At the beginning of July, at the “Villaggio del Ragazzo” (Teens’ Village) of San Salvatore di Cogorno (Province of Genoa), the “Premio Bontà Don Nando Negri 2016” (Goodness Prize 2016 Fr Nando Negri) was awarded to Veronica Podestà, a young Italian nurse who works at the Benedetto Acquarone Centre in the town of Chiavari, Liguria. Out of her commitment, her enthusiasm, and her tenacity, Veronica could give to Daniel (a boy from Ivory Coast suffering from Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF) congenital heart defect, the opportunity to undergo a surgical operation at the Hospital of Massa, in Northern Italy.
Veronica lives in Graveglia di Carasco, a little town of Eastern Liguria overlooking the Entella stream: “Since I have started studying,” she says, “I had a dream: to put my professional competence at the service of others. In 2013, when I had just graduated, I immediately wanted to leave for Africa. Thanks to the advice of a friend, I realized there was a chance to go to Man, Ivory Coast. At first I was supposed to stay only three months, but once there, the months of my staying multiplied! At first it was hard because I did not speak French. Yet, I found out that the universal language is that of Love. Concrete gestures build bridges much more than words.”
Veronica goes on sharing and it becomes clear that it was an incredible experience. “At some point, with some girls we decided to organize a small business to sell some items. For several months, after work, we met to craft necklaces, bracelets, etc., and to collect all superfluous items in our homes. The proceeds were put into a common fund to be used in the event of economic problems, or to finance someone’s studies, and so on … One day, one of the girls shared a major difficulty: her father had not received his salary and her family had nothing to eat. All of us agreed to allocate part of the common fund to help her family. I saw a Gospel which was put into practice, and not just contemplated !”.
It was not always easy: “Sometimes I missed my family, my friends, my habits … but the sky remained always my best friend. When I felt alone, or I had a pain that I could not overcome, I looked up and, looking at the sky, I got lost into the immensity of creation. How much harmony, how much love in everything that was around me … and that Love was for me too!“.
And she continues her story: “During my experience in Africa I got to know a boy who had a heart defect at birth. Every time he came, Daniel illuminated our dispensary with a gorgeous smile. Although he had to undergo invasive treatments, the love and joy he emanated were diffusive and contagious. Despite our great efforts, there was a long way to go. He needed more care and more appropriate interventions ….” After a year, Veronica’s experience is over and, upon returning home, she found a surprise: “When I got home, I found all my friends waiting for me in the garden for a surprise party. I was excited and so happy to meet all the people I loved so much. But inside I could not forget about Daniel’s smile when I said goodbye to him. I could not leave him alone … With some friends, then, we set out to see if it was possible having him operated in Italy.” Veronica’s enthusiasm is contagious. After a few weeks, together with her family and friends she organized a fund-raising dinner to allow Daniel to come to Italy for the operation. A month later, Daniel arrived in Italy accompanied by his father and Carlo (a focolarino who had been helping them with all the paperwork). “Two very intense months followed. Thanks to Daniel’s smiles, our respective cultures got enriched and we rediscovered them. Through his eyes I rediscovered the sea, the snow, and the joy of living the present moment.”
Meanwhile, Daniel had been successfully operated. His dad had promised him a bicycle if everything would be fine. After the operation, however, he realizes that it was an expensive gift for them to afford… Yet, the love of the community had immediate effects: “Precisely the same night in which Daniel’s father confided to me his difficulty, a friend of mine brings me an envelope. At her birthday party she had presented the story of Daniel. Her friends, instead of gifts, had collected the money just for him. And, incredibly, the envelope contained exactly the sum which was needed to buy the bicycle that Daniel desired so much!”
It’s time to say goodbye. We ask Veronica what she learned from this experience. She replies with a wonderful smile, “I had left Italy with the conviction that I had so much to give. And instead, I realized that, every day, I received a lot more than I gave… Often we start with the idea of changing the world; but we realize that in order to do so, we must begin by changing ourselves and our way of being with others. Only by building, moment by moment, bridges of brotherhood we can change the world and enlighten it with many smiles.”
Just like Daniel’s smile.