Two years ago, on September 3, Fr. Rafael, the director of La Repubblica dei Ragazzi, received a phone call in the middle of the night from a social worker. “I need your help with Paola,” the person on the other side of the phone announced. “She keeps running away from each institution. It’s the fifth time now and nobody wants her back. Would you accept her now?”
Fr. Rafael, without hesitation, told the social worker that the doors of La Repubblica dei Ragazzi were open for Paola. Later that night, the Carabinieri (the Italian police) escorted Paola to her new community. “She will run away again,” one of the policemen announced smiling.
Fr. Rafael welcomed Paola and told her that there was one fundamental rule at La Repubblica. The main gate is always open. Children are welcome at any time, but are also free to go if they wish to do so.
During those days, the citizens of La Repubblica were working at rewriting their Constitution and Paola seemed to be very interested in this process. They – the children – could approve their own laws and govern themselves. Adults were not imposing rules on them; instead they were encouraging them to become independent.
Three months later, one of the educators of La Repubblica asked Paola why she did not run away yet. Paola looked at her amused. “There is no fun in running away from here when the door is always open.”
Clearly, it was more than that. Paola found a place where she could be empowered to become a self-confident, creative and responsible participant in her community. She found her home.
Paola became the first girl to be elected mayor in the 70-year history of La Repubblica. Since then she has always been a councilwoman. She developed a passion for cooking and decided to be the assistant cook. Today she works in a hotel and has found her purpose in life.
The story of Paola is the story of many children who experience self-government in our Towns in Italy, India and Ethiopia. And, it is also the story of people like you who make this possible.
You are providing more than a chance in life. You are saving lives. Thank you!