Pacefuturo, when hospitality originates generative welfare
In Biella the island that does / doesn’t exist: interview with Andrea Trivero, director of the association Pacefuturo in charge of the project “Pettinengo, a welcoming town”, who has been talking to us about the organization, revealing how the inclusion processes have been activated involving the whole local community. Let’s find out all the details of this virtuous reality.

Can the island that doesn’t exist exist? No, it can’t, you would think. It’s an imaginary island, as its name says. The way Peter Pan and other animated characters don’t exist. The one we are presenting now is not even washed by the sea. What sort of island is it, then? Allow the metaphor, because even if it’s not an island in a physical and territorial sense, it is definitely a fairy tale. Like in the stories reminding us of our childhood, there are main characters, obstacles to overcome, a moral, antagonists; the latter doubting its existence:

E a pensarci, che pazzia / è una favola, è solo fantasia / e chi è saggio, chi è maturo lo sa / non può esistere nella realtà” (To think about it, how crazy / it’s a fairy tale, it’s only a fantasy / and who’s wise, who’s mature knows it / it can’t exist in reality”). The beginning of Bennato’s timeless song would be the basis of their argument. Modern Captains Hook are more and more numerous, ready to incite their crews. Whose fault is it if the ship is struggling to ride the waves? Always of the last damn passenger (not a sailor!) rescued from the sea, who climbed onto the ship to avoid drowning in the abyss. And it doesn’t matter if he has made himself available to the crew: he will be the scapegoat for any inconvenience in the course of the sailing.

The reference to the ship has a double meaning: it represents both the whole of Italy and the micro/macro-realities embracing hospitality as a virtuous opportunity for the good of the receiving communities. The ship we are about to present to you is sailing at full wind, in spite of the difficulties created by some of the ‘antagonists’. We are talking about the association Pacefuturo, and specifically of “Pettinengo, a welcoming town”, a project of spread hospitality started in Pettinengo and in some of the neighbouring towns (all in the Biella province). Here, refugees are not seen or treated like invaders, but like travelling companions who make themselves available to the community receiving them. Andrea Trivero – director of Pacefuturo in charge of the hospitality project (in the second cover photo) – told us about the stages of the community process characterising the project, in a journey between solidarity and integration.

Pacefuturo’s logo.

Let’s start with the premises of the project: when did the first asylum seekers arrive?
Pacefuturo started managing Villa Piazzo in 2006, thanks to a free loan for use granted by Pettinengo’s town administration. Villa Piazzo is a historical residence from the middle of the 19th century with a large park. Throughout the years, we have organized cultural activities on the theme of peace and hospitality, but also practical activities like farming, beekeeping, upkeeping of the park and the local paths. It all started with a collaboration with social services: subjects in difficult situations would offer their contribution carrying out this type of work. In 2011, don Giovanni Perini (director of the local Caritas and vice-director of Pacefuturo) asked if we could house about 50 refugees, as these youths were in a structure running out of space in Muzzano (BI). In agreement with the priest, we put them up in two beautiful buildings in town for two months: Villa Piazzo and Villa Pasini, owned by the diocese. That was our first experience, in collaboration with the association Filo da Tessere. The actual hospitality project in Villa Piazzo entirely run by us started in 2014, with 15 guests (then become 25… and now 120).

Andrea Trivero.

How did the town react to the news? Did the arrival of the immigrants in Pettinengo raise concern?
At first people were afraid, the presence of these refugees made them uncomfortable. In time, this fear has completely disappeared though. Beside turning into volunteers and collaborators, many citizens have also leased buildings free of charge to us: we are now managing 13 houses. The people who were concerned with their arrival have in fact changed their attitude after meeting them: when you establish personal relationships everything is easier. A local resident even accommodated one of the young refugees in his home when he reached the end of his stay. In general, I think that for a close-minded culture like ours coming face to face with a different world means opening to the present, meeting the other. It is a process leading to society taking responsibility for the planet. We have only tried to put the principles of the Third Paradise into practice…

Photographic credits: Pacefuturo.

“Pettinengo, a welcoming town”, the name of your project speaks for itself. Can you tell us about its guidelines?
The main objective is always to involve the receiving community at 360 degrees, from its resources to the individuals composing it. Hospitality must be an opportunity for everybody, on both a cultural and occupational level. It can also become a process of generative welfare aiming at helping socialisation and the territory. Moreover, on the subject of creating a connection with the receiving town, any activity must be organized and be free also for the local community. In this perspective, we want to promote work and artisan and educational activities: we devise initiatives and workshops in which anybody can take part, from migrants to citizens. The activities relate to different areas of interest, like beekeeping – with the production of the organic Honey of the Third Paradise -, natural cosmetics from the Garden of the Third Paradise or knitting / weaving workshops (Pettinengo is the town where Italian knitwear was born). These last are formative courses and our challenge is to eventually be in a position to sell the items we produce. Two youths have already been hired by an important organization in the textile sector in Biella after attending one of our workshops.

Photographic credits: Pacefuturo.

Through your project, hospitality has generated work opportunities for local people too. How did you manage to activate inclusion processes involving everybody, from migrants to residents?
This is the crucial point. Inclusion occurs first of all through work: we create employment opportunities, it’s all in favour of the local community. In this regard, we have employed about 20 people from the town in order to provide the services formerly requested by the prefecture. In collaboration with the administration and the parish, we have hired many subjects in fragile conditions, who were struggling to find work due to personal problems. Through our workshops, both asylum seekers and subjects in difficulties bring back old skilled professions typical of our territory and can integrate themselves in society as productive members.

Photographic credits: Pacefuturo.

Can you talk us through one of your guests’ average day? How do they make themselves useful to society?
Numerous are the solutions for people who want to step up. A few volunteers, together with our collaborators, come to Villa Piazzo in the morning to maintain and keep clean the lawn, the playground, roads and paths; jobs that need to be done almost on a daily basis, planned together with the town administration. Our guests can take part in Italian courses and workshops. Some favour working outside, others prefer dealing with handcraft activities. At La Caffetteria di Villa Piazzo, which we run, we also have three apprentices following a training course to work in bars and restaurants. They are all processes of mutual familiarisation and generative welfare.

Villa Piazzo. Photographic credits: Pacefuturo.

Let’s be clear about the political propaganda: what support have you had from the government so far? Are things going to change?
The current political plan is to create even more chaos and confusion to demonstrate that ports should be closed, all this to veto the question of hospitality. Let’s consider the “Safety Decree”, actually aiming at the opposite of what you would think from its name: the new rules allow for only one operator every 50 migrants. This way, it’s very difficult to both generate something positive and facilitate an exchange between migrant and community. Consider that our ratio operators / guests was 1 to 4… it’s all going to become a responsibility of society and the designated social services. The intent of the current government is clear, and changing the contribution per subject from 35 to 18 euros is another indicator. The basic problem is that where the projects were working well, the money would reach the local communities through jobs and the impact on the territory! Migrants in fact had and will still have only 2,5 euros of ‘pocket money’. Those 35 euros were mainly destined to the Italians.

Photographic credits: Pacefuturo.

What are the consequences going to be?
Besides damaging the territory, this paradoxically damages the Italians: reducing the 35 euros to 18 led us to have to let half of our staff go, while the guests will keep receiving 70 euros a month. In the Biellese area, at least 100 jobs linked to migrant hospitality will be lost. It is a vicious circle: who will end up unemployed will apply for Basic Income… The solution was very simple and achievable, they should have had the humbleness and far-sightedness to verify what organizations had been working fairly and make sure that all the money poured into them was actually used to benefit integration and local development. Politicians are using as propaganda only the examples of projects run by criminals, who have turned migrant hospitality into a business, instead of drawing attention to the good practices activated throughout the years.

Photographic credits: Pacefuturo.

When words make a difference: you see these youths as guests, not refugees. Is there a link between politics and individual responsibility?
Each of us, according to our principles and experience, can and should do something. We find ourselves in a situation in which political choices are a hindrance though: there’s a lot of misinformation – or incorrect information – which turns into social anger. We have to see migrants as our similar, people who are going through difficulties. Hospitality is not a gift, but a right that we should guarantee as a country. Italy is among the signatories of the Geneva Convention from 1951, with which we gave ourselves the privilege to welcome people in difficulty. It is a signed right, but some people often forget about that.

Photographic credits: Pacefuturo.

What do you think about Mimmo Lucano’s story? Can Pettinengo be considered another Riace?
I’ve known Domenico Lucano since 2006. I was just back from Africa and I met him in Riace itself because I wanted to see what he had created. In some ways, we simply copied the model of Riace adapting it to our context. The delicate situation the Calabria town is facing is clearly a targeted political attack, disproportionate to possible bureaucratic mistakes by the management of Riace’s SPRAR. I am convinced we will soon hear again about Riace as a positive model of hospitality: their initiative is a project for all of us.
You know, last May a class from the University of Tiffin in the USA contacted us to ask for the opportunity to spend a week in a campus here at Villa Piazzo to study, understand and debate on the Pacefuturo model of hospitality.

In Villa Piazzo’s garden there is a Third Paradise, and you also are a Rebirth ambassador. How have you applied the principles of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s sign-symbol?
First of all, I want to remind everybody that at Villa Piazzo we have the first installation of the Third Paradise in the world: the Garden of the Third Paradise was in fact created in 2008! Developing our model of hospitality, we’ve tried to follow the philosophy of the trinamic symbol. As I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, Pacefuturo has always believed in the ‘us’ of the Third Paradise, between the ‘I’ and the ‘you’, in the beauty of coming together, in diversity as a resource and in the truth of listening. Since 2008, the whole ideological path of Pacefuturo has been based on the principles of Pistoletto’s sign-symbol, and the hospitality carried out since 2014 is nothing other than an example of their practical activation. In what terms? We have set up a laboratory transforming spontaneous herbs into natural cosmetic products: we gather the herbs growing around the installation and macerate them in oil which we use to produce the cosmetics of the Third Paradise. We also make the Honey of the Third Paradise with the refugees. These organic products are concrete examples of the application of the concepts represented by Michelangelo’s sign-symbol.

Photographic credits: Cittadellarte.

What are the perspectives and dreams of these young people?
Our guests, like all migrants, dream to be able to go back to where they come from and to their loved ones, when the situation will make it possible. We think of them as young, but many of them, even if only 25, already have wives and children, or a family to help at home anyway. They want to build a future for themselves for the good of their loved ones, that’s what animates them. I think we share this objective: I myself, just after university, moved to Africa for a few years – around the year 2000 – in order to support development projects. I eventually felt the desire to come back home, though, where I embarked in the project in Pettinengo. Basically, all our guests are after a respectable future. Why are people still discriminated because of the colour of their skin? We still have long to go along the sign traced by Michelangelo…

Here is the island that does / doesn’t exist. It exists, in Pettinengo, what many consider a utopia has already happened. “Second star on the right / this is the path / and then straight on, till the morning / then you’ll find the road on your own / and it takes to the island that doesn’t exist. And they’ll tease you / if you keep looking for it / but don’t give up because / who has already quit / and laughs at you behind your back / might be crazier than you”.