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Cultural mediators are a resource in danger of disappearing – Jada Bai

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Cultural mediators are a resource in danger of disappearing – Jada Bai

Annie is nine years old and has just arrived in Milan from the Philippines, where she had been left by her parents who came to work in Italy. At school Annie immediately realizes that not knowing Italian is a problem, she doesn’t even understand what the teachers are saying, she who has always had excellent grades in the Philippines. What’s more, she doesn’t know how the Italian school is organized and she can’t talk to her classmates because she doesn’t have topics in common with them.

First of all Annie needs an initial literacy course, which her school organizes, then the teachers must understand the level of skills she has already acquired and therefore ask for the help of a linguistic-cultural mediator. Connie Castro, a woman of Filipino origin with twenty years of experience, will accompany the child for a week working together with her teachers. “Providing hospitality at school is gratifying, you help the children and sometimes you see them change in a week,” Castro says. “I also like talking to parents, sometimes they seem as fragile as their children. They nod even if they haven’t understood well, but they are ashamed to admit that they don’t know the language well”.

Linguistic-cultural mediation has been present in Italian schools for more than twenty years and has helped many Annies of different origins. But that’s not all: it operates in all relationships between public bodies and foreign users. Despite the important role played by mediation, there is still no national legislation defining the qualifications, duties and contractual framework of the profession. The situation varies from region to region, sometimes even from municipality to municipality, and most mediators find themselves working on call, without protection and guarantees.

According to the Ministry of Education, Annie is a Nai (NeoArrivati ​​in Italia) student, that is, who arrived in Italy “in the last two years”. In the year 2019-2020 there were almost 23,000 Nai in the Italian school system, a substantial number even if it represents only 2.6 percent of the total number of pupils from migrant backgrounds. At national level, students with non-Italian citizenship represent 10.3 percent of the total school population, but it must be considered that 66.7 percent of these are second generations. More than a quarter of pupils with a migrant background attend schools in Lombardy.

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Mediation in schools usually still works “on call”, i.e. at the request of teachers and in the context of projects financed by the municipality or the ministry of education, which however do not always have enough hours available to cover the request . “In the 2021-2022 school year in Milan we were able to distribute 560 hours among the primary schools in three areas of the city and for all languages. We had already completed them in February 2022”, says Eva Veroli, of the Farsi Prossimo cooperative, which manages the mediation service of one of the Start territorial poles, bodies appointed by the municipality of Milan to support schools in the intercultural field.

Mediators also work in the social and health sector. In the counseling center in via Monreale in Milan, for example, Tuesday is “Arab women’s day”: the secretariat groups all appointments into a single morning, the one in which Nagla Gaffar, an Arab mediator of Egyptian origin, is present. “We follow many pregnancies from the beginning until after the birth, but also gynecological visits and pre and post birth courses”, explains Gaffar.

In Milan there are sixteen counseling centers equipped with a fixed mediation service (out of eighteen offices) and the most requested languages ​​reflect the presence of the city’s foreign communities: Arabic, Tagalog, Chinese and Sri Lankan. “Situations of cultural diversity often arise,” continues Gaffar. “For example, different things are eaten during pregnancy and for many women it is not easy to respect the indications. For me the hardest part is not ‘staying on anyone’s side’, neither the woman nor the operator”.

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The world of mediation is very extensive and mediators often participate in larger projects with different roles. “I have been holding training courses for operators for a couple of years, explaining the complexity of the Arab world, starting, for example, with how we live Ramadan or the different types of veil,” explains Zeenat Raja, an Arab mediator of Pakistani origin. “Let’s try to get operators to ‘decentralize’, that is to try to understand that their own way of thinking, their own culture is not the only possible one. It’s an important skill when you work with migrants.” It is an approach that comes from France, where the psychoanalyst and university professor Marie Rose Moro founded the “transcultural clinic” to psychologically support fragile migrants who do not know the language, thus outlining some characteristics of the work of mediators and operators when they deal with people with a migrant background.

The role of the mediator is also required in the juridical-institutional sphere. It is the court, often that of minors, that requests its service in order to be able to communicate with the parties. “Cases can be very varied,” says Omar Raja, a second-generation mediator of Pakistani origin. “Families reported for some fragility, women who run away from the violent partner. I often assist minor asylum seekers, all those 12 to 15 year olds who arrive in Italy after traveling by sea and by land. In addition to acting as an interpreter, I help them solve bureaucratic issues thanks to my knowledge”.

Raja is a law student now at the end of his career and has seen his work as a mediator as a prelude to his future as an international lawyer. The profession of mediator, in fact, does not have a defined career path: a freelancer, collaborates with several cooperatives, those who are lucky manage to be part of projects that provide for a substantial number of hours in some center or consultancy.

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In Milan several private centers are activating linguistic mediation services

In Lombardy, unlike other regions such as Lazio, the profession of mediator is not officially recognized. “We have been fighting for years to have a register”, says Karina Vergara Scorzelli, Spanish-speaking mediator and president of the Crinali cooperative. “We would like to know how many we are, have a defined professional ethics, improve our skills, but we are always at a standstill”.

There are no national rules, even if some laws such as Law 40 of 1998, the so-called Turco-Napolitano, state that “institutions can make use of qualified mediators with a residence permit of no less than two years”, with the implicit understanding that the mediator is a person with a migration background.

“We had hoped that with the opening of the degree course in linguistic and cultural mediation, twenty years ago now, our figure would take shape in a professional way but this has not been the case”, continues Scorzelli. “There are many economics exams in the course that seem to lead students towards commercial mediation. Furthermore, Tagalog or Romanian are not studied, the languages ​​of two of the most numerous foreign communities in Italy”.

“It’s not easy to be a mediator”, agrees Hong Yanyan, one of the few second generation Sino-Italian mediators, explaining that there could be more job opportunities in the private sector and that several centers in Milan are activating linguistic mediation services. “I worked as a precarious worker for the cooperatives for a year or two. Then luckily I found a private medical center that had many Chinese patients and was looking for someone who could speak Chinese and answer the phone. So I finally got a contract.”

It is still difficult to understand how the profession will evolve. “Sometimes”, Scorzelli concludes bitterly, “it is as if they are waiting for this work to die”.

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