free. This is the educational revolution we strongly believe in. The children who come to us are children who struggle a lot in their life. They are lovely, sharp awake, but they come to school with their elbows torn, dirty, we try to break this balance where there are schools for the children of ambassadors and politicians and barracks. We want to create an intersection between these two worlds ».
What does it mean to offer such an education in contexts like Syria?
«It is not obvious, it leaves a great mark on people. Syria is chilling because up until nine years ago it was a completely different country. No Syrian imagines it would have ended up like this. It was a very prosperous country and the fact that children do not go to school today is madness ».
How can we explain this madness in concrete terms?
“Before we inaugurated the emergency center there was a little girl enrolled, who died a few days before starting school due to hepatitis. Here, you cannot die like this in 2020. I have matured this anger a lot, that one is dying of hunger, of cold, next to Turkey, is not conceivable. I would be very happy to close everything when our work is no longer needed, our goal would be not to work here ».
What relationship do you have with families?
“I will never forget one of the mothers who came to enroll her son here and on leaving she said ‘it’s a dream come true’. For me it is very sad, because we know that there is enough wealth to distribute it, to feed everyone. The necessary capital is already produced, it is simply distributed in a sinful way. We are aware of how flawed the world is as a macrosystem. I think the step is to understand the world as about seven billion worlds that are worth each like the others and it is a success to change them one by one. There are countless schools opened by non-profit organizations, but what is the real impact? Our goal is to create a systemic impact, so that you change the future of that child, therefore of his family, of his community ».
How do you overcome moments of despair?
“There are many, I think it’s normal. This year in particular, because schools have closed several times, based on lockdowns and the trend of covid in that area. When you close the school here, where do the children go? In certain contexts, closing it puts the population and children at even greater risk. For example, I wonder: if we could have opened the school in Syria earlier, would that little girl be alive? I don’t know, but this thought remains. The covid here in Kenya is present in a smaller proportion but there are the rules and we follow them, even if it does not happen in the slums. There has obviously been a decline in donations, we do not accept funds from institutions and when people are not working they cannot donate. It’s been a bit of a coward year.
How did you live the distance from your family during these difficult months?
«My family is from Cremona, I was terribly ill. My grandparents took the covid in March, I was sure my grandfather was a goner, I called them every day, I cried while they talked and in the end they were both saved. I was in Turkey, I was also locked up at home, with a professional depression, we had just opened the school and we had to close it. I could have been evacuated and returned to Italy but I was afraid maybe of bringing Covid to my family then I wondered what I could have done? “.
2o21 has just begun. What is the goal?
“It really depends on how 2021 will turn out. We dream big then we break up these dreams into possible steps. I believe a lot in dreams, little in those that are fueled only by enthusiasm. We would like to open another international school in South America, in support of the Venezuelan crisis, which is now one of the most refugees in the world and which is never mentioned. Then there are emergency situations in many countries, where I would dream of opening emergency schools: Yemen, Congo, Bangladesh, Afghanistan. If the donations become stable we can do a lot. If I think about 2021 I am: it is a new chance ».
How do you imagine “when you grow up”?
«I’d like to be a little quieter than today, with a solid and structured Still I Rise. I would like to have a family, if I think long term I would like to create something that is also intimately mine. In twenty years my children may be older, I imagine myself in a country where I can do the job I love and my son goes to one of these schools. This is very important to me. Too often I see schools “for the poor” where internationals would never send their children ».