Educating Sicily and Italian Americans with You Me & Sicily
Irresistible Sicily has lured me into her clutches once again. Without fail, it is precisely like every other time that I hop on the ferry to cross the Messina straight. Instinctively, I close my eyes and take a deep breath of sea air. As I feel the warm Southern Italian breeze blow through my hair, I can’t help but feel like I am coming home. I aspire to connect Italian Americans with their heritage through my experiences. However, there are others who are committed to educating Sicily.
Fortunately, the first stop on my itinerary was a visit to a sleepy Sicilian fishing village that I have never been to before. Aci Trezza is just north of Catania and boasts a population of about 5,000. This laid-back seaside town is home to the Cyclops Islands “Le Isole Ciclopi.” Of course, the Sicilians believe that Aci Trezza is one of the places mentioned in The Odyssey. So, the legend is that Cyclops lived beneath Mount Etna. He threw rocks at Ulysses, which landed in the sea. Luckily, I met up with a living legend in Aci Trezza who is making a big difference in educating Sicily and the rest of the world.
You, Me & Sicily – Telling the Sicilian Story
As planned, I met up with fellow New Englander Eszter Vajda, co-executive producer of You, Me & Sicily. Not only does she love her home in Italy, but she is also Aci Trezza’s ultimate ambassador. Enthusiastically, Eszter peeled back the village’s layers and exposed its vast culture and traditions to me. When Eszter is not educating Sicily, she is teaching others about her beloved Island.
You, Me & Sicily is a video series by Eszter Vajda and Alfred Zappala. There are currently 31 episodes that will take you on a journey across Sicily. Magically, uncovering the Island’s history, culture, places, and people. The video episodes are as varied as the Island itself. Reflecting back on the second episode exploring Catania, Eszter revealed that she is looking forward to taping another episode. Catania has too much history and culture not to create a follow-up.
As you would expect, many of their videos capture the essence of Sicilian Cuisine. Annual food and wine festivals are a large part of Sicily’s culture and traditions. Luckily, you can watch You, Me & Sicily’s episodes on a wide array of Sicilian foods such as artichokes, gelato, and Etna wine. Finally, other stories take on more serious topics that prevail in Italy. You can learn more about the current immigration issues and the effects of the mafia on Sicily.
Educating Sicily – The Sicilian Project
The Sicilian Project dedicates itself to empowering the Sicilian youth. There is an astoundingly high unemployment rate in Sicily. Unbelievably, It currently hovers around 50 percent. So, learning English can open many doors for these children after graduation.
Alfred believes in educating Sicily and its children to speak English at no cost to them. His non-profit organization issues financial grants in areas that most need assistance. In 2015, The Sicilian Project worked with over 200 students. In 2016, one summer camp has already taken place. There are four more camps scheduled through September. Of course, all employees work on a volunteer basis. The projects become reality, only when they meet their fundraising goals.
As you can see, not much has changed over the generations. The southern regions in Italy still struggle to make ends meet. Perhaps, you still have family in Sicily, or you would like to sponsor your ancestral village. You might consider being a volunteer. The Sicilian Project also sells t-shirts on Amazon to help support their mission. Educating Sicily is a way to give back to your ancestors.
Alfred is a proud Sicilian-American, who had the opportunity to be successful in life. Now he wants to open the doors of opportunity to those who didn’t have the same opportunities as he did. With a mission of encouraging foreign language training, he hopes to expose Sicily’s youth to academic opportunities. Hopefully, the next generation will better be able to compete in the European market.
Stay In Touch With Your Italian Heritage
To sum up, Eszter and Alfred are two of the most unselfish people that I have had the pleasure to know. They have created unique projects that aim to bridge the gap between generations. They take educating Sicily seriously to facilitate productive and fruitful members within the Sicilian community. Just imagine, this would be your fate if your ancestors did not emigrate to create a better life for you. What would you say to your ancestors today for what they sacrificed for your future?
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