Have you ever wondered how the workcamp world looked like 30 years ago? No Google Maps to find the meeting point, no infosheets via email, no mobile phones to stay in touch with your friends and family at home... In 1986, Paolo from Italy volunteered in his first workcamp in Fleurus, Begium. He's been an active volunteer for SCI Italy, as well as other Italian workcamp organizations like Lunaria and Legambiente. Read his workcamp story here.
Why did you join a workcamp?
Paolo: "I was 24 years old in 1986, when I took part in my first voluntary workcamp. I was about to graduate at university in Rome. At that time military duty was compulsory in Italy and consciousness objectors were very few. If they decided for an alternative civil service they were forced to serve 20 months instead of 12.
Two years before I had opted anyway for a non-armed service and I discover through it the world of people with less opportunities and physical disabilities. At the end of the service, I was looking for an international experience and when I found a short advertisement on a newspaper where SCI Italy was proposing “campi internazionali di lavoro volontario per la pace” I thought that it was exactly the perfect next step for painting my personal peace picture.
At the end of 1985 I tried to apply for a camp in Amsterdam but it was full. Next year, as I was studying French at university and I need to practice it, I decided for the French-speaking Belgium and I was accepted in Fleurus, in the area of Charleroi. We were hosted by Martinrou, a cultural “farm”, organising that September a festival of performing arts. I left Roma by train, alone, at that time it was not common at all travelling in Europe by plane. No mobile phone, no e-mail: just an address and little information on a paper written with the typewriter."
What did you take from the experience?
Paolo: "During the camp in Fleurus we didn’t talk too much about peace, social justice, environment protection, anti-racism. Even communication was not easy to me as my English needed practise and my French was at its beginning: it didn’t improve too much as there were 4 volunteers from Québec and they had a quite peculiar accent... But we worked a lot and very hard the first two weeks for buildings stone steps for a new theatre hall. How tired I was in the evening, how painful was sleeping on a hard bunk in the night!
Last week of the camp, we helped for running the art festival, welcoming visitors and helping artists even on the backstage. It has been this hard work for a common and non-profit purpose, this sharing community life, this communicating with no common language, these “deeds not words”, this concept of peace as an easy and touchable alternative to conflicts that I put in my backpack going home after the camp: 27 hours and 5 different vehicles in hitch-hiking trip from Belgium to Rome! I didn’t have yet an ecologist commitment, but I was still a poor student."
What do you still carry with you?
Paolo: "I changed several job positions in my life: today I’m a social worker in a prison. Among those positions I was very lucky to be involved in SCI Italian branch secretariat for a while during the 90’s and later I had important experiences also in Lunaria and Legambiente organisations.
Sometimes I felt as tired as during my first workcamp. But I never changed the direction that SCI movement and peace utopia impressed in my mind. Thanks to them I estimate myself a good social worker. Thanks to them I’m still able to think about the future and I still like very much to tell the people the story of that very far November 1920, when few brave and brilliant visionary people put the cornerstone of a unique peace and solidarity idea."