Courtesy of Townsend Ziegler, SU Florence art history graduate student
Before dawn on Saturday, fifteen SUF students left Piazza Savonarola to volunteer in L’ L’Aquila, a town still ravaged from an earthquake on April 6, 2009. This trip, organized by SUF Volunteer Program Coordinator Vittoria Tettamanti in conjunction with the Italian humanitarian organization ‘Caritas,’ marked the first time Americans have volunteered to help this severely damaged town in the region of Abruzzo.
When we arrived, we were broken into different groups of American and Italian volunteers. Each group had a different task: laying foundations for temporary housing, staining wood, moving furniture between apartments, building fences, laying floors, and reading and playing with children. We worked hard through the weekend while we sung Italian and American songs and discussed our lives. During meals, we ate together at loud, communal tables, and at night, we slept in “containers”, metal structures akin to storage units.
After lunch and saying our goodbyes on Sunday, we went to the city center to witness the effects of the earthquake. The Italian volunteers had told us that the city will never recover, and we saw why. The earthquake damaged or destroyed the majority of the city’s downtown, which is now condemned and abandoned. The cupola of the duomo has crumbled into the transept, and the towers of another church no longer stand parallel to one another. It would cost too much to rebuild L’Aquila, and there are questions as to whose responsibility rebuilding is anyway. The scaffolding and supports that line the streets only keep structures from falling into them; no work is being to done to restore the buildings.
The state neglected both the city and those who have lost homes or jobs. Less than 10% of people who lost their homes have moved into newly built ones in L’Aquila, and many dislocated people have spent the past year in hotel rooms in the resorts on Abruzzo’s coast. They do not have jobs or a city to return to. Families are falling apart, and businesses have left. Those whose homes were not entirely destroyed have received little to no help from the state; they remain responsible for their mortgages and costs, even if their home was severely damaged. L’Aquila is a ghost town, its emptiness heartbreaking. The earthquake destroyed many buildings, but in its neglect, the state destroyed the lives and worlds of many people who will never recover their home.
Our work was directed towards building temporary housing for those with little resources and hope left, those who see their city as a cemetery. Volunteers have made significant contributions to the rebuilding of L’Aquila outside of its historical center, and there is still much work to be done. When we left on Sunday, we were sore but happy, having received more by giving back to a devastated community.