“Our heart is not made of stone. The stone can eventually break into fragments, crumble and lose any sort of shape. The heart can still live, even if broken into fragments. And this shapeless thing that we bear inside, either good or bad, we can pass it to each other without any limit”.

These are Haruki Murakami’s words.

But afterwards you carry inside you the earthquake, and it is unlikely that it will stop shaking violently, trembling and undermining the inner life of each person. The earth is no longer stable for those who experienced the earthquake: the universal stability suddenly stops to be such and in your conscience it remains that anxious feeling to keep on balance while standing on something boiling, the perception of an instability which risks to spread at existential level.

In such an unstable emotional status, being able to rely on a safe educational facility, a school in which your children can study without – you and them – having the worm of the earth that can start shaking again, equals to a safe landing in a stormy weather. It also equals to a hospital built next to the battlefield.

A war indeed, this is the metaphor used by Micaela (Micaela Buccolini, the wife of Sarnano’s Mayor Franco Ceregioli) who cannot help quoting when she recalls those days. “An unimaginable and surreal conflict: familiar places that suddenly change in look and function. The indoor sports stadium (Palasport) where almost nine hundred people were sheltered, from the child, to the ill to the old person, suggested a war scenario, with its tragic precariousness, as well as many great examples of humanity, with new and sound relationships which were born among the youngest, a desire to quickly reach a forced maturity, a new sense of accountability”.

The earthquake in the Marches region was like for the Twin Towers: everybody has clear memories of where they were, of what they were doing, their reactions and thoughts. The worst events took place in three stages: the initial earthquake, on August 26th during the night. The second, on October 26th in the late afternoon and the third early in the morning on October 30th.

Micaela recalls: “When the first shock occurred, I was with my family at the beach. Our 21-year old eldest son had stayed at home. We were extremely frightened and immediately rushed home, and since then my husband has been absorbed full time by his institutional commitments. The second shock got me at the supermarket. Franco was carrying out surveys at the G. Leopardi middle school together with the council members and the technical staff. I remember the shelves shaking, all the goods falling on the floor and my thoughts reached my youngest son who was at home studying.. Just a few hours later, another stronger shock, with the walls at home cracking, tiles coming off, cracked marble doorsteps, objects falling down everywhere. In those moments, I must confess, I froze… I found shelter under a main beam, embracing my son, waiting and hoping that that hell would soon be over.

Together with my husband (who was inside the school when the shock occurred, with glasses blowing off and cracks on the walls), we deemed it would be more cautious to stay in our camper van in the street. Three days later on October 29th, the earth seemed to have stopped shaking and settled and we were almost ready to decide to go back home. But Franco said: “Another day, just to be safe”. And the following day the strongest and most violent shock hit us while we were in bed inside the camper van. Everything was bumping, like a boat in the ocean endlessly tossed by the waves. At first I could not even get out of bed. Then a sudden worry: our house. It is no longer there. Non even the village. Pure despair. Then we opened the blinds and saw our house still there, the towers of the village, and we heaved a sigh of relief. Then, in our pajamas we run out looking for our relatives as the cell phone networks were all down, so anxious for our beloved ones, friends and fellow inhabitants. My husband left almost immediately to organize the emergency actions. And that “Emergency” has lasted ever since, no one could even think for a second to give in, as they had to instill security, reassurance and support to the residents, helping them as much as possible. I stayed in the camper van, with my mother-in-law and my children, trying to reorganize life, just like after a bombardment… It is something that comes and looms over you, and it happens to you and cannot escape from it.

Days and months went by. People, even those living 30-40 kilometers away resume their lives, go back to normality and inevitably forget. For those who live in Sarnano – like in the other villages hit by the earthquake – the emergency status continues, it is like living a parallel life, difficult to explain if you have not experienced it for yourself. A creeping fear, small, yet big inconveniences, like school classes moved to the afternoon, an improvised “double shift” that in case of a working mother like Micaela, destabilize the family balances. Small, yet big inconveniences like – much worse – waiting to go back to your house or getting a house again.

Luca Piergentili is the council member responsible for public works, sports and recycling. His smile, affability and unconditional readiness to help shown during the course of the reconstruction with the ABF and OTB team, do not reveal anything about his personal complex and precarious situation. Because Luca is in his turn an evacuee. He is still living in three rooms with his wife and their four daughters – the eldest is disabled and requires permanent and complex treatments. Six people living in a three-room residence.

As soon as the first shocks occurred he dashed to the day care center where his daughter was, together with other disabled young boys and girls… Then, together with the Mayor, we put into operation a Municipality Operational Center (COC) to manage and coordinate the rescue actions. The Palasport was undamaged: we turned it into a shelter center. Even though there was a minimal attendance after the August earthquake. But in October, within a few hours we found ourselves having to manage the presence in the shelter of almost five hundred people”.

A tragic crescendo until the tremor of October 30th: “I was with my family when I started seeing walls cracking, then water pipes blowing up, my girls (of seven, nine, eleven and thirteen at the time) were running, they were scared… We immediately headed for the Palasport, taking with us, the oxygen, the wheel chair and the medical aids”.

In the meantime, given the serious circumstances, Luca had to be constantly present in his capacity of council member… 1,400 evacuees to find accommodation to, one of the most important economic assets – the historical to Thermal baths – destroyed…

“If the village becomes empty, it will be very hard to repopulate it – we pointed out at the Municipality. So we all rolled up our sleeves, nobody excluded. We moved the thermal baths – within the framework of an operation which in record times allowed the regeneration of an area of the village and thirty families had their employment secured. We used holiday homes and hotels as temporary accommodations for many households; we also accepted the challenge (which proved to be a winning one) to opt for the “uncertainty” of donations instead of the “certainty” of public government funds.

Today we have a new middle school, a state of the art building which is attracting to Sarnano many families. Today we celebrate the “ride” against time, an exciting adventure with amazing people (the team of the two foundations and the technical staff involved)… Women and men who gave their all to this project”.

On the other hand, a bitter counterpart: for another school with one donor and therefore with the totality of the required funds but that decided to follow the public procedure instead, the reconstruction project is stuck, heavily hindered by continuous postponements and requests… “Twenty days ago an archaeological survey, ten days ago another survey related to the presence of any potential munition dumps, etc.”.

Council member Piergentili has no doubt: he hopes that her daughters’ future is going to be here in Sarnano. “For sure that of the earthquake is an experience that left an indelible mark on their psychology and that of their peers. However children are able to recover energies through results. It is essential to set an objective and to reach it, to keep a promise. Like their new school which they saw taking shape from the windows of their provisional classrooms; children supported the people working at the Reconstruction, encouraging them notwithstanding the cold and the snow. With the new school their hopes, their trust for the future have been secured. Their fears have been disarmed”.

Fear: a luxury that neither Sabrina Tidei, Head of the Technical Office could afford, not even for a second.

A damper, since August 24th: the earthquake occurred only three weeks after her appointment to that role. Surveys kicked off immediately, a meticulous investigation which started from the schools of the village. The first targeted interventions, the refurbishments… Then the rest of the earthquake which wiped out two month’s work, then new collapses, the old part of the village was immediately evacuated and secured, as well as the Technical Office that until December remained almost entirely under Sabrina’s responsibility.

She had the difficult task to say many painful “NOs”, having to deny permission to many elderly people to enter their homes, people who were born and had lived their entire life in those homes. Even the Head of the Technical Office wants for her two children a future in Sarnano (one of them is now attending the new school).

“Our heart is not made of stone. The stone can eventually break into fragments, crumble and lose any sort of shape. The heart can still live, even if broken into fragments.

The Japanese writer Murakami (who knows very well how it feels living in a high seismic risk country), hits the mark. Maybe houses, sometimes things made men can break into fragments, but not the hearts, and the people of Sarnano know it very well. And they courageously made their choice, by pinpointing sound reasons – to resist and kick off again – in the real values of the territory, in the brotherhood spirit of a mountain village, in the amazing nature that surrounds and comforts them.

It is in such a fertile, collaborative and empathic environment that the two Foundations by Andrea Bocelli and Renzo Rosso found their perfect way and opportunity for realize their aid project.

A virtuous circle which has given life to a school that is not just a school but much more. “This is the proof of how something good can grow even out of a disaster – smiles the Mayor’s wife – because thanks to this facility, Sarnano boasts now a reference model, in terms of what the G. Leopardi school represents (educational, gathering and empowerment center for the Community, which enhances the quality of the offer in the area) as well as the modalities of its realization: 150 days, from the foundations to the ribbon cutting ceremony. A model worth promoting and exporting”.

Giorgio De Martino