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SCHOOL

Mother laments number of ‘foreigners’ at school

An Italian mother has insisted her outrage over the fact that her daughter is the only Italian in a school full of children with foreign backgrounds does not stem from racism but from concerns over "culture and education".

Mother laments number of 'foreigners' at school
The mother has complained that her son is the only Italian among 65 foreigners. Photo: Shutterstock

Eleonora Baccaro has written to the mayor of Padua, Massimo Bitonci, to complain that her daughter is the only Italian among 66 children at the Quadrifolgio pre-school in the city's Arcella area.

"I'm very concerned about what's happening at Quadrifoglio," she wrote in the letter published by Il Mattino di Padova.

"To me, having a school with 65 foreign children and only one Italian seems like an educational and teaching mistake. The ratio is so disproportionate, we can't even talk about integration. Unless it's integration in reverse, with Italian children being among a large group of foreigners."

Baccarco went on to write that her worries were based on educational and cultural standards and not on racism or "intolerance towards those who come from afar".

"With so many children from a different cultural background, and having a different religion to ours, how can you arrange, for example, any kind of Christmas play inspired by our Catholic faith? This is not good."

Gabriella Balbo, a teacher at the school, told The Local that most of the foreign children at the school were born in Italy and those who weren't are in the minority.

"We have always been multi-ethnic," she said.

"We do our best to welcome all children and have had to come up with strategies to maintain a good level of education and ensure all children are taken care of."

But with more pressure on teachers to respond to the varying needs, Balbo admitted that the school is in dire need of cultural and linguistic mediators.

"The challenge is mainly bureaucratic."

Other teachers at the state school, which takes children aged three to six, reportedly support the mother, with one lamenting the linguistic challenges.

Children in Italy returned to school on Monday.

"On the first day of school a Chinese mother wanted, at all costs, to speak to us teachers about her son, who was in his first year," the teacher was quoted in Il Padova di Mattino as saying.

"The woman had only been in Padua for a short time and didn't speak a word of Italian. So we had to find another Chinese mother to translate."

Padua Mayor Massimo Bitonci, a Northern League (Lega Nord) senator, earlier this year said that crucifixes must be hung on the walls of all schools and offices across the city.

Note: Il Mattino di Padova reported the Italian child in the story as being the mother's son, when in fact it was her daughter.

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CHRISTMAS

Rome’s ‘Geppetto’ on fixing broken toys for underprivileged children

Frayed teddy bears and broken toy cars resurrect under the magic touch of Guido Pacelli, a modern-day Geppetto who works overtime so that Rome's poor and sick children wake up to a gift on Christmas morning.

Rome's 'Geppetto' on fixing broken toys for underprivileged children
Photo: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

Armed with a screwdriver, a microscope and a small welder, “Guido Aggiustagiocattoli”, a.k.a Guido the Toy Fixer, has mended between 50 and 70 toys a day these past two months, in preparation for the festive season.

“The best present for me is when these children who have been through so much smile at me,” said Pacelli, a 68-year-old retired aviation technician from Italy's flagship airline Alitalia.

READ: Six quirky Italian Christmas traditions you should know about

Once up and running, the repaired toys are meticulously disinfected, carefully wrapped and labelled for the families. Salvamamme (Save Mothers), which hosts Pacelli's workshop in premises lent by the Italian Red Cross, then distribute the gifts to poor, migrant or sick children.

Pacelli remembers a Caterpillar tractor he repaired for a little boy. “He called me every day until I managed to repair it,” said Pacelli, a volunteer for the charity since an early retirement in 2011.

Photo: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

“People leave batteries in and they oxidate,” he said, as he changes those of a green plastic electric guitar, extracted from a pile of soft toys, mini computers and wind-chimes for children.

READ: How Christmas dinner changes depending where you are in Italy

Nicknamed Geppetto — the creator of Pinocchio in Carlo Collodi's novel — because of his blue overalls and glasses, Pacelli plays an essential role in the charity.

“This toy was even sent by the manufacturer because it was faulty. I've mended it and now it will go to a child in a hospital,” said Pacelli.

20,000 toys a year 

“We distribute more than 20,000 toys a year,” said Maria Grazia Passeri, head of Salvamamme which also hands out food, nappies and clothes to families with very little means.

The products come from official organisations, hospitals or local parishes. Passeri, wrapped in a red shawl, said that she founded the charity 20 years ago to help “all these women who give birth in secret or go through horrible experiences”.

On distribution day at Salvamamme, mothers fill out forms and children amuse themselves amongst the piles of parcels ready to be sent and play with toys awaiting Pacelli's intervention, stacked in heaving piles.

Many former beneficiaries who manage to lift themselves out of poverty become volunteers at Salvamamme. Jonathan, a 29-year-old Argentinian, arrived in Italy 12 years ago without work or a family to start a new life. “I am very grateful, I will never forget the help I received.

All my free time I give it to the association,” he said. Anna Moticala has a family of five to feed, three of whom are children. She arrived from Moldova to Rome eight years ago and is unemployed. She is also grateful for the charity.

“I asked for a little help and they helped me enormously,” she said, above the sound of children's laughter as they play and gobble down a slice of Pandoro, a typical Italian Christmas dessert.

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