In Rome, 'Social Carpentry' Is A Tool For Integration

A unique project in the Italian capital brings together experienced carpenters to share their skills and knowledge with asylum seekers and the unemployed.

The non-profit organization ''ALI - Free Home Reception'' is hosted by some young migrants from the K_Alma Social Carpentry workshop to build wooden houses and wooden objects.
The non-profit organization ''ALI - Free Home Reception'' is hosted by some young migrants from the K_Alma Social Carpentry workshop to build wooden houses and wooden objects.
Pietro Mecarozzi

ROME — It goes without saying that what K_Alma is trying to accomplish is not simple. But it also — and above all — carries a unique human, environmental, social and political vision.

For the past three years, in its headquarters in central Rome, K_Alma has brought together volunteer carpenters to teach their profession to asylum seekers, refugees and unemployed Italians, offering them free formal and informal education opportunities, self-training, self-expression and knowledge. What the group practices, in other words, is social carpentry.

Over the last seven years, close to 700,000 asylum seekers landed on Italy's shores, seeking to enter the EU after, in many cases, fleeing war and persecution. K_Alma was devised as a way to help them integrate into Italian society and increase their chances of landing a job and starting over in their new country. It's a social workshop with ecological sensitivity and eternal love for wood.

"It started like this: the passion for wood and years and years of battles for the rights of migrants," says Gabriella Guido, president of the association. "What we do is start from training, strengthening individual skills with informal and free courses. Especially at this historical moment."

The waiting list is endless.

Since its founding in 2017, the social carpentry organization has trained about 80 carpenters. Among its members and supporters are people who have always been active in the integration and human rights sector, but also private citizens and charitable institutions (such as the Waldensian Church and the Haiku Foundation) who have guaranteed the project's sustainability over the years.

Besides social work, the project's other cornerstone, since its foundation, has been environmental sustainability. The group focuses on projects that teach recycling and the circular economy. It uses waste materials, for example — wood of different origins and kind in its products. Last year, the workshop started producing cutting boards by reusing the trunks of trees that fell in Rome due to storms or neglect and that would otherwise be destined for pulping.

Meanwhile, the shop also hosts workshops and awareness-raising activities aimed at customers on the subject of the economy of reuse and recycling. And the very layout of its space was designed to minimize its environmental impact.

carpentry, refugees, Italy, Rome

Carpenters teach their profession to asylum seekers, refugees and unemployed Italians. — Photo: Matteo Nardone/Pacific Press/ZUMA

A few months ago, moreover, K-Alma was certified as an "ethical" carpenter by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an NGO that has developed a forest certification system for the production, transformation and processing of wood. That means that K_Alma products use wood coming from a fair-trade supply chain — and don't only bolster the human rights and condition of refugees, but also ecological rights.

"We are proud of this certificate because it allows us to focus not only on the choice and quality of the timber but also on respect for nature and for all the people who work in this area," says Guido.

Even at such a difficult time as the pandemic, apprentices can count on four professional carpenters who volunteer at the workshop. "We reopened on June 20 in an even larger space than we were before, in Rome's central Testaccio neighborhood," she says. That's because, as Italy lost more than a million jobs during the pandemic, the demand for K_Alma's courses sky-rocketed and almost doubled.

The courses are "full of participants and the waiting list is endless," Guido says. "Those who come to us normally do not have a deadline to stop taking classes — but in this case, unfortunately, we had to close enrollment temporarily."

The courses are intended for up to 20 participants, and to cope with the various problems that may arise, the organization decided to focus on the small-scale manufacture of a range of products. "This requires giving considering even more carefully how we source our wood — both in terms of where it comes from and what kind it is," the association president explains.

What's more, K_Alma has even managed to export its eco-friendly philosophy. It has branched out with a project, for example, to make Rome parks more sustainable and inclusive, and developed a workshop with the local Academy of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Architecture to teach residents how to recover and recycle urban wood.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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