On July 13th 2013, during a speech at the United Nations, Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai said: " One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world " .
Last week, when I met with grade six and seven students in Pesaro ( Italy ) to talk about my experience with bullying and in antimafia, Malala's words echoed in my mind. As I was driving home, later that morning, I thought: " Adults should spend more time with children. They, are the real teachers". Spontaneity, curiosity, solidarity and action. We outgrow childhood and loose sight of ourselves. Children remind us of our hopes, of the visions we are brave enough to believe in and fight for when we are young, before our behavior is contaminated by society's judgements and expectations, before the word " different " becomes something to be ashamed of.
Every time I have the opportunity to be with students I come alive. We share stories, ideas. We come up with solutions to problems. There are moments of laughter and moments of sadness. They are all cause for reflection.
Explaining mafia to one generation after another has become a tragic ritual in this country. The atmosphere in a room goes from being lighthearted to intense the moment children realize how tightly linked the mindset between bullying and organized crime is. Helping them understand how each and every one us can make a difference by speaking up, by refusing to be silent bystanders is a challenge. By the same token it is inspiring to observe growing enthusiasm in kids. It is encouraging to read their thoughts at the end of the day. Every one of them is a unique gift. Some are scribbled on a torn piece of paper, others are written neatly. Some are drawings with a few words jotted here and there. They are expressions of a melting pot of personalities conveying an interchangeable message of optimism.
For this post I have chosen to translate one of the letters I received last wednesday from Italian to English. It is from a grade six student. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!
" I remember the first time I heard the word " mafia ". I was about six years old. I heard it on the news and I immediately asked for explanations. The answer I received was: " It's those people who stop you and shoot ". I was terrified. If they really did come to shoot us? But those were the thoughts of a silly six year old.
Today, after having read and discussed mafia, I think I have a pretty good idea about the meaning of this word and what it represents. Mafia is a criminal organization that gains power every time we decide to remain silent in front of a threat or, when we witness crimes done to others and keep quiet because we are afraid mafiosi might take revenge on us.
It's a lot like what happens at school when bullies do things like steal someone's lunch and threaten to beat them up if they tell an adult. The victim doesn't say anything because he's too scared and, students who witness the injustice don't say anything because they are afraid of the bullies as well.
This is mafia.
In Italy there were men like Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino who gave their lives to fight organized crime. But " Mafia can reach you everywhere". These words were once written on a note left on Judge Falcone's chair, in his office. Perhaps those mafiosi were right. Maybe the reach of organized crime is unstoppable however: " If young people deny their consent, even the mysterious and almighty mafia will vanish like a nightmare " . This is one of Judge Borsellino's most famous quotes. We read it at school, in the book " Paolo's Dream " .
I learned that when mafia men are arrested they can choose to cooperate with the law. Normal citizens can do this as well if they are being threatened. However, those who decide to join forces with magistrates and police have to be placed in special protection programs in order to be safe from the vendetta's of organized crime.
It takes a lot of courage to report crimes such as extortion. I think most people are afraid. Like our teacher said: " It's not easy if you have a family to protect ".
If we all do our part to fight mafia, especially in school, things will get better for everyone and we will finally be able to live without fear. "