Beginnings are surprising.
Who would have ever thought that volunteering in a refugee camp could lead to publishing? Be it here, on this sparkly clean new blog, but also in print – you know, the hard copy kind, where words look and feel more real just because you can “hold” them in your hands. They don’t float about on screen, like memories do in our head; you can’t scroll endlessly and mindlessly. There is a beginning, there is an end, and each page is turned with the intention to read on. Yes, beginnings are surprising because you never quite know where they will lead to. Beginnings are surprising because they can become anything. Our starting point is agara Foundation, but our guiding motto is walking together. We might start with what agara is or does, but where that takes us, is yet to be seen.
One such example is the publication of an illustrated poem book called, ironically enough, Walking in Circles. When I think of how this publication came to be, it mostly comes down to coincidence. That, and a series of unrelated events. The first time I met Steve Bonello, the illustrator who worked with me on this project, was around two and a half years ago. I was already familiar with his work through that odd exhibition here and there and his typical cartoons on the national newspaper, but I had never met the artist nor was his work particularly on my mind. At the time, I had just joined agara. My role? To come up with ideas for artistic awareness-raising campaigns and seek means to have these ideas funded. One of the projects we thought of (and by ‘we’ I mostly mean Stephen, one of agara’s founding members) was to have billboards around the island covered with blown-up illustrations dealing with technology, education and social inclusion. Well, we had the idea, but we didn’t have the illustrator. So, Steve’s name came up, and a quick search on the internet and a couple of exchanged messages later, we were chatting over coffee. And he was on board (pun intended, of course)! But, alas, we didn’t manage to get funded, so the thing pretty much died there.
That same year (2016) I was somehow drawn to one of the polé polé voluntary experiences organised by agara. We went to France; to be precise, in the refugee camps of Dunkirk and Calais, familiarly referred to as ‘The Jungle’. Only remnants of these refugee camps remain there today. Anyhow, to cut a long story short, three of us volunteers – all quite keen on writing – set ourselves an unofficial challenge to write a reflection or a poem based on the intense experience we had just had… every single day, for the entire year, starting on the 1st of September 2016. And so we did, and we’d post our reflections on Facebook to share them with the rest of our circle of online friends. We didn’t think much more of it. Soon enough though, I was hooked, and I came to consider these poetic reflections as a space in which I would take refuge every day.
This went on for almost the entire year, at which point I started to give the suggestion ‘to have them published’ a little more serious thought. But how much more intriguing it would be if I were to set the “year challenge” to someone else – to react to these reflections, not through words but through images. Enter Steve. Or rather, “message” Steve, for it was his name and his work that immediately came to mind. And that was it really. Steve loved the idea, but he was hesitant on whether such a project could get funded. So was I; it felt like one of those misleadingly concrete and convincing dreams, the ones in which you hear some sort of music playing in your dream only to wake up and realise that your phone’s alarm exhausted itself howling beside you. But in this waking world I set myself to getting funded, and when Kite Group and Giuliana Fenech – with her literary expertise – joined our little venture, it was the only world I came to see. Unbelievably, our project – that innocent challenge that began in the challenging environment of the refugee camps – was accepted by the Malta Arts Fund; we got funded, and with that, so did our new “year challenge”: in a year we had to produce an illustrated poetic journey in the form of a book.
And one year on, here we are, with a published poem book in hand. Is this the end of the road? Far from it, but it’s the beginning that keeps surprising me.
have a look at “walking in circles”
Giulia Privitelli – Dunkirk and Calais voluntary experience 2016