Monday, 9 November 2015


Maria Sofia and two of her little friends in Bethlehem
Hello, my name is Maria Sofia and I am one of Mrs Spila’s former students.

When I left school I wanted to discover the world, to travel, to meet people; for this reason I decided to study Arabic Language and Culture at Rome University "La Sapienza". The Arab world is so close to us, geographically speaking, but it can be considered so far for the misleading idea that we, the westerners, have of it.

So during my studies in Rome I had the opportunity through the Erasmus Mundus Project to spend eight months in Cairo, in the aftermath of the Revolution,  then ten months in Irbid, a Jordanian town located 30 km from the Syrian border. These experiences gave me the chance to know several people, to learn and understand their culture, to discover, that despite the different religion and traditions, we have more in common than we can imagine. I noticed more similarities between Italy and Arab countries than between Italy and Northern Europe, we are Mediterranean people after all!

After graduation,  I was not completely satisfied of my achievements; I had learnt the language  and studied the culture of Middle East and North Africa, but the chances that the University could offer me did not match my expectations.
So I decided to sign up to a Master in Cooperation and Development in Pavia.  I wanted and I still want to do my part to improve our world, I want to contribute to the creation of a beneficial change and have a positive impact on people's lives. Development is freedom, as my wise professor says, so I like to think that I’m working for freedom in the world.

My  Master Degree Course brought me to Palestine, which is a country where human rights get very little respect, not a completely Sovereign State that has been living under Israeli occupation for long. I'm here writing my final thesis in order to get a Master Degree,  but I'm also trying to give a helping hand. 
Among the other difficult situations,  I had the chance to know a special reality, the Creche of the Holy Family and I'm working as a volunteer there. It a residential institution in Bethlehem that welcomes abandoned children and social cases between zero and six years old. There are about 40 children and since my arrival,  four or five new children have arrived.  Some of them are just babies,  newly born.

Each of them has a terrible story, some of them have been found in the streets, others have been left there from their parents because they got divorced and none of them wanted the child in his/her new life. Several of these children have disabilities, reason for which they have been left there. Fortunately, the institution provides the best care possible to these children, but they lack the most important thing: the love of their parents. Like all the workers and the volunteers there, I love these children with the deepest affection possible, but they really lack the individual, special care that only parents can give. What is worse is the uncertain future ahead. Adoption is not possible according to the law, but a kind of tutorship or foster care does exist. In this case, the child does not have the same rights as an adopted child and, furthermore, this option is not really spread because of cultural reasons. In fact, besides the legal issue, in this community the belonging to a family is very important, to the point that the lack of parental relations can badly affect the success of their lives. It will be difficult for them to find a job or to marry someone because they are considered nobodies.

I still don’t know which my next stop will be, but I’m already looking forward to it, to discover another piece of humanity.

Maria Sofia Tozzi

(this post firstly appeared on  FLY HIGH!)

Guide: Why are Israel and Palestine fighting? 

A fairy-tale from  Palestine's children: Warda - Watch the video


  1. Hi, we are Alex and Denis, Mrs. Spila’s students. We read your story and we have a couple of questions for you: What do you parents think about your life in such dangerous countries? And, did you have this inspiration to help the most needy since you were very young or later on?

    1. Hi guys, sorry for the late answer! My parents sometimes are worried because of the news they hear, but they have taught me to follow my dreams and make them come true, so they let me decide for my life because they trust me and respect my choices, but they always give me advice. Then, Palestine is not so dangerous as you can imagine from the television news. The last period has been more tense because of the stabbing attacks, but if you are prudent, and you avoid crowded places your life is safe, here there is no war like in Syria, at least not in the West Bank. There has been a military occupation since 1967, lack of freedom of movement, checkpoints and walls here and there to enter or go out from some cities, but not open war, bombings or similar things. Unfortunately, the situation is different in the Gaza Strip, where some bombings occur, but a foreigner can’t easily enter the Gaza Strip, in fact I have never been there.
      As for my willingness to help, I think that it has always been part of me, since the first day of my life!

  2. Hi Maria Sofia,
    We're Mrs Spila's students. We liked your story a lot. We think you are very brave and generous.
    Now, if you don't mind, We would like to ask you a few questions:
    How is living in those countries at war?? Aren't you afraid??
    Do you like more the Arab culture or ours??
    Why have you decided to study the Arabic language and culture and not European cultures?
    Thanks for sharing your story with us.
    We're looking forward to hearing from you soon. Francesca & Benedetta

    1. Hi girls, I am not really afraid of being here, because to live in Bethlehem is safe enough as I told your mates above.
      As to your second question, I can’t really choose between the two cultures. My culture is the one to which I belong, that characterizes my identity, I can’t give up on it. But even though I identify myself with our culture, this doesn’t prevent me to appreciate the Arab culture while discovering similarities or fascinating differences. Never forget that we grow and improve thanks to the discovery of something new, different from us.
      I decided to study Arabic by chance. To learn English nowadays is necessary anyway, and I was not really interested in any other European language because I see them as something I can easily reach if I want. While, on the other hand, I saw the Far East (China/Japan) as too distant. That’s why I chose Arabic, also because a lot of Arab countries are our neighbours in the Mediterranean Sea and I was curious to know them better.

  3. Hello! We are Rosita and Camilla. We are in the second year of liceo scientifico and we are Mrs Spila's pupils. We have read about your experiences. We have some questions about them.
    1. You travelled a lot, met many people and knew new places. Thinking about them all, what are the best and the worst moments?
    2. After you have seen and known about the life of those children in Palestine, do you think that your life has changed? You helped them, did they, instead, help you in some way?
    3. What are the things that you miss the most when you are far away from your home?

    1. Hello girls! Every journey has good and bad moments, it’s really difficult to say what has been the best and what the worst experience. I had a lot of fun in all the countries I visited, I met wonderful people everywhere and with most of them I’m still in contact. They are for sure the best part of my experiences. Among the worst moments, I’ll tell you about the most frightening one. It was while I was staying in Egypt: I was threatened by two thieves with knifes and I remember that moment as the scariest in my life. As for the saddest memory, it happened in Jordan, when my Syrian neighbour took me to a cemetery near the Syrian border where her little son is buried.
      Second answer: My little children helped me to understand that the path I’ve chosen is the right one, this is the life I want to live, and they taught me a kind of love and tenderness I didn’t know, along with patience, because sometimes they may be really naughty.
      Third answer: Of course I miss my family and friends, but what I probably miss the most is Italian food!!!

  4. Hi Maria Sofia. How are you?
    We are Simone and Giovanni Benito, your post is very thought-provoking and we’d like to ask some questions.
    First question is: aren’t you afraid of living in those countries? And if you are, how do you face it?
    Second question: what do you think about what is happening now in Europe, the terrorist attacks?
    Third question: in those countries what do the children do in their free time?
    Fourth question: if you could talk to a terrorist what would you tell him to convince him he is wrong using violence?

    1. Guys, thank you for your questions, they are really interesting. You’ll find the answer to your first question reading my previous comments.
      As for the second question, I’m deeply sorry for what’s going on in Europe these days, but, unfortunately it is a kind of news that I often read in the newspapers here in the Middle East. This terrorist group has been killing people in Syria and Iraq for 5 years, they attacked Beirut, Tunis and they are not alone. In African countries similar terrorist groups have been spreading terror in the same way for years. But remember that all these violent actions are the product of ignorance and exploitation and that the solution is not the army. The real problem is the economic interest beyond everything and the roots of today’s violence is back in the past actions of Western countries.
      Third answer: my children are so young that they play all the time, and their games are like ours, though they have less possibilities than us. For example they do not have the chance to travel out of Bethlehem very easily, because of the military occupation that limits their freedom. Just think that to go out of the city they need a permission from Israel.
      Fourth answer: If I had the chance to speak with a terrorist, I would like to tell him always to remember that the people that he is going to kill are humans like him, they live, love, suffer exactly as he does. I want to tell him to try to put himself in their shoes, to be sympathetic. I would also tell him to not hide himself behind religion, because Islam doesn’t preach hate or killing. For me the key is humanity. That may sound simplistic or naive but, actually, it is something quite difficult to obtain, because everybody is interested in their own welfare and they often forget the others. If only we could cooperate for global welfare, the world might really be a better place.