Yodit Estifanos

Access to health services for migrants, especially women, has been the primary commitment for Médecins du Monde in Rome right from the start. An urgency that Yodit Estifanos, 32, former project manager of MdM in the capital knows well. Working for the organization since May 2016, Yodit initially devoted herself to a project designed for informal settlements and occupations. Now, for a year, she has also been following the activities carried out by MdM in collaboration with some realities of women and for women located in the Roman territory: the Italian school for foreigners in Torpignattara and the mixed school in the Ostiense neighborhood, both promoted by Asinitas; the shelter house and the Spazio Donna in San Basilio, managed by the BeFree social cooperative. Until the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, against which MdM immediately took sides at the forefront of emergency management.

Selam Palace, a”pot of stories”

In Rome, MdM is supporting the Selam Palace occupation, in the Romanina area, since 2018. A very complex place, “full of stories and problems”. So much so that “the impact, when we first arrived, was not the best: 500 people from the Horn of Africa – in particular from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and, in part, Sudan – who were in great difficulty, even if they tried to hide it”.

The Selam Palace has been occupied for about fifteen years, but “the institutions only remembered it a few months ago, when the Covid-19 alarm went off in the building”. When the emergency broke out, MdM remained in place. Through the presence of Yodit, but also of the doctor Rita Carravetta and all the other professionals who, in the building, support people with mental health and/or addiction problems, as well as pregnant women, accompanying them to the local health services. “I, in particular, manage relations with the communities and coordinate the MdM staff in the field”, says the project manager with a smile, explaining that currently she goes to the building two afternoons a week, but in the worst period she dedicated even whole days.

Yodit Estifanos
Yodit Estifanos, project manager for MdM in Rome

Now the situation has stabilized enough, but the Selam Palace still remains “a pot of both health and legal problems”. All its inhabitants arrived across the Mediterranean years ago; many even between 2007 and 2008. About 80% of them are legal, having obtained political asylum or subsidiary protection, but many have never been guaranteed the welcome they would have been entitled to, while others – despite being workers – however, they have never left this “gangrenous situation, where they feel somehow protected”. They all landed in Italy after a long and tiring journey, full of hope; no one had the goal of staying in the country. They often tried to go elsewhere in Europe but were rejected. In short, for Yodit, the Selam Palace is a real symbol of the “failure of hospitality”.

“We take care of women as women”

Fortunately, however, Rome is not only the Italian city with the highest number of occupations. The capital is in fact also “very rich in women’s associations for women“. Like BeFree, for which MdM organizes training cycles dedicated to sexual and reproductive health. Meetings aimed at very young migrants, who have recently arrived in Italy, who have survived to violence or human trafficking. Or like Asinitas which, with its Italian school, caters to mothers of different origins – especially Bengali and Arabic-speaking – often pregnant, all under 40 years of age. Women who “found themselves in difficulty during childbirth, especially as regards dialogue with doctors”, and for this reason they asked MdM for “support on issues related to health and, in particular, sexual reproductive”. For the organization, Yodit and a doctor, a midwife and a psychologist take care of them, through cycles of activities on parenting and health education. “Once they become mothers, very few continue to take care of these women”, explains the project manager. “For this reason, during our meetings, we talk not only about them as mothers, but also about when they were daughters, with dreams and expectations. In short, we take care of them as women”.

Interview by Elisa Bertoli