Global Volunteers’ pandemic-delayed Sicily program successfully launched more than a year late with with two teams in November 2021. Team Leader Phyllis Thompson said the long-awaited immersion into daily life through service, conversation, and cultural activities in Castelvetrano was her “dream come true,” and all the team hoped for and more. Phyllis, who first served with Global Volunteers in 2003, and marked her 30th service program in Italy with this program, described her experience in Sicily as “magical, meaningful, and memorable.” Read on for her details on what to expect on a Sicily service program.
by Phyllis Thompson
Having just returned from my “Dream Come True” service program in Castelvetrano, I want to share some of the particulars and experiences with you. For many years, I have known that this hamlet needs assistance in its schools. It is the home of my ancestors and I have visited there often. Many teachers there and those I have encountered in Puglia have expressed their need for support for conversational English in their Sicilian schools. Even though students begin learning English in third grade, for the most part, they are not able to converse well in high school. Now let me share my experience with the second Global Volunteer team to serve in Sicily – Team 198 to Italy in November 2021.
Team #198 to Italy
These volunteers braved pandemic travel with their enthusiasm, talents, and a thirst for all that is Sicilian. This team consisted of five volunteers: Anthony Byrnes, a retiree from Santa Rosa, California; Malinda Boddison of Fort Myers, Florida, who was able to visit her grandfather’s birthplace during her time in Sicily; Lindsey Thornton, a retired kindergarten teacher from Oregon; Joyce Irwin, a musician from Princeton, New Jersey; and Elizabeth Brady, a social worker from Lake Elmo, Minnesota.
At this time we served in five different high schools. Each school has a different concentration:
- Classics – prepares students for the university and other types of higher education.
- Commercial – prepares students for work in industry, agriculture, trade, and other skilled work in the labor market.
- Hospitality – prepares students seeking careers in all aspects of the food industry.
- Linguistics – designed to give students the skills to progress to any university or higher education institution.
- Scientific – prepares students for university education with an emphasis on the sciences.
Two schools were a ten-minute walk from the guest house. Three of the schools were at a distance. The community – volunteers just like us – provided transportation to these schools. How wonderful it was to communicate with these wonderful men and women who drove us each day! I always say Italian is the “language of love” and believe me there was ‘loads of love’ in those cars every day. Some even stopped with us for an espresso on the way home.
They were warm, welcoming, and ready to use our talents and expertise. Sometimes it was a bit hectic, but isn’t it always in Italy. They showed their appreciation for our time and efforts and let us involve ourselves in their classrooms. Sometimes we just practiced conversation, sometimes we taught part of a lesson, and other times we shared our lifestyles and culture.
We spent our mornings at school and usually returned to the guest house at 1:00 p.m. Our bag lunch, which had a variety of panino choices, was catered in the guest house. Afternoons were spent preparing lessons and tutoring a small group of children. We walked to dinner at several different local restaurants.
Palazzo al Camine is very comfortable with its large showers, Wi-Fi, individualized controlled heating, and spacious meeting room. Also, we had an espresso machine, a spacious refrigerator, and a microwave. The hosts are a kind, generous, and caring family who occupy the other wing of the charming old-world palazzo.
Breakfast (continental) and lunch (a variety of bagged sandwiches) are eaten at the guest house. Dinner is always sumptuous and served at nearby sites, such as trattorias, pizzerias, etc. One favorite was a pizzeria that served a rectangular pizza with every topping you can imagine. A special treat — there is a rope swing. Of course, we took rides while waiting to be served. The other restaurants served all the typical Italian courses – antipasto, prima, and secondo. Numerous varieties (too many to mention) of pasta, meat, and fish are offered. Dinner often was topped with fresh fruit. Suffice to say we did a lot of walking to ward off the extra calories consumed.
This team enjoyed afternoon city exploring that included local shopping, gelato stops, and even a nearby olive-processing facility. On the weekend, they visited many of the nearby sites and cities – Trapani, Marsala, Erice, Selinunte, and other small cities. One very special evening was spent in concert at the Teatro Selinus Opera House. It took 35 years to complete the entire structure and in 1908 it was finally opened.
A favorite was Erice, known as one the most beautiful villages in Italy. Perched atop Monte San Giuliano, the wonderfully preserved medieval walled town offers an opportunity to step back in time.
Trapani, the capital of the province, is a lively port town known primarily for its marsala wine production, tuna fishing, and vast salt flats. We viewed the salt flats at sunset and captured beautiful sunset photos we will treasure.
Castelvetrano olive oil processing facility was a highlight as well. Imagine our delight when we found we could walk to the ‘Oleificio Frantoio di Campagna’, an in-city oil processing plant, during the olive oil production season. Met by the owner, Luigi, we observed the total production operation and sampled the product. Of course, we left with shopping bags full of the delicious product – the perfect Christmas gift for friends and family.
It is difficult to know where to begin. The city now is preparing for Christmas and wish I could be there to view it in its finery. We were housed in the “centro storico”, which gave us daily opportunities to view and visit so many of the historical remains, churches, and shops. One can still view some of the damage from an earthquake in 1996, just steps from our palazzo. There are numerous churches. Perhaps the most visited is the Chiesa di San Dominico, which is considered the “Sistine Chapel of Sicily”. My most favorite thing to do is sit and watch, stroll – carefully because the sidewalks are not always the best – and just take in the local flavor.
So then, was it an outstanding experience? I believe Team 198 and I think so. Why? First of all, we bonded immediately finding our purpose and goals for the service program were perfectly matched. From our sleepy haphazard operation of the espresso machine in the morning to our evening “buona notte”, our daily experiences were outstanding. Our students and teachers appreciated and welcomed us and shared their lifestyles and friendship with us. Castelvetrano, the city itself, made us feel so very much a part of the community. From local tours of the city’s treasures, churches, and museums to the delicious meals and other culinary treats, we always felt loved, wanted, and needed in this ancient city.
I was able to meet with Team 197 as they were departing and they expressed their appreciation and praise for the city, schools, and new friendships they formed. Will the experience be identical in 2022? Italy is and always has been free-flowing and therein lies its beauty and charm. I will return and lead a team in April 2022. There is still room in this group and I would love to be with you once again – especially in Sicily.
“We bonded immediately finding our purpose and goals for the service program were perfectly matched. From our sleepy haphazard operation of the espresso machine in the morning to our evening “buona notte”, our daily experiences were outstanding. Our students and teachers appreciated and welcomed us and shared their lifestyles and friendship with us. Castelvetrano, the city itself, made us feel so very much a part of the community.”– Phyllis Thompson, Volunteer Team Leader
Watch Phyllis’ presentation on the Sicily service program:
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