A s we approached the intercom and nervously prepared for entry into the gray, walled compound for the first meeting on our trip, Soren, Michael, and I seemed far from the “Welcoming and Inclusive Community” advertised on Casa Scalabrini 634’s website. Jet-lagged and tired from arriving in Rome from the 5000 mile journey from the States just hours beforehand, I hesitantly muttered in broken Italian that we had a meeting scheduled with Marianna. A short moment later, the heavy metal door swung open and our trepidation quickly subsided.
We stepped through the gateway and laid eyes on a grassy courtyard which flowered in the shadow of a beautiful, yellow stone building. Founded by the Scalabrinian Congregation, the property offers a home to 30-35 refugees while they find their footing in a new country. This location is just one in a larger network of Scalabrinian communities serving refugees and migrants in 32 countries around the world.
More than Just a Shelter
As we walked the grounds with Marianna, the organization’s Fundraising and Communications Director, we quickly learned that Casa Scalabrini 634 offers far more than just shelter. The property, previously home to a Catholic seminary, contains three buildings complete with a full kitchen, living room, Christian chapel, Muslim prayer room, workout facility, computer lab, office space, and fourth floor patio overlooking the surrounding neighborhoods.
Throughout our tour, Marianna described how Casa Scalabrini 634 tailors their programs to foster connections between the refugees and the community with the goal of achieving sustainable working opportunities and cultural integration. Casa Scalabrini 634 serves migrants whose refugee status has already been secured, but who are looking for assistance restarting their lives in Europe and assimilating into Italian society. Shortly after learning of our aspirations of producing a documentary, Marianna offered to introduce us to a tall, dark man named Simon, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Just a few minutes later, we were sitting down to interview Simon, who was fortunately very conversational in English. He had made the long journey to Italy and had been living there for 2 years under asylum protection. Simon was imprisoned and persecuted by the Congolese Army for speaking out against corruption and advocating for victims of sexual abuse. Upon release, he knew he must flee the country or face further persecution. Fake passport in hand, he trekked across the Congo River into the Republic of Congo and boarded a plane to Brussels, Belgium. He submitted an application for asylum and lived in squalor conditions in a processing center in Brussels, which he compared to living in prison.
After seven anxious months of waiting, Simon’s asylum application was accepted in May of 2014 and he was relocated to Rome. Until he found a home at Casa Scalabrini 634, most organizations in Europe treated him with sterility.
“A t the camps, I was treated like a number. Even in Italy, most organizations just tell you about the laws. No one tried to understand exactly what I was going through and the challenges I faced in my life.”
-Simon, Casa Scalabrini 634
Simon’s experience in Europe transformed greatly when he found Casa Scalabrini 634. They provided career services to assist in creating CVs and identifying job opportunities, Italian and English courses to strengthen language skills, and a variety of sewing, farming, and kite-making microbusinesses to encourage contributions to the local community. They recently created a web-radio workshop where refugees like Simon are able to enhance their technical skills and produce a newscast which is broadcasted throughout Rome in 5 languages.
But what makes Casa Scalabrini distinctive is the family atmosphere that permeates the community. The refugees immediately develop a trusted network and relationships with both Italian citizens and other refugees. In exchange for admittance into this community life, they are required to pay a small monthly fee, cook, clean, and remain active in community events.
What’s Next for Simon?
Simon is currently pursuing a degree in International Relations and Global Politics at the American University of Rome. In the Congo, His work at the NGO involved helping people and listening to their stories. Simon dreams of one day returning to the Congo once it is again safe for him. Until then, he has found a home at Casa Scalabrini 634.
“I feel well when I am working in the social sector, trying to help people…Now I have to do everything that I can to survive.”
-Simon, Casa Scalabrini 634