British sixth-formers spend vacation helping earthquake survivors

A dozen sixth-formers who attend an Opus Dei club in West London have spent over a week helping out in a social service project in the Abruzzo, the earthquake-torn region in central Italy.

The worst affected city in last April’s earthquake was L’Aquila, where the majority of the 300 victims died. The centre of town was wrecked and to this day it is still sealed off to cars and pedestrians, with only accredited building contractors being able to get in for demolition work. A single street and main square are open but walking around them is like visiting a ghost-town. The residents of L’Aquila who did not go to live with relatives elsewhere were relocated to tents at different points of the outskirts of the town, set up by the local authorities. Similar tents have been set up in all the villages and towns within a 50 mile radius of L’Aquila. Tens of thousands of people were made homeless, so whole families including babies and older people have had to move into tents, and are only slowly being relocated back to ordinary houses.

As part of the reconstruction process, the ELIS Foundation in Rome made an agreement with the authorities to run a summer school in the villages around L’Aquila between mid-June and mid-September for the local children aged 6 to 13 whose schools were closed last April. The villages include Fontecchio, San Felice d’Ocre, Succiano, Barisciano, Villa S. Angelo and San Demetrio ne’ Vestini. ELIS is a Technical College running vocational courses in computing, machine maintenance and sport. It was set up by members of Opus Dei and opened by Pope Paul VI in 1967.

Westpark Study Centre, an Opus Dei club in West London, got in contact with ELIS about the idea of helping out in the summer school. In the end, 12 volunteers set off from London on 19 July to work in the villages of Succiano and San Felice d’Ocre. After a day in Rome, they spent the rest of the time working with the local children, running sports, crafts and other activities. Volunteers included sixth formers from Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, St Benedict’s and the London Oratory School.

Jack Valero, who led the group to Italy, commented: “It is always very sad to see images of devastation on TV when watching the news of an earthquake; but coming here it becomes clearer how such events affect real people whose real lives have been wrecked by loss of relatives or the loss of their possessions. It has been a great experience to be able to share some of our energy and enthusiasm with those affected by the disaster, and to give them our friendship.”

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