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As an adult can I be your daughter?

· Inquiry into the association ‘Famiglie per l’accoglienza’ that cares for foster children ·

Why take a stranger into your home? Why invest time, emotion, attention, sleepless nights, and interminable discussions in order to weigh up the pros and cons, in order to support the life of a small boy who will never be your own, who is not your biological son and will not even ever be a permanent member of your family?

Because it is worthwhile. Because the life – of the parents to whom he is entrusted, of the siblings, friends and relatives involved – becomes more beautiful, more intense and full of surprises. Because although there is the effort and the fear of regretting it, the sorrow of parting when the telephone call comes communicating the child’s definitive destination, “we don’t even remember the pain, just like after giving birth”, explains Grazia, who plays a lead role in La mia casa è la tua (2010), a documentary by Emmanuel Exitu on the ‘Famiglie per l’accoglienza’ Association. “There is a child, there is a new life, I am involved, once again a mother. To remember the pain I have to think hard; what happens afterwards is too beautiful”.

Juliana Bollini, “Papai é meu!” (2011)

Founded in Italy as an association in 1982 – today it is also present in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Lithuania, Romania, Spain and Switzerland with 3,000 member families and more than 800 adoptions and 1,500 foster homes in the 31 years of its history – it accompanies every couple and provides material aid to prepare and support fostering experiences that often prove more complex and demanding than could be foreseen in the initial enthusiasm. Moreover this has led to projects with institutions and schools to support adopted minors or those in foster homes who have special difficulties, even to the point of creating protected structures. More recent is the experience of following up the disabled and the elderly in their own family. In Italy alone about 500 events are on the agenda every year for promotion and sensitization, formation and mutual help.

Today this skill in “networking” is an element that is also considered important by the institutions that regulate adoptions and foster care: indeed social services and tribunals for minors are well aware that families must be prepared and guided in these decisions that are so important and delicate. When the world of foster care is involved a multitude of questions, fears and hopes arise. Is it possible to have two mothers, a biological mother and a mother of the heart? Why seek out sons and daughters in difficulty? Is it a special inclination for heroic altruism or a normal requirement common to everyone?

Relationships in foster care are the ultimate question in the vast majority of cases: does the relationship that has been created disappear or does it last for ever? If every authentic parental bond lasts for ever, as experiences teaches, the opposite is also true; as in a photographic negative motherhood and fatherhood reveal all their affective and generative potential even when they are betrayed.

“We recognize that foster care is the constitutive dimension of the family”, Marco Mazzi explains, outlining the identikit of the association of which he is president together with his wife, Licia, “the family is born from an act of acceptance between husband and wife and opens in welcoming new lives, it binds generations in a relationship of free giving. Seeing people who are totally involved, who put the dearest place they have at stake in order to be company for others, the friendship that is born of doing so, we could not keep all this for ourselves, because the whole of society needs to see that welcoming and giving freely are possible experiences. We are a company, as we always say”, Mazzi reaffirms, “ours is a friendship. On its own the family gets lost, or at any rate risks getting lost. So does the foster family. We would not have had this experience had we not been raised in the Church’s tradition to experience that it is the Lord who created man first and instilled in man a good that is sometimes concealed, almost imperceptible, but is nevertheless present. Within this history we reverberate what has happened to us. No family is “specialized” in foster care, anyone can take in a person to love him or her for what he or she is; we want to support this ongoing openness. Some people, having experienced the positive dimension of their action in providing temporary care, even for only a day, have made themselves available for prolonged foster care”.

This is the case of Jimmy and Silvia Garbujo who have turned their dwelling place into a family house – Casa San Benedetto. “In addition to our own four children we have another five: three adolescent girls, and a small boy and girl. Our house is “full of traffic”; we have a three-metre long table in the kitchen and the seats round it are always occupied. In time, each and every one comes out with what they bring with them, with the pain they feel, and every now and then we have to remember that we are only covering a stretch of the road together. You have to see clearly that it is not you who resolves their life but you can certainly stand beside them. Together it is possible to look the hardest things in the face, the painful situations experienced with their natural parents, for example”.

“Those who have had difficult histories”, Licia Mazzi continues, find it hard to know who they are, it is as if they were always at war, it is not clear with whom. We can say to them: “Look, take a rest!” There is this possibility of laying down arms; we experience this possibility in eating together, in going to buy new shoes or in going to school”.

May those who take in children not consider themselves heroes”, Jimmy Garbujo continues, “indeed, may they discover their limitations; we are not the ones who save these children. We are no better than others”. “Nor braver”, his wife Silvia adds.

Yet it is the most routine daily actions that tangibly generate hope: “as an adult can I be your daughter?” six-year-old Martina asked her foster mother one day.

“If everything, such as, for example, going to see beautiful places together”, Silvia Garbujo continued, “is a novelty for them, we are also required to be true with regard to ourselves. I have always had the wish that I may never lose my zest for life. Feeling part of a larger family is essential to us: foster care has helped us, is helping us, to live life better in the sense that it does not let us stay put at the appearance of things. And we can say that both those who take in children and those who help these foster parents increase in humanity and in beauty”.

It is not only children who need to be accepted but adults too. “Living in a company of families, in a house of flesh and not only of bricks, in a place that is welcoming and cared for, opens up the possibility of a new journey”, explain Luke and Laura Orlando, recounting the birth of Fontanavivace in Genoa, thanks to their collaboration with the Sisters of Santa Marcellina. “There are now 24 of us. Ours is not a 1970s type commune; we are three different families that have decided to give each other mutual support, sharing our free time, the children’s education and openness to new forms of hospitality: minors in entrustment, parent-child families in difficulty – to help mothers and as far as possible to prevent them from being separated from their children – and also groups of young people, or the relatives of children admitted to the Gaslini Paediatric Hospital. They ring before entering, even if the children are all playing together. It all began by chance – not from any plan of ours – like the tradition of coffee after dinner in order to talk about the day’s events, or praying together, which began in order to ask for the cure of a little girl ill with a tumour who subsequently did not make it. A sliver of death also entered our house, in the midst of all the joy”. “Hospitality does not mean living something but giving everything, it is the involvement of one’s whole life”, the website of Fontanavivace says. “I couldn’t manage now to think of my life in any other way”, Luca concludes.

“At the outset”, Grazia explains in La mia casa è la tua, telling of her experience of foster care, “I tried to protect myself. But I then found her, the one who entered my heart and my own being, which had entered hers”.

Silvia Guidi

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