EMERGENCY-USA Volunteer Coordinator Ed Digilio recently traveled to Livorno, Italy to attend the 2013 EMERGENCY International Conference. Here is a review of his experience:
I recently traveled to Livorno, Italy to participate in the 12th International Meeting of EMERGENCYsupporters and volunteers. Livorno is a lovely port city on the western coast in the Tuscany region of Italy. It turned out to be a perfect place to host the meeting as the city features beautiful June weather as well as considerable numbers of enthusiastic EMERGENCY supporters.
The meeting kicked off on a Wednesday evening at an old fortress located on a canal in the downtown area of the city. We had the chance to view exhibits on EMERGENCY programs as well as some documentary footage of the organization’s healthcare operations. Cecilia Strada, the president of EMERGENCY, greeted the attendees with a nice speech and Gino Strada was present as well doing some interviews with the media. I had the chance to meet Gino and have a little conversation with him and I have to say it was a big moment in my life. It certainly gave me a deeply personal connection to the organization.
While Wednesday’s reception was fairly small, Thursday evening featured the first event at the Pala Macchia, which is a sports arena located just south of Livorno. There was a big crowd, with approximately 1000 people attending the “Health Is A Right Of All” event, which featured a panel of experts speaking about the problems with the Italian healthcare system. Many of the issues discussed struck me as similar to the problems medicine in the U.S. currently faces. It seems that no matter where we go in the world, getting decent medical treatment for everyone is always a challenge. It shouldn’t have to be so difficult, no?
After the event ended, we stayed out late listening to an excellent band playing at the Rotanda di Ardenza (the rally point between meetings.) Friday morning I slept in but woke up just in time to make it back down to the Pala Macchia for the volunteers meeting, which was beautiful. Cecilia gave an inspiring speech and individual volunteers were recognized for outstanding efforts. At the end of the meeting, there was an open mic session where any volunteer who wanted to speak was allowed to address the entire assembly. Many people took the opportunity and it was moving to see the large numbers of volunteers who spoke so passionately and eloquently about EMERGENCY.
It’s not just the volunteers who are passionate and eloquent when speaking about the organization. I was consistently blown away by the ability of EMERGENCY’s leaders, people like Cecilia, Gino and Rosella Miccio, to give lengthy speeches and monologues seemingly without any prepared remarks (maybe there was a teleprompter hidden somewhere that I missed.) Clearly, everyone spoke from the heart no notes required.
When the volunteers’ meeting was over, we had just enough time to dash back to our hotels and run off to the Amedeo Modigliani Forum for Friday evening’s big rally and concert with numerous musical acts. At the rally, a panel of experts including Gino, discussed “Rights or Privileges” in Italy. Essentially, they were debating what rights are guaranteed to Italian citizens. The evening had the feeling of a political gathering at times, with the thousands of audience members responding enthusiastically to the panel members’ comments lamenting the current state of affairs in the country.
The panel discussion wrapped up and a succession of musical performers played for two hours. Gino and Cecilia wound up on the stage at the end of the night around one in the morning being serenaded by a large group of musicians to the sounds of the Beatles’ song ObladiOblada. A sweet tribute for sure.
Saturday, slightly blearyeyed, we returned to the Pala Macchia at 10 am for a day of seminars on EMERGENCY’s global operations. We heard from staff working in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. Among the reports was a guided video tour of the hospital in the Central African Republic. We also had a surgeon from the Salam Center walk us through a procedure to repair a damaged heart valve. Very cool.
We also watched a number of documentaries. For me, the most powerful movie was Walking Wounded: Return to the Frontline, which chronicled British photographer Giles Duley’s return to Afghanistan where he had lost three limbs two years earlier after stepping on an improvised explosive device while embedded with NATO forces. In the film, Duley visits EMERGENCY’s hospital in Kabul to photograph civilian victims of conflict. It was absolutely heartwrenching to watch the scenes of the triple amputee Duley taking pictures of kids who have suffered horrific injuries themselves. I had to leave the building a couple of times to compose myself. When are we going to learn that nothing good comes from us trying to blow blow each other up?
After the seminars ended in the afternoon, it was time to head back to the hotel and then catch one last concert at the Amedeo Modigliani Forum. The Forum was packed, with a youthful, electric audience attending the free show. I watched the musicians for about an hour and the entertainment was excellent. Unfortunately, I had a five a.m. train to catch Sunday morning so I had to walk out of the concert early. As I made my way back to my hotel through the jammed parking lots surrounding the Forum, I could hear a vocalist inside performing a haunting version of Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah. Hallelujah indeed. It was a remarkable four days in Livorno.