Cosmetic lab of the cooperative “I.d.e.a.”

By Asia Galvani* – Venice

Dec 23 2020

Thanks to the “Policoro” Project and the office of social communications of the Diocese of Oppido Mamertina-Palmi, an initiative originated to promote the activity of artisans and entrepreneurs in the Italian territory of Calabria, inspired by Pope Francis’s encyclical.

“To offer support to various companies, small business owners and associations that create dignified and solidary job opportunities is our concrete response to what Laudato si’ suggests in terms of the pastoral care of society, of work, and of taking care of our territory”. This is how Adriana Raso, community director of the “Policoro” Project in the Diocese of Oppido Mamertina-Palmi, synthesized the “Find Out Who Made the Package” initiative: a series of local products packaged together that make great Christmas gifts, that support local businesses. The proposal, promoted and supported by the Communication Office of the Diocese of Calabria, provided the opportunity to various businesses taking part in the project to witness to how daily work can be put at the service of the common good and those who are most vulnerable, those who otherwise risk not having access to decent jobs. 

Work that makes you better

The cooperative “I.d.e.a.” (Intent on Entertaining and Aggregating) started in 2008. Its objective was to offer working opportunities to minors with difficult backgrounds so as to accompany them toward a better future. The fertile terrain which allowed this enterprising activity to see the light of day came from a community of the congregation of the Daughters of the Immaculate Conception located in Luigi Monti di Polistena in Reggio Calabria. The community runs a center for youth aged 6 to 21 which can properly be characterized as an educational village.

“We welcome young people who have been entrusted to us by social services or by the Center for Juvenile Justice”, explains Brother Stefano Caria, the president of the cooperative. “And we created an adequate working environment, a cosmetic lab. We try to help the youth understand that it is important to work well, to follow a schedule, to follow directions not only so as to produce a quality product, but this is important for personal growth as well. We have seen young people improve, even physically, after having participated in this work experience. When they understand that they have capacities that they were not aware of before, they change. Sometimes it is difficult to get the work off the ground, to be firm with the young people regarding objectives, but this is what we have always proposed and Laudato si’ and Pope Francis provide the ‘input’ in a sense”.

The youngsters who work in the cooperative produce a series of cosmetics for third parties. They are made from the prized olive oil from Piana di Gioia Tauro. The beneficial properties of the material allow them to create handcrafted products whose greatest strength is quality. “A bottle of shower gel, body cream, shampoo and a bar of soap made with the oil by the cooperative ‘I.d.e.a.’ are among the items in the package produced by the ‘Policoro’ Project of Oppido Mamertina-Palmi”, says Valentina Varamo, who manages the cosmetics lab.

An Artisans of Charity loom

A school with master weavers

“No one can claim any merit of his or her own, but only by God’s grace. God’s grace must be transmitted and given to others”. This is how Giovanna Arfuso, an artisan who comes from a family of weavers that goes back to the 1700s, explains her desire to hand on the ancient art of weaving to future generations. Her love for this art was transmitted to her by her grandmother whom she saw working as a child as she would play with the intertwined threads. Giovanna recounts that, through her own eyes as a child, she saw “the shuttle as a toy to float in the water”. Now she manages it with precision and experience, having woven innumerable threads with the recovered and restored instrument. The loom seems be transformed into an organ of a great cathedral as she skillfully works it with harmonized hand and foot movements.

“We call ourselves ‘Artisans of charity’ ”, Giovanna explains, “because everything we use comes from donations. Rather than getting rid of ancient looms, we have restored them, specifically to counteract the throwaway culture. Inside the Christmas packages organized by the Diocese’s ‘Policoro’ Project, can be found a canvas bag we have woven. It is a simple object that anyone can use. It also has a favorable impact in safeguarding creation”.

The dedication of this group of artisans has reached the point of offering jobs to various young people in the area. It also contributes to passing on this art which has deep roots in the territory of Calabria. This, in turn, helps to reinforce a sense of identity that Laudato si’ invites us to protect.

 Filippo Andreacchio and Nadia Macrì interviewing Vincenzo Barilà

Making the project known

The Diocese of Oppido Mamertina-Palmi is also making this project known and promoting it. “From the beginning, even on a personal level”, explains Filippo Andreacchio, Director of the diocesan Office of Communications, “we have paid attention to local projects who offer jobs to disadvantaged persons or who create new job opportunities for growth. The novelty in this case is that of gathering a series of handcrafted products together in one box so as to concretely respond to a few suggestions that Laudato si’ indicate to us: that of dignified work with just pay, valuing products the earth has produced from the local area, and the invitation to counteract the throwaway culture. Our Bishop, Francesco Milito, always pays a lot of attention”, he continues, “to all opportunities, not only this one specifically, that permit the young, above all, to develop themselves personally and to contribute through their work to the common good”.

Thanks to these types of opportunities, an asset such as this can spread to larger communities. Vincenzo Barilà, a young craft beer producer, confirms this, saying: “entrepreneurial activity is fundamental because it offers jobs to other people as well, not only to yourself.”

The graphic artists contributing to the “Find Out Who Made the Package” project have come up with a logo that animates the objectives of the initiative adapted for use on social media and on the web page containing more information about the project which can be found through the Diocesan web site – Vatican News