Several years ago I relocated to London and my first – part time – job was in a local Charity called TRAID (textile recycle for aid and international development www.traid.org.uk): a not for profit organization aimed at improving life and working conditions in developing countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, by taking legal actions and funding local projects.
That was the first time I heard about what Charities do in the UK and I was amazed at the idea of working not only for my own income but also to make the world fairer and more equal.
The job that should have been a temporary experience to make a living became a turning point in my life.
Since then, I’ve started wondering how to do more, how to impact other lives, how to help people in need: “If we want to make a change- I quite often said to my friends and colleagues - we should all start in our cities and grab a local volunteer opportunity” … but, somehow, for a few years, I always had other priorities, another deadline to meet or something “very important” to do.
I was pushing myself to keep up with London life and, the more I was experiencing the superfast London pace, the more I was feeling the urgency to not get trapped into it.
A while after, by chance (or by destiny?) I came across the Community of Sant’Egidio in London.
I like to define my experience in Sant’Egidio as a journey: a journey through friendship, through mercy, through the joy of sharing. It is definitely much more than a local volunteer work opportunity.
For the first time, I felt part of a global human project that unites the streets of the world.
Down the streets of London where we all rush through, I learned to slow down, to stop and speak with the homeless and the poor.
Down the streets, our friendship is born and cultivated: a friendship I am grateful for because it taught me the sense of proportion towards my life and towards those I used to consider insurmountable problems.
It also taught me that, no matter how rich or poor you are, there is always a way to give back because mercy is a choice, not a balance on your account.
I will never forget Vlado, a middle aged homeless man I met around Victoria station; after accepting one goodie bag (he refused the second as, he said, someone else could need it more) Vlado proudly told me that he was working few times per week as builder and he could afford to send a part of the weekly Income to his family in Moldavia: having a shelter wasn’t the priority for him.
Helping his family was.
That moved me to tears.
You can see there is no rhetoric in “there is more joy in giving than in receiving” because what I receive, as a helper more than a volunteer, is a priceless life-lasting gift, a reminder to keep my eyes and my ears open to whoever is in need.
I have started my journey in Sant’Egidio few years ago and, looking back, I have realised that whatever happened in my life, led me to where I am now, trying to connect the dots of mercy and keen to share with others my dream of a more human world.
Today, I believe the meaning of life can only be found beyond the fence of our little gardens.
The meaning of life is watering the dried flowers left on the edge of the street.
Those flowers are the homeless, the elderly, the poor, sometimes still invisible in our society, that deserve instead to be seen, listened and helped.
“Our future consists in living together”, says Pope Francis.