Italy’s President, Sergio Mattarella, has awarded the honour of Knight of the Republic to 24-year-old Giacomo Pigni, a law graduate who has just started his first job as a labour law attorney. Pigni was rewarded for his services to the community during the coronavirus emergency. He offered his help to the Auser Ticino-Olona association, a group of volunteers who care for the elderly and promote their value to society. He recruited a group of around 20 students to set up a service to call people living alone and keep them company during the lockdown. “I’m really thrilled to have received this honour”, he told us in this interview.
With a Law degree from Milan University and your job at Adapt, the Association for International and Comparative Studies in Labour and Industrial Relations founded by Marco Biagi, how does this recognition fit in?
I think the only answer is that it was a coincidence (he laughs).
There is usually a reason for bestowing such an honour…
That’s true, it was for my activities as a volunteer with the Auser association.
So, it was in recognition of the volunteer work you have been doing?
In actual fact, I only recently volunteered at Auser. I helped out at a school for asylum seekers called Itaca. Unfortunately, with the Security Decree that came to an end, and then the virus hit. Since I was a child, I’ve been involved in local party politics because politics is one of my biggest interests. Many years ago, I had met Pinuccia Boggiani, president of the Auser Ticino-Olona association. The area I live in was badly affected by coronavirus so there was a real need for this project.
You’re 24, at what age did you start getting involved in politics?
I was in middle school, so I was very young (he smiles).
Receiving such an honour from the President of the Republic must seem like a daydream for someone your age …
Totally. I was overwhelmed and thrilled when I got the official telegram. But it would be wrong of me to think this award is just to me. During the toughest moments of the Covid-19 emergency, I had the honour and responsibility of coordinating a group of around 30 people in the Legnano area who delivered grocery shopping to elderly and therefore vulnerable people confined to their homes. We also set up a phone service to keep them company, taking over from the Auser association which has been running this service for many years. Because many of their volunteers are elderly themselves, they could not continue with this support. This honour from the President of the Republic is for all those people who rolled up their sleeves to help out during the past few months and for organisations like Auser. They are part of the very fabric of our society, dedicating their time to help those in need in our communities without asking for anything in return. I consider myself to be very fortunate to have had the chance to be a part of an organisation that is so essential to society.
What was your role in the project?
I recruited a local team of around 30 young people as volunteers and I coordinated their activities. Because of my job, I was not able to be there at all times.
What kind of people did you recruit?
All kinds. Friends, acquaintances, friends of friends. People of all backgrounds, creeds and political persuasions. The only requirement was their availability and I have to say, the response was heartwarming.
So, to become a ‘hero’ you need to be involved in your local area and community?
I don’t consider myself to be a hero by any means. I just did what was needed.
What have you learnt from this experience with Auser?
It’s an organisation where elderly volunteers take care of other elderly people and I think this was the first time they had young volunteers. The relationship between these two generations was an amazing and enriching experience.
Do you have an anecdote to tell us?
When we took over the companionship telephone service, we hit a problem. All we had to do was to follow the instructions we were given, but unfortunately all the telephone lists were paper copies kept at headquarters. So, we first had to digitalise them so we could work from home. It was great to put Auser’s vast experience side by side with technology – I think it was useful to us and to Auser.
This is an excellent example of cooperation in difficult times…
I agree. I’m convinced that this should have been the spirit everywhere in dealing with this crisis. I was saddened by so much controversy and so many arguments over the past few months. I was taught that you have to view society as a community. Society is simply a group of individuals who find themselves in a given place at a given moment. A community is a group of people bound together by a shared purpose. When dealing with a problem – big or small – there’s no point in looking for the guilty party, you need to take care of the community. For this to happen, a pact between generations is essential. I think our project shows this clearly. In more practical terms, it’s like in a family. In a real family the members help each other in times of need. If fathers and children quarrel, they won’t get anywhere. The foundation must always be a sense of community.