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2022 Assembly

 

25th ANNIVERSARY OF PROJECT MIRIAM IN PADOVA

 

We carry out many initiatives for the girls welcomed in the house, but what makes me grow is doing something with them, walking with them.

On December 16, 2023, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of our shelter for women victims of trafficking in Padova. The event began with a solemn Eucharistic celebration presided over by Bishop Claudio Cipolla at the parish of San Giovanni Battista in Pontevigodarzere. An appointment that shows how much the “Miriam Project” is dear to the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor and that in this quarter of a century, has involved about twenty nuns who have succeeded each other in serving women, young and old.

The event then featured a presentation of images and testimonies from those who organized, followed, helped, and lived in this precious project. All, although different in experiences and sensitivities, tell the same feeling: that of “living in a family, in a real home, made of care and Franciscan simplicity.”

About 300 trafficking victims have been guests of Project Miriam in these 25 years, but many more have been supported in their path to emancipation and autonomy even without becoming guests. The Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, a congregation founded in the mid-nineteenth century in Germany by Franziska Schervier and present in Italy since 1947, arrived in Padova in 1988 and immediately began caring for the poorest, disabled, and young people in search of the meaning of their lives. It was almost spontaneous for them to respond to the call of then-Bishop Antonio Mattiazzo in 1994, who appealed to the consecrated women of his diocese to help the numerous women on the streets, exploited for sexual reasons.

At that time, exploitation was evident and dangerous, but there were no laws, so nothing could be done. Paradoxically, these women were invisible. It was an absurd condition: foreign women convinced to come to Italy to find work but instead forced into prostitution, treated like slaves. They had no money and, above all, no documents; it was necessary to break the bond with the exploiter to emancipate themselves.

Only in 1998 did the then-Minister Livia Turco include an article – number 18 – in the new immigration law desired by the Prodi Government. This article provides a residence permit for social protection for trafficking victims who choose to leave their situation and report their exploiters. Moreover, the law also guarantees a protection path in a suitable structure. So, in 1998, we finally managed to implement this project: the house, owned by the Diocese of Padova, has a secret address to ensure adequate protection for those who ask for our help.

In recent years, the phenomenon of trafficking has changed, and new ways of assistance are being sought. However, from the beginning, what has determined the start and life of the Project is a strong spirit of collaboration and network among many local services. This has allowed and still allows the possibility of providing these girls with multidisciplinary and qualitative help to reintegrate and integrate with dignity into Italian social life.

Another word that expresses what we have tried to live every day is CARE. The women we welcome, sometimes minors, have needed to bring order to their lives, to take control of them, to direct them towards their own well-being. It has been a long journey for all of them to become aware and savour their dignity, a path of self-determination gained day after day. They needed to be accompanied in the choices that slowly led them to autonomy: self-esteem, trust, work, home, self-care, and care for their loved ones. This care involves attention, listening, welcoming, presence, sometimes words of encouragement and correction, and sometimes just silence. It’s a care that involves waiting, the certainty that the little seed will sprout and grow like a seedling.

Inside the house, there is a beautiful handmade object workshop for favours and small decorations for the home. It plays an important educational role in the women’s journey. There, they have the opportunity to rediscover beauty in general, but above all, their ability to create beautiful things, to realize new things, to be protagonists and creative.

Finally, Project Miriam involves several volunteers and young people who help us create positive relationships among people. Increasingly, we realize how important it is to raise awareness about this phenomenon, still so present and little known.

We would like to share the testimony of one of our guests (whose name is invented), who after a long time has found trust in herself and others. This story and many others give us strength and hope to continue this service.

Sr. Carla and Sr. Gabriella

Sisters and operatives in Project Miriam with our Congregation Minister and Councilor.

Testimony of Olivia

When I arrived at Project Miriam, I was just 18 years old. I arrived at night, accompanied by the carabinieri. I was very scared because I didn’t know where they were taking me. At first, I thought I was going to one of those places where everyone wears a uniform, like some kind of reform school… and that scared me a bit.

The morning after when I woke up, I realized that I wasn’t in a reform school but rather a kind of convent. We didn’t have to wear a uniform; the sisters were regular people, and I was undoubtedly in a safe place. However, I kept to myself and avoided everyone.

In the beginning, I often cried. I felt disoriented and insecure. I missed my things; I couldn’t bring anything with me, no clothes, books, or anything that reminded me of home. I remember that in the early days, I spent a lot of time by the window in my room, watching people pass by, counting cars, and daydreaming. I imagined how my life would be after experiencing such terrible things.

I didn’t talk about my past with anyone. It took almost six months for me to trust the people around me and be able to tell my story. After a few days, I started working in the workshop, and there I gradually discovered that I could create something beautiful, new, and entirely mine. I slowly began to change, to transform.

Now I am truly different—I am more outgoing, positive, joyful, and above all, open to the future. I fondly remember my first birthday celebrated at Project Miriam: it was the first time I had a birthday party. Together with the sisters, we prepared the celebration with balloons, a poster, and I cooked some typical dishes from my homeland.

Project Miriam has been a family, a safe place. Here, I have grown, and now I am appreciating the opportunities that this place has given me. For example, I have been integrated into the workforce, and now I can support myself.

I feel that the important thing is never to give up, to continue walking on the right path, even if there are obstacles, but never to go back. And to believe that one can change, become better, and start anew!