L’Aquila’s history is an essential Italian story. Located in Central Italy, the town was constructed in the first half of the 13th century and quickly became the second city of the Kingdom of Naples. In the 16th century, it was taken over by the Spanish and its ancient privileges for freedom were revoked. The city was later sacked by the French in 1799 but became part of unified Italy in 1861.
Earthquakes fill L’Aquila’s past. Serious and sometimes deadly tremors were recorded in 1315, 1349, 1452, 1461, 1501, and 1646. In 1703, more than 3,000 people died and almost all the churches collapsed; an earthquake in 1786 took 6,ooo lives. There was a minor quake in 1958 and then there was April 6, 2009: Thousands of buildings were damaged, 308 people were killed and 1,500 were injured. Eight college students died when their dorm collapsed.
Now, seven years later, L’Aquila is still rebuilding and its damaged buildings remain mostly vacant. Preposterous circumstances including blatant government corruption and incompetence, plus accusations of organized crime have left the city limping and abused, and little is being done to help. Last Wednesday, our 11 Hofstra “SCO in Rome” students joined Shoot4Change, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating social awareness through the power of images, and toured L’Aquila’s ravaged neighborhoods. The students shot photos and video footage of the town and interviewed Shoot4Change volunteers and one of the earthquake’s first responders. It was a visually and emotionally devastating experience that our students and I will never forget.
Our four-week Italy visit has been filled so far with visits to extraordinary places, and a schedule heavy with sightseeing and experiential learning opportunities. But nothing will compare to our time with Shoot4Change in L’Aquila. Working with this dedicated group of photographers and videographers has been priceless, and our students will continue their efforts to help this organization promote and represent their mission during and after our stay.
Nonprofit organizations need assistance with their public relations efforts, especially because they too often lack resources to competently handle media relations, web sites, social media, and more. Our students have a unique opportunity in Italy and they’re truly making the most of it. Your thoughts?