It was deeply disturbing to read (No more excuses) that Scottish children record the lowest feeling of well-being of children In Europe. Maybe it is nostalgia but I loved my childhood on a council estate in Wales. I was always out – fields lay just a few minutes away with trees bushes and walks. No paranoia about child abusers for we all knew the two ‘funny blokes’ in the village anyway. The only threat to ’freedom’ was my mother who would try to catch me before I raced out with a culf of bread and slab of cheese. “Goin down the woods Mam!”….woosh
Italy is far from the bottom when it comes to well-being of children but here, too, there are problems when, just one generation removed from the land, children are losing contact with what is around them. Last year four friends of ours, teacher Sandro Tonnelli, psychologist Anna Puglisi, vet Claudio Fratangeli and artist Stefano Simoni, asked us to become involved with taking some classes of children that Sandro taught out into a local reserve, La Renara
Italy is not synonymous with ‘organisation’ so I did not know what was wanted of me: I am used to that. A thousand times I have watched in disbelief as, yet again, Italians pull success out of the bag…they need a deadline (preferably five minutes away) maybe the gene for anticipation is missing (just think of Italian drivers…but I digress)
I was the man with the camera and quickly the children found things – I would then (with my ‘point and shoot’) set-up get a shot from bugs to berries and tree frogs. My role evolved. Vet Claudio grew up in the countryside with snakes, lizards and all that crawled and now looks after injured birds and animals for reserves. He periodically gathers the children around and explains all sorts of things (the kids like the grim facts) about how nature works. Sandro, a teacher in a million, has them running up and down a field to breathe fresh air or just standing in a circle, hands linked eyes closed and silent (a miracle?) to listen to the world around.
Then, whilst they lunch (essential, even for young Italians) at the home of artist Stefano , I download some 140 files to a Macbook do a rapid edit in Lightroom and they get a slideshow (lots of pics of them, too) after drawing a huge map.
This year, local schools have no funds – not even petrol for a bus to get to the La Renara reserve. We have resolved to take the experience to them for the feedback has been astonishing. Walking around a local town I have seen children point at me and whisper to parents (in the UK it would get me locked up) and this, being Italy, people come across and say how much their child has enjoyed themselves – could we do something for them, too?
Other schools want to participate and illustrated guides to the region are to be produced…the reserve we use is threatened with being opened to hunters: this will help give it a ‘value’ for its species diversity. But best of all some children now bring mobile phones and small cameras to record images and the keenest is the son of a local ‘dignitary’ (and hunter) who has even taken to coming to natural history meetings because of his son’s interest. As the Jesuits say “give me the child….”