Terre & Comuni project in Italy

The “Terre & comuni” project was carried out in Italy between February and July 2015 by the Local Action Group “Versante laziale del Parco nazionale d’Abruzzo” (LAG VERLA), 

The project took place in the Comino Valley, a territory encompassing approximately 15 rural municipalities in the province of Frosinone. These municipalities are situated on a territory of 250 km² with an overall population of 20,000 inhabitants, and have witnessed two important phenomena in the last 15 years:  depopulation as a consequence of economical deprivement and the lack of infrastructure, and the opening of low-threshold and middle-threshold reception centers for asylum-seekers due to the lower costs of accommodation and food in comparison to more developed areas.

This project was part of a broader initiative led by the Rome-based social enterprise “Borghi artistici”, supported since 2014 by the European Social Fund (ESF) and which was aimed at creating new, as well as supporting existing formal and informal networks of locals, asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants.  The aim of the project was the experimentation and development of a new model facilitating the integration and social inclusion of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in rural areas, where the opportunities for participation in community life are greater.

The project involved an initial training of 100 hours and a one-month internship for 46 unemployed people aged 18-40, both locals and foreigners,  living in the area where the Local Action Group operates. The training covered topics such as: entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship, social agriculture, event planning and management, local history, geography and morphology, asylum and immigration law. After completing the training, ten participants were selected to undergo an internship either at a local association called “Myosotis” or at the Local Action Group (LAG)  headquarters. 

While those who worked at the “Myosotis” association participated in gardening and natural building activities, those engaged within the LAG conducted research on existing best practices adopted to facilitate the integration of migrants in the economic and social context, as well as a census of unused land in five municipalities within the LAG territory, which could potentially be assigned to the unemployed for development purposes. The “Myosotis” association deals with the concept of educational foresting, managing a forest and agricultural land having the purpose of educating visitors, primarily school, on the local ecosystem. The premises of the association feature outdoor classrooms dedicated to local animals and plants, agroecology and rural history.

The natural building activities focused on the construction of infrastructure: a structure for birdwatching and a traditional Malian barn (bougou) as well as the creation of a seasonal vegetable garden according to the principles of synergic agriculture. In the one-month period, the 7 trainees, coming from Italy, Mali and Gambia, agreed on the infrastructure to be built according to locally available natural materials and the needs of the hosting association, while keeping into account everybody’s knowledge as well as heritage. 

The bougou, made out of fern, bamboo and mulberry has the double function of a barn and a gathering indoor spot, decorated with messages in all the participants’ language about unity in diversity, solidarity and the need to work together within different people and with nature.

The birdwatching tower allows visitors to hide themselves when observing local birds and is strategically placed next to a pond which is inhabited by many different birds.

The synergic garden features vegetables that can be found both locally and in West Africa, such as tomato, zucchini and herbs, and is covered with straw mulch.

The work lasted throughout the whole month of August, while the remaining participants frequently visited the team involved in the internship, and the group took part in several events such as village festivals and manifestations, Catholic festivities and celebrations as well as Ramadan Eid. 

The time spent together allowed the group, and the extended circle of participants in the Terre &  Comuni projects, to get to know each other, share their  worries and constraints as well as  plans and projects for the future, exchange information on each other’s culture, and introduce one another to friends and relatives. 

Soon after the end of the project, 13 participants, among which were 5 between the interns, decided to register the association “Rise Hub” in October 2015, in order to keep operating as a group, having a structure and a legal form. 

Amongst the first activities of the association were the “Tomato Project”, which brought together participants in the production of tomato sauce as a way to generate income from fair labor; the launch of a catering service for the supply of multi-ethnic food for small and medium-sized private events; the organization of cultural and educational activities opened to the wider audience such as language tandems, exhibitions, swap parties, an infodesk on youth mobility and the Erasmus +, and a volunteer-run legal clinic.


Silvia, one of the project coordinators, and the organizer of the activities.

In the project, the goal was to create spaces and opportunities for exchange, training and growth and to create new networks for local youth.
Building the bougou, a structure characteristic of a distant place, built with local natural materials, in collaboration with local organizations, was a very strong symbolic action of exchange and inclusion. Doing things together is one of the most powerful actions people can do, especially in those contexts where young people (migrants and residents) have no voice and no opportunities to invent new possible futures. It was a project that we can place in the world of utopias, which actually in reality generated a very significant impact: the birth of new relationships. As the project brought together young residents and young migrants, it created a strong exchange regarding needs, difficulties and aspirations of both groups. These often turned out to be identical: recognizing one another as young people in the first place helped to overcome cultural differences.