Peerless positivity: One woman’s mission to make positive vibes go viral

Meet Superhuman Chiara Saturnino, U-Report on the move

by James Powell & Hira Hafeez-ur-Rehman
Chiara standing in the centre talking to young childen
06 December 2018

Leadership and participation -- we talk a lot about the former, but without proper support for the latter? We’re on a slippery slope to failure, and potentially thousands of young people let down by the UN.  It’s not enough to have strong leadership; you have to have a believer on your team, someone who genuinely believes young people’s opinions matter and that through their own sheer force of will (or ability to convene) they will advocate on behalf of, and answer back to, those young people who took a leap of faith in the project to amplify their voice.  

This matters even more when you’re dealing with the most vulnerable children, as we do in Italy, where U-Report On The Move exists exclusively to communicate with young people that are refugees and travelling alone, with no parents or guardians to lean on for support.   Increasingly it seems to me, that technology is a critical component but it is always people that really matter, the people that do the work -- which is why everyone should meet Chiara and we should find more people like her.

Chiara Saturnino is a passionate humanitarian, a child’s right advocate and guardian to refugees in Italy.

She holds a Doctorate in Socio-economic and Statistical studies which means she’s smart, but that’s not the most important bit. U-Report OTM (ok, allow one acronym) is a unique application of the original U-Report youth empowerment programme that is dedicated to helping young migrants and refugees in Italy speak out about issues that matter to them via mobile phone and digital media.  Happy even on the worst days, Chiara is humble, grateful, and gracious in working with young people on the project.

Chiara works with the group

Chaira’s PhD centred around happiness indices, as well as studies on quality of life and its implications on social policies in Italy. It compared two groups: Group #1 richest people in the richest European countries but with poor social relationships, and Group #2 the poorest people in the poorest European countries but with positive family and social relationships. Her study results found out that Group # 2 is the happier group because of the power of good human relationships, and this is exactly what she practices and preaches every day on U-Report OTM.

Over the course of one-year, Chiara and her team have managed to engage over 1000 young refugees and migrants arriving in Palermo, Italy and those living in reception centres via U-Report. She works with them to address their issues of social inclusion, education, documentation (in the “I exist” sense not the “case study” sense) and most importantly, provide them the right information in a safe environment with her team.

“... I am a guardian to a young migrant and I always tell him that our way of being and connecting with others can change their entire day and mood. If we are positive and walk with a smile, the smile will go viral and the same happens when we are sad or nervous -- it is a continuous cycle.”

Chiara Saturnino
Chiara sitting down talking to 2 people in the community.

We asked her how she is the way she is because we’d like to find more Chiaras.  

What Drives the People who do the Work?

Chiara’s experience as a participation expert -- and all-round good human being -- helps us understand where to put our energy and focus. This is her advice:

  • Invest Time: Spending time and paying attention to children and young people -- I strongly believe that “investing” in young people will lead to bigger things.
  • Meet the people: The great energy of the brave boys and girls I meet everyday at the reception centers inspires me -- their incredible stories, and knowing that they have a chance at a great life in Italy after going through so many hardships.  
  • Know the area: I come from Sicily and of all the places in Italy, we are the people who are most aware of what migration actually means. The history of the Sicilian region dates back to the crossroads of cultures; it’s a land of immigrants. Sicily today is the region with the highest poverty and unemployment rates and this has taught us what inequality means and its effect on others -- this is one of the main ways we learn the importance of supporting a friend or a stranger, and not forgetting their humanity.
  • Respect your colleagues: The people I know and work with (especially Sarah Martelli, Angelique Gordin, and Caroline Barebwoha) – their time, energy, mentorship and devotion and untiring commitment for children is what makes UNICEF and OTM successful.
  • Believe: Be passionate and work hard -- You can always learn theories, methods or practices, but the energy and the strength to reach a goal comes from your passion to never give up.his is the first advice we share with the girls and boys who arrive at the reception centers – We tell them, it is all inside you.  
  • Inspire: I was always inspired by stories of charismatic people able to transform a situation of vulnerability with a lever for a new start. What inspires me the most is what I learnt from my family -- they taught me how to find the extraordinary in little, ordinary things – the importance of one smile or one good word at the right moment is all that matters.  

A hug from a little girl at the Palermo port of disembarkation. When the girl hugged me, I felt this incredible emotion: her wish to survive, and to play (because this is what a child should be doing!) It was such an ode to life!

The leaders empower Chiara to do what she does best, the work.  In two years U-Report On The Move has given Unaccompanied and Separated Children a chance to think and see their lives differently, connect with their peers in reception centres, and access information on Italy’s social and recreational life for a better chance to a second life in Italy.