Martina Giraudo e Andrea Bergamasco

The project: Croce Verde Torino

Croce Verde (The Green Cross) Torino is a voluntary association founded in 1907 to assist the injured and sick and is affiliated to ANPAS (Associazione Nazionale Pubbliche Assistenze). Our association provides services in Turin and in the municipalities of Alpignano, Ciriè, Venaria Reale, Borgaro-Caselle and San Mauro Torinese.

This interview is twofold because one of the characteristics of volunteer work on emergency vehicles is that of being in a crew: we always operate as a group and face challenges together with our colleagues in the crew with collaboration and understanding.

What is Croce Verde Torino’s activity and yours as volunteers?

Andrea: Croce Verde Torino works in favour of the community, providing a series of important services such as rescue and transport in Emergency/Urgency integrated into the 118 Piedmont System, non-urgent inter- and extra-hospital transport, and the transport service for disabled people or people with reduced mobility; it is also present to guarantee health assistance during major events and shows, and also provides a Civil Protection Unit ready to intervene in the event of natural disasters. Last but not least, external training. Croce Verde Torino goes into schools and companies to present first-aid courses.

Martina: We are 1,334 volunteers organised, as Andrea said, into night, day, mountain, civil protection and special projects teams. Our mountain team is present in the main ski resorts of Turin: Sestriere, Sauze d’Oulx, Sansicario, Cesana, Claviere, Bardonecchia, Prali, Montoso. The main activity that we carry out as volunteers is that of emergency health care, but there are countless activities that our volunteers carry out in addition to the main service and for the citizens. For example, in addition to the activities mentioned by Andrea, Croce Verde Torino also has a Youth Team, a tele-assistance project and the SciAbile Project, which involves accompanying disabled skiers.

In general, Croce Verde Torino has always collaborated with other local organisations with solidarity and willingness. This was also the case when we had to deal with the health emergency linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. In collaboration with the health authorities and institutions, we volunteers were called upon to provide support during the health screening phase at airports, and following the establishment of a toll-free number by the Piedmont Region together with other ANPAS volunteers, we are facilitating the management of calls to the 118 Operations Centre, thus ensuring that citizens receive timely responses to their needs. Croce Verde Torino has also provided the ASL Torino with a camper van to carry out home swabs. In addition, our volunteers participate in direct services to citizens, delivering medicines and basic necessities in collaboration with the municipalities.

This health emergency has not changed the number of our emergency services, but it has changed their nature. In fact, before each ambulance service, we have to wear personal protective equipment (mask, overalls, boots, gloves, visor, goggles, cap) and after each transport we have to sanitise the vehicle, undress and dispose of the equipment used to avoid possible contamination. The same service is carried out under very different conditions than before: even basic activities, such as talking on the phone with our Operations Centre, became complex when working in an attempt to contaminate as few objects as possible. In addition, an important aspect concerns the reduction of the human contact that we have always been accustomed to using, in fact the use of personal protective equipment has inevitably erected a barrier between the rescuers and the rescued, and we regret this.

How long have you been volunteers and what do you do in life?

Martina: I am a nuclear engineer and I joined Croce Verde Torino as a rescuer during my first year at university, in 2007. In 2009, I joined the mountain team and a year ago I joined the communications staff.

Andrea: I’m also an engineer and I graduated in Aerospace Engineering from Turin Polytechnic. During my first years of work, I joined Croce Verde Torino in November 2009 as a Volunteer Rescuer, serving on one of the nine night teams. There, almost eleven years ago, my adventure began as an ‘aggregate’, as the aspiring rescuers of our organisation are defined, starting from the very first days to get to grips with the complex and delicate reality that this type of voluntary work entails, thus achieving the qualification of certified rescuer at the end of a long and demanding training course that lasted about ten months. After a few years, the possibility of “sitting in the front seat” arrived, adding to the role of 118 Voluntary Rescuer that of driver on the organisation’s emergency vehicles and then, having by now gained a certain amount of experience, becoming part of its instructor corps.

What impact does Croce Verde Torino have on the city?

Andrea: As I was saying, the type of service guaranteed by Croce Verde Torino, and I am thinking in particular (but not only) of rescue activities in emergency/urgency contexts, leads its volunteers to come to terms with a complex and delicate reality.

Knowing how to guarantee professionalism during rescue operations has the effect of generating and instilling a climate of trust.

It means making the citizens understand that, should health conditions require it, at any time of day or night, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Croce Verde Torino, operating within the 118 Piemonte system, knows how to provide that type of health assistance. It does it quickly and well.

But professionalism does not only imply knowing how to do it: it also requires knowing how to be. And, dressed in our rescuers’ uniforms, being there professionally means first of all remembering that during the night shifts, during every intervention, we are first and foremost in the presence of people.

People who, in that moment of suffering or need, are asking for help. And for this very reason, being in a state of weakness and need, they must be treated with extreme dignity, respect and delicacy. In the course of education – and training in the field – that every aspiring rescuer faces within Croce Verde Torino, this aspect is one of the fundamental and indispensable elements of his learning to “know how to be”.

We are no “Rambos” of rescue, therefore, but only technical skills and heart. This is the necessary recipe that makes people understand that the rescuer is there for them and with them, contributing to that sense of esteem and trust I mentioned earlier.

Martina: Another of Croce Verde Torino’s main commitments, apart from rescuing, is training citizens. Our volunteer instructors carry out external trainings, training thousands of people free of charge every year in schools, companies and during public events in squares in the city and province. I believe this service is essential because even today many people do not know how to behave in the event of a health emergency. We often find people who, overcome by fright, panic and forget to call 112 for several minutes. Unfortunately, too many people still do not know the life-saving manoeuvres of airway deflation or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Our hope is that by training the citizens of Turin in these manoeuvres, many lives can be saved.

In this period of Covid-19 emergency I think the impact of Croce Verde Torino on the city is even more accentuated by all the additional services we have been called upon to provide to help the citizens.

Finally, our impact does not end in the Turin area, as over the years hundreds of our volunteers have left to support other regions affected by natural disasters.

What three adjectives would you use to describe your activity?

Andrea and Martina: One word that we would choose to define Croce Verde Torino is “passionate”, because it lives from the passion that, discreetly and quietly, allows each volunteer to devote so much energy and time (often taken away from other personal activities) to carry out the organisation’s activities.

Another word we would use is “aggregation”, not only meaning the possibility of living the experience of being a volunteer side by side, but above all thinking of that particular alchemy that unites extremely different people. Different ages, professions, origins and social backgrounds. People who perhaps, outside of Croce Verde Torino, would never have had the opportunity to meet and get to know each other, but who the emotions, tensions and hard work of this wonderful volunteer work blend together into a very close-knit whole.

Finally, again going against the request for an adjective and thinking more of an expression, we would choose “life experience”. The human experience we have lived in these years of service within Croce Verde Torino, the privileged perspective that each time is offered to the eyes of the volunteer rescuer, in its often crude yet very human aspects, has certainly made us different people, richer, more open and aware.

What is the role of young people in your context?

Martina: There are many young people, with a lot of energy and above all a great desire to get involved.

You can become an “aggregate” rescuer once you’ve turned 18, and after about a year of training and tutoring, you find yourself a fully-fledged rescuer, ready to handle even complex situations. This makes you grow up a lot compared to other people your age and take on a lot of responsibility.

I think, therefore, that young people are more responsible than in other realities, because in Croce Verde Torino seniority is understood only in terms of length of service. This means that young people who have been with the organisation for years find themselves managing rescue operations and tutoring people who are much older.

You also have the opportunity to get to know and make friends with people you would never otherwise have had the chance to meet, which broadens your horizons considerably. This gives you a lot of responsibility and in my case it was also extremely useful when I entered the world of work: I was much easier to relate to people of all ages and social backgrounds.

Young people, on the other hand, are involved through the Youth Team, a group of 30 young people between the ages of 15 and 22 who do voluntary social work.

Andrea: The role of the boys and girls, often very young, who start volunteering at Croce Verde Torino is fundamental. They bring new energy and enthusiasm to the teams, a real and constant source of freshness and stimulation. Whether they take their first steps on tiptoe, as soon as they join Croce Verde Torino, or later, showing determination and grit, the young people immerse themselves with passion in the complexity of this very special type of voluntary work, accepting with great humility, curiosity and critical sense the wealth of knowledge and experience passed on to them by the more experienced volunteers.

From the privileged point of view of an instructor, it is always a great satisfaction to see their commitment in the evenings spent together in the classroom, during the training course, often arriving with eyes heavy with sleep because of the Team’s shift the night before, or with their heads still on their university notes and the exam roll call approaching.

Yet they choose to be there, rather than with friends in a club, dancing or at the cinema, and I see them facing the difficulties of the course with doggedness, often overcoming them with disarming ease, learning quickly and discussing what they are learning in a way that is never trivial.

In doing so, they take up the baton of a long tradition with responsibility.

How does one become a volunteer of Croce Verde Torino?

Andrea: For those who wish to join Croce Verde Torino, the process traditionally begins with a meeting to present the organisation, on the first and third Wednesday of the month, followed, during the same evening, by an individual interview where aspiring volunteers present themselves and are selected on the basis of their motivations and availability.

Once they have joined Croce Verde Torino as aspiring volunteers, the new recruits are assigned to one of the various teams as “Aggregates”, immediately immersing themselves in the various health and rescue activities, placed with expert crews who take care of the initial training as a sort of tutor.

The actual training course, no less than three months after joining the team, takes the form of the regional certification course which, starting in October and running until June, consists of a first phase of theoretical and practical lessons two evenings a week and then continues with a second phase of training (the so-called practical training), altrnated with assessment and selection sessions.

At the end of this long process, if successful, the volunteer, will receive the regional certification as a Volontario Soccorritore Sistema 118 (118 System Volunteer Rescuer), becoming a fullfledged volunteer of the Croce Verde.

Martina: At the moment, due to the Covid-19 health emergency, the traditional meetings to present the organisation, which take place on Wednesday evenings, are suspended. However, you can still express your willingness to become a volunteer by sending an e-mail indicating your references, your home address and the type of activity you would like to carry out with us.

In fact, as explained at the beginning, Croce Verde Torino employs its volunteers not only in medical rescue but also in other services for citizens: anyone who has the time and good will to put themselves at the service of others is therefore welcome.

However, those who do not live in Turin and in the municipalities of Alpignano, Borgaro/Caselle, Ciriè, San Mauro, Venaria Reale and the surrounding area can, if they wish, join other associations similar to ours that are associated with ANPAS, which is present throughout the country.

What can we do to help?

Martina and Andrea: We think that a valuable help is to make Croce Verde Torino known and to show the aspects of the service it offers to citizens, “revealing” this fascinating and demanding world through the testimony of some of its volunteers. This can be a powerful stimulus for people to get to know this reality, discovering in themselves a desire to be part of it and choosing to make their time and skills available. Being a volunteer in Croce Verde Torino allows you to offer a useful service to citizens, and at the same time to acquire many skills that will be useful in life.

Interview by Chiara Zaghi of the Global Shapers Turin Hub