Francesca Fornari: Solidarity is eliminating borders between those who give and those who receive

Francesca was born in Italy, where she got M.A. degree in pedagogy and participated in the work of several collectives and organizations. Paths of activism and informal education brought her to Serbia, and she has been part of Volunteers` Center of Vojvodina since November 2019. In her spare, but also working time, she enjoys her pedagogical and social activities, reading, and gardening.

Speaking of individual contributions through donations, it surely is not only about money – activists receiving donations testify that the very gesture of support means a lot to them, seeing that the community bears them in mind, recognizes their needs, and supports the battles they fight. On the other hand, volunteering does not necessarily mean investing money, but does mean investing time. What`s the significance of your contribution, as you see it, what makes you glad for supporting different movements through volunteering?

I find volunteering the most egalitarian, direct and inclusive form of support to a cause, community or struggle: volunteering means decision to invest our time by directly contributing to solution of an issue or mitigation of its consequences. Volunteering means being hand by hand with one another, getting to know individuals of similar values and motivations, getting familiar with functioning of different groups, organizations and collectives, becoming more aware of our capacities, but also of ways of organizing that might be more suitable for us. We gain better, more direct insight into issues that initiated our actions, and we advance our activities: nothing can be compared with the field experience.

Also, when speaking about money, volunteering has to be free of charge: it makes it free of all forms of elitism and hierarchy that could be driven by money. Therefore, it would always be my choice to support a movement through volunteer work, except when money is necessary to reach a goal (such as, in this case, to pay for working premises etc.). I myself am aware that financial donations are limited by financial capacities of all of us who donate, while investing our spare time, knowledge, and skills represents one of the few things capitalist system cannot take away from us.

Definitely, it was very important for me to support different volunteer initiatives in Volunteers` Center of Vojvodina, but also to volunteer myself, in my spare time: I took part in numerous totally bottom-up actions, but also in NGO projects, and somehow I think I gained insight in broader range of volunteering opportunities, options and programs. I see my contribution primarily in creating opportunities for others to volunteer: For years I have been a part of a local initiative in Italy where we recognized volunteering as a tool for social inclusion and participation of youth from rural areas, as well as young refugees and migrants, and my role was to make volunteering more accessible and inclusive by creating space for joint organization of volunteer actions for whole community and fostering everyone’s participation, regardles of position. In Volunteers’Center of Vojvodina, on the other hand, we strive to offer chances, particularly to young people, through participation in programs and activities, to gain insight in otherness, in being different, as well as to gain critical insight into problems, and actively take part in their solution.

Considering your rich international experience, which practices and values concerning volunteering you would like to see come to life in this region?

I appreciate bottom-up experiences, where individuals gather and jointly solve problems of their communities, and such initiatives I would like to see more and more in Serbia. Even though we have numerous examples of great local initiatives (of those in Novi Sad I would highlight Kuhinja solidarnosti (Solidarity Kitchen)), but when taking a look at the big picture I notice that individual initiatives are often isolated and lack connecting with each other in physical, but also virtual spaces. Also it seems that in Serbia some areas became a „property“ of foreign international organizations realizing projects at highly institutionalized level – thus creating a gap between groups these organizations collaborate with and civil society, leaving no space for authentic activist actions. One of the examples is the sphere of support to migrants and refugees and their social inclusion: abroad, apart from large and international governmental and non-governmental organizations, this struggle has been also led and shared by common citizens, along with migrants themselves, in a very horizontal and intersectional approach. Also, when it comes to volunteering, I would like to see (and take part in starting) more initiatives which deal with the protection of environment not only through „putting down the fires“, but through work on prevention of pollution, extinction, urbanizaton and other phenomena. Finally, in the country of my origin, for many years already  there has been a practice of volunteering in prisons: I would like to see that here too, since I think it would contribute to better understanding of position of convicts, while giving them the chance to work on themselves, develop skills and capacities, and socialize during the time in prison.

We have initiated and maintained the local feminist philantrophy program based on principles of solidarity, continually revealing new forms and meanings of the term. What does solidarity represent to you? What kind of solidarity does women’s movement need?

For me solidarity is, before all, a concept opposite to charity, it means erasing borders between the giving and receiving ones. Solidarity, in my opinion, requires a deep understanding, or a wish to achieve a deep understanding of reasons and a context of others, as well as of reasons of his or her opression. It also requires awareness of our own privileges, however small they might be, and awareness of the need to associate with others.

I think that women’s movement needs intersectional, non-discriminatory, antimilitarirst, and above all regional solidarity!

Interview and translation by: Đurđa Trajković