The Solidarity Centre
Modena “Centro di Solidarietà”
The CEIS “Centro di Solidarietà” (Solidarity Centre) of Modena began to operate in the early '80s. At that time, among many concerns in the local community, a huge problem of drug users stood out. Families affected by drug addiction tended to have a deep sense of guilt and to hide the concern because of their shame and helplessness. They were then paralysed and unable get out of that thorny situation. Drug addiction therefore represented a complex issue that required more holistic answers than centres for disability, social services and health care could not give.
There was a strong correspondence between the efforts of civil society and of the Church to tackle the issue. The town, whose Mayor was Mario Del Monte, and the community of Modena, whose Bishop was Bruno Foresti, collaborated in dealing with the problems raised by drug use. The CEIS began early to offer services for the treatment of drug addicts, ensuring support and ‘accompaniment’ and promoting preventive campaigns.
The action was not directed at the effects caused by drugs, but to people. "It’s important to be there," said, Father Giuliano Stenico (the founder of the CEIS) and he still says that. The idea was that CEIS’ volunteers should work “with” and not “for” people. In fact, the vast majority of the activities of CEIS were ‘accompanying’ activities. In particular, in the 1980s and 1990s, boys whose families were far away were housed in shelters run by volunteers. This allowed a strong sense of sharing to develop between the boys who were welcomed and the volunteers who took care of them.
The aim of the interventions has been to improve the quality of life of addicts and their families. The Solidarity Centre has always used scientific tools to understand the efficacy of treatment, including the non-measurable aspects related to boys’ and their families’ quality of life. Moreover, the Centre tries to treat the syndrome of the elder brother of the prodigal son,. The “righteous brother” often dislikes the fact that his parents spend so much time on the ungrateful brother who seems a lost cause. Parents are required to participate in meetings that allow them to become aware of the condition of “righteous brother” who needs the warmth too.
Prior to the year 2000, statistically seven out of ten affected boys overcame addition. Nowadays it’s more difficult to evaluate the results. Drug addicts frequently have psychiatric problems (the so-called dual-diagnosis), therefore the problem is more complex. (Notably, in some cases, the user doesn’t not even see himself or herself as being addicted.) This makes it more difficult to determine whether or not a person is still addicted or vulnerable to further drug use. In fact, if someone has psychiatric as well as drug problems, it can’t be expected that once drug addiction is overcome, all other problems are automatically solved. We must therefore prepare the user to deal with the problems that he will have to face throughout his life.
Today the CEIS includes activities in many areas: minors, single mothers, mentally ill persons, girl victims of trafficking, disability and prevention. From its original vocation, CEIS extended activities to all areas affected by human disadvantage and marginalization.
The CEIS also works with other faith groups. It has been an incubator for an association of Muslims led by a volunteer particularly committed to integration. Initially, the imam of Modena was rather suspicious, but this voluntary work did a great job of mediation and the project was successful.
Working with drug addicted people shows the importance of the group at all levels - coordination, decisions and relationships. An authoritative style is preferable to relying on a more abstract ‘respect for authority’. Sharing the idea that the personal problems should not be solved by the single person but within the group gives participants the possibility of mirroring others and learning more about themselves.
The basis of the whole CEIS system is Gospel teaching on lived and shared relationships.
The CEIS supports the concepts of subsidiarity and empowerment following the "Philosophy of the Progetto Uomo" (Projecto Hombre), which puts the drug addicted person at the centre, making him the protagonist of his healing journey and treating him as being able to affect his life, capable of changing it.
The subsidiarity concerns all the networks and institutions, according to our laws which require that the Town Hall provide the social services needed in the area so that social problems are managed locally. The basic idea of empowerment is that helping relationships do not mean just pulling people out of trouble but rather giving them tools so that they can get out on their own and become autonomous. It is important then to be companions of the users’ daily lives and not taking over their choices for them.
The experience of the CEIS, which began under the leadership of a strong ecclesial sensibility, was fundamental in changing the social perception of the drug addiction emergency and, later, of AIDS. Looking at the person with a clinical, and especially with a “human” eye, CEIS has always seen a bearer of meaning in an ill person. In this way, the stigma striking drug-addicted and AIDS patients was overcome. In place of judgment, we try to understand the ‘why’ of these painful situations. In the meantime, we reach an awareness shared with the secular world that on the one hand, without medicine we cannot deal with drug addiction or AIDS but on the other, medicines alone are not enough to treat the whole person.
CEIS members of staff have always been guided by an ethic of taking care. When you take care of the other, any kind of disease is secondary. This is why the CEIS has come to deal with all kinds of problems: from drug addiction, AIDS sufferers, unaccompanied minors, to alcoholics.
Moreover, precisely because this approach addresses the whole person, it is distinguished from other professional associations and services. Here the volunteers mainly have strong inter-personal skills.
The Church owns 60% of CEIS assets. From the beginning, the bishop provided the house for the first therapeutic community, which is still used by it, despite being owned by the diocesan seminary.
The CEIS volunteers and operators always approach people with the love of Christ. So then it becomes critical listening which is understood as openness to read the needs of each individual so that the growth can involve the whole person and all persons. Actually fairness means to adapt oneself effectively to a variety of situations. Listening to the other means engaging the mind, body and soul in the relationships. Only interpersonal dialogue reveals the two personalities placed one in front of the other and allows both to respond to each one's own vocation (GS 24-25). Immersing yourself in the relationship stands for the sharing process, understood as the ability to communicate one’s own feelings, even one’s own sufferings, in order to give more depth to our existence and to find out that, after all, the suffering is not an accident but a constant aspect of living. "It is important to be there" because we can search together for a greater depth in our existence, each one with his/her own history and his/her problems.
d. Luca Balugani and Alessandro Soncini