We asked Giovanni Soldini to tell us about his latest adventure, this time far from the sea, which has many affinities with the objectives of Fondazione Zegna and the “green philosophy” that inspired Ermenegildo Zegna, from the ’30s onwards, to transform a territory that’s been known as Oasi Zegna since 1993.
Giovanni, tell us how your relationship with the Fratelli dell’Uomo NGO came about: with all the associations there are, how come you chose to be a testimonial for Fratelli dell’Uomo?
I’ve known Fratelli dell’Uomo for many years and I believe that its way of operating in the southern hemisphere is always very respectful and sensitive to local realities and this is a characteristic that distinguishes it and that I think is very important. For nearly 50 years in fact Fratelli dell’Uomo has been supporting development projects in Africa and Latin America designed and managed entirely by local organizations, mostly local communities. It never tries to impose solutions imported from the western world but prefers to study environmental, social and development problems together with the community and without automatically thinking it knows the right way.
Since November you’ve been helping raise funds on the Rete del Dono platform for a Fratelli dell’Uomo reforestation and environmental education project in Peruvian Amazonia: what persuaded you to espouse this particular cause?
We’re going through very hard times in Europe, especially in Italy: it seems there’s almost no hope for the future, the young don’t seem to have many dreams, the grand ideas that have driven development and channeled energy till recently all seem to have run aground. Just think of the dream of a united Europe, which now looks more unviable than ever. You can perceive an attitude of near resignation on key social issues like defense of the environment and its resources. It seems people are nowhere near even imagining being able to do something about the huge environmental emergency facing us. This is probably the main reason why I chose this Fratelli dell’Uomo project. To solve big problems like safeguarding our Earth you have to start with small things, deal with them one at a time, like building blocks. And starting, as in Fratelli dell’Uomo’s Amazonia project, with the communities that live with and on nature, helping them through education and training on the defense of natural resources. The last thing to do is think that it’s impossible to handle these problems and turn your back on them.
The project you’re supporting is certainly innovative in that it approaches the theme of safeguarding natural resources from different viewpoints (environmental, cultural, educational): can you explain in concrete terms what activities are being carried out?
Fratelli dell’Uomo, together with the Peruvian association Adec Atc, which works with the native community of Tsachopen in Peruvian Amazonia, has been involving the entire community in the project since 2014. They organize educational activities for the community’s young people and school children and create educational organic gardens where they grow 20 types of vegetable to enrich the school canteens, because it’s often young people who are the most receptive and sensitive to environmental protection issues. But above all they’re the players of the future, so energy must be invested in them. Further, four nurseries have been created, with an average overall capacity of 60,000 fruit tree and forest species saplings so that the forest can be gradually recovered, by planting out day by day (20 hectares of forest have been recovered to date). 60 people in the community have been trained to work as “forest guardians”, spread the agro-ecological approach throughout the community (forest conservation, waste management, responsible use of water, seed conservation) and increase the number of families participating in the project and the sustainability of their land. 40 beekeepers are receiving technical assistance to improve their production of organic honey and their capacity to “do marketing” for their produce.
In many years of work at Fondazione Zegna we’ve seen how vitally important it is for the success of a project to cooperate with local organizations. Is this the case with the project promoted by Fratelli dell’Uomo?
Yes, of course, it’s the basis of cooperation for Fratelli dell’Uomo, cooperation in which the exchange of ideas, values, skills and experience with local organizations is in continual evolution. As I said before, Fratelli dell’Uomo has always worked alongside local projects run by local associations, respecting them and creating relationships of trust and long-term collaboration. A good example is this project I’m supporting, in that the native Yanesha population of the Tsachopen community are actively participating in the project thanks to the daily work of the local association, Adec-Atc, Fratelli dell’Uomo’s partner in Peru. – Some might object to your choosing to support a project on the other side of the world rather than in Italy: can you explain why its important to raise funds to implement projects like this even when so far away. G. SOLDINI: I think that the emergencies are many and big. What we must all do is not give up and above all do something to create change. I don’t think it makes much sense to stop at your own frontier: emergencies and critical situations, the great themes of humanity like environmental protection, social justice, dissemination of culture, in short our quality of life on Earth, are all issues that go beyond borders. It would crazy to think of doing something for the future without having a global vision of the planet. “We’re all in the same boat,” as people say, so maybe it’s time to think about safeguarding our capacity to float.
The fund raising is still open: in practical terms, what can be done to support the project and work of Fratelli dell’Uomo?
You can contribute to the fund raising by making a donation via my Rete del Dono which will help finance an important social and environmental cause that can no longer be ignored. And to find out more about Associazione Fratelli dell’Uomo and all its projects you can visit its website www.fratellidelluomo.org and Facebook page