For the past two years, CNC Social Service Worker students have taken their education overseas to volunteer with an international refugee project in the small Italian village of Camini.
The inspiring stories told by CNC students who worked with refugees the year before is what ultimately encouraged first year Social Service Worker student Chanelle Wilson to complete her practicum in Camini.
"I'm interested in the political side of social work,” she said. “This Study Abroad was a great starting point to better understanding both the situations refugees come from and the life they have a couple years down the road.”
In April 2018, Chanelle, along with two other students, touched down in Camini. While there, she learned about the village’s history and struggle due to a declining population. As refugees entered Italy, the people of Camini encouraged them to settle in their community. This decision breathed life back into Camini.
On the second day, Chanelle met Amanuel*, a refugee who came to Camini from the African country of Eritrea with his wife Ruta and two children.
Last year, Amanuel formed a strong friendship with second year CNC Social Service Worker student Nicole Yeager. Before leaving for Italy, Chanelle worked with Nicole to collect donations for the family.
“We were able to bring two bags of baby clothes,” she said. “When we gave them to him, he cried and thanked us.”
Though there were numerous jobs available to the students in Camini, Chanelle said her and another student wanted to work the gardens that Amanuel managed.
Through his limited English, Amanuel explained that women don’t typically do manual labour jobs. They assured him they could do it and he welcomed them as part of his team of workers.
The students worked eight hours in the fields each day, rotating gardens throughout Camini. Some gardens they harvested. Others they tilled. A few they built.
It didn’t take long for the students to impress Amanuel. Everyday he’d tell the two women that they were “strong like men.”
"He was the hardest working person I have ever met," Chanelle said. "He really inspired us to work harder."
Four weeks went by and it was time to go home. The hardest part, she said, was leaving Amanuel and his family.
“They fed us even when they had nothing,” she said. “They appreciated our efforts and truly became our friends.”
Though working a garden in a small Italian village might not seem like an exact fit to her studies, Chanelle said social work can happen anywhere while doing just about anything.
Before leaving, the project manager commended the students for helping to break gender barriers as they laboured alongside 30 men day-in-and-day-out. In turn, Chanelle learned that her definitions of women’s rights and equality can differ from people in other parts of the world.
“Different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong,” Chanelle said. “I’m thankful I got to go on this Study Abroad and see something that’s not in our everyday bubble.”
*some names have been changed to protect family members still living in Eritrea