Transforming the places of Camorra - Una Storia Mai Raccontata / by Ace Pai

NAPLES, ITALY -  On the skyline of the Secondigliano district stands five triangular housing units known as the Sails of Scampia. In Italy, Scampia is notorious for once being the territory of the Di Lauro clan but, Roberto Saviano's “Gomorrah” has further dramatized this centre for drugs, prostitution, and the Camorra on a global scale. 

Because of these dark narratives, Scampia has never entirely escaped the stereotype of being a dangerous, crime-ridden ghetto. The reality of today, however, is rather different; on the streets close to the Sails of Scampia was mother with a stroller. Further down the road was an old lady with her shopping basket. There was no violence, no crime, and no dangerous looking individuals. It didn’t feel unsafe and the truth is: things have improved a great deal.

The media’s fixation on portraying Naples as a “mafia-state” greatly exaggerates the problems that the district once had which only hinders the growth of the community and accentuates the stigma. At a time when grassroots opposition to organized crime is thriving, places like Scampia and Castel Volturno need a new narrative. 

Locals, especially, have been working hard to transform these negative narratives into more positive ones. It is significantly due to their efforts that these places once occupied by the Camorra are no longer what it used to be. One of these is Ciro Corona, president of the (R)esistenza Anticamorra Scampia, who managed to transform an abandoned school used by the Camorra to hide arsenal and house heroin-addicts into what is now the “Officina delle Culture,” a multi-purpose centre for the local community. It’s objective is to offer alternatives to prisoners who have no restrictive measures, those who were involved in petty crimes, drugs, or illegal activities in the past, and children at risk. The transformation of the “Officina delle Culture” has been a long and ongoing process, but it has already affected the lives of many. Those who were wrongly influenced by the Camorra in the past are eager to learn and change for the better. “È una Scampia mai raccontata,” says Ciro as he speaks about the regeneration of these places and individuals. 

Situated right outside of the Officina delle Culture is Piazza di Spaccio, previously known in Naples to be a piazza for drug dealings. Today, it gives off a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere, and you would have never guessed it’s grim past from the colourful pastel wall art. 

Neapolitans are not only looking to improve current situations brought about by the Camorra but also to protect the future as well. The Arci Scampia football school is a non-profit school founded in 1986 that acts as a reference point to teach children the importance of hard work, discipline, and rules through sports. It has built a community and gave meaning to not only children but also their parents.

Similarly, in Castel Volturno, a comune known for the massacre of seven west Africans by the Casalesi clan in 2008, locals have been fighting for change. Tam Tam Basket, a team started by former Italian basketball champion, Massimo Antonelli, has transformed the lives of young teenagers of West African immigrants. These teenagers were denied the right to compete against other teams in the regional league because they, although born and raised in Italy, were considered foreigners by the Italian law. After a long struggle with the authorities, the Italian parliament finally passed a bill so that all children born in Italy despite foreign parents will be allowed to compete. This small but significant alteration saved the fate of the Tam Tam boys, and many others, as without sport these teenagers are at risk of turning to crime. 

The importance of sports as a way of protecting and empowering teenagers susceptible to crime shines through while watching James and Miracolo, two members of the Tam Tam Basket, play passionately. Surely, the passing of the bill is a breakthrough and turning point of positive change in the community of Castel Volturno that gives hope to greater improvements to come. 

Despite the crime-ridden past, Naples is a city where the habitants are working collectively towards a greater future. Thanks to the effort and endurance of its people, the narrative of Naples has already begun to change, slowly but surely, for the better. 

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