Students to the rescue

Published on The Silver Lining issue by Are We Europe

Illustration by Eddie Stok

Online tutors of quarantined pupils raise funds for Bergamo’s hospital.

By March 18th, less than two weeks into the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, all 80 intensive care units at Bergamo’s Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital were operating at full capacity. At least twice as much were needed.

Northern Italy became the epicentre of the coronavirus crisis in March, with Bergamo one of the country’s hardest hit cities. Over 5,400 people died in the province during that month alone. Each day, hospitals were overwhelmed by thousands of patients in a critical state.

In response to the emergency, Giacomo Porta a 23-year-old postgraduate students, set up a donation scheme to help Bergamo’s main hospital. Along with ten other university students, Porta launched Donazioni a Ripetizione (‘donations on repeat’), a project offering remote tutoring in exchange for donations. 

Thanks to social media and word of mouth, the initiative grew quickly. Covering subjects from mathematics and physics to philosophy and ancient greek, the students managed to support over 30 quarantined schoolchildren and raise over €2,000 in their first month.

“The money collected so far has been invested by the hospital for medical supplies, and in a medicine delivery service for the elderly in Bergamo,” explained Porta. 

With Italian schools closed due to the outbreak, tutoring is the only way some pupils cope with the challenges of online learning.

“I see my teachers only once a week on webcam now,” said 10-year-old Sofia who enrolled in the online tutoring initiative. “I struggle to do my homework alone, but these extra lessons are helping me.”

“For pupils, it’s very useful to have someone to talk to about their homework,” explained Erika Radaelli, a volunteer tutor. “In the end, school is also about social relations.”

For similar reasons, though, Porta is skeptical about whether his initiative will outlast the crisis. “The human connection necessary for teaching gets a little lost through the screen,” he said.

For now, though, the tutoring continues, supporting the hospital, the schoolkids and the volunteers themselves.

“Being able to do something so useful from home is also helping me to go through this quarantine,” admitted Porta.

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