The journey of Owen Rigney

  • Nationality: USA

  • Volunteer from: February to May 2021

  • Place: Scampia, Italy

  • Mission: La Salle Scampia CasArcobaleno – Cooperativa OcchiAperti

My experience in Scampia has made an indelible impression on me. It came at exactly the right time in my life when I was able to make a meaningful contribution and fully appreciate the work being done by the Lasallian Christian Brothers. Prior to this experience, I spent my entire life in a fairly homogeneous, structured environment in which children and adolescents tend to be overscheduled between school, sports, activities, and work. During my time in Scampia, I was able to dedicate 100% of my focus to working with the children and still had plenty of time left to contemplate the cultural, socioeconomic, and racial diversity to which I was being exposed.

The Lasallian Christian Brothers and other volunteers went out of their way to make me feel at home and include me in activities and discussions. While I originally had some concerns about travelling alone to a foreign country and living with strangers, I soon felt a sense of family and community at the Brothers’ residence. The other volunteers were incredibly hard-working, dedicated, and interesting people with whom I forged lasting friendships. The Brothers are truly special, selfless people who are very interesting and fun to be around. Their commitment to serving others makes them great role models and an inspiration for me

While I had studied elementary Italian, the Neapolitan dialect presented a bit of a barrier to communication with the children. With the support of everyone around me, I was able to persevere through these initial struggles and do my best every day to communicate with the children using my limited Italian language skills. I used sports and other activities to bond with the children. My time in Scampia provided me with more brothers and sisters as I forged relationships with the kids and other workers. 

My experience in Scampia opened my eyes as I witnessed people coping with oppressive poverty. Spending several months there provided me with the opportunity to view the challenges these people faced from their perspective. Although Scampia is internationally notorious for illegal narcotics and organized crime, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of truly great people who live there. The children were born into a brutal situation, and many feel like things are out of their control.

Therefore, many are tempted to give up on themselves and their education. Although they were set up to fail, our mission is to convince them that they can beat the odds and succeed. It was inspiring to witness how many of these young kids recognized the disadvantages and challenges they faced but were determined to break the difficult cycle into which they were born. I saw this maturity in children as young as 11.  I was also fortunate enough to meet an 18 year old Gypsy girl and watch her battle to get through high school and pursue her goal of attending college. Given that we are the same age, her hard work and perseverance resonated with me as I contemplated all that she needs to overcome simply to put herself into a position that many of my peers take for granted.

Overall, my experience in Scampia was truly unbelievable. The Brothers and other members of the Lasallian community, including the program and volunteer coordinator, could not have been more helpful and accommodating. While I feel that I had a meaningful impact on these children’s lives, I received far more than I gave and am a much better person for the experience. The relationships I forged in Scampia will never be forgotten. I will continue to do my best to keep in touch with my newfound brothers and sisters. I am so grateful for this opportunity and would absolutely recommend it to anyone.

Owen Rigney

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