The memory box as a tool for change: the collaboration between CiaoLapo and “Made in Carcere”

by Claudia Ravaldi

When I went through, step by step, the whole process of being elected ashoka fellow in 2019, I did not immediately realize what it meant, in practice, to be selected for my enterprise of change and impact in society. The first surprise was to find myself among people capable of marveling at small things committed to finding sustainable solutions to complex problems.

Until I joined the Ashoka community, to others I was always the one who thinks “too much”: too visionary, too many ideas, too idealistic, always too busy doing “unimportant” or “too unprofitable” things. Suddenly (finally!) I found myself among a hundred other visionaries like me: people full of curiosity and enthusiasm, driven by a desire to change things and a desire to understand and solve problems creatively, sustainably, and respectfully, and with experiences very similar to my own (I discovered that we visionaries don’t go so well with non-visionaries, with all our enthusiastic busy-ness). I was struck by the absolute willingness to think together about both common problems and the goals of individual fellows, to share potentially useful experiences, resources, and tools. It was precisely because of this intense mode of periodic exchange that, during one of CiaoLapo’s usual weeks of inventory and planning, I thought there might be someone among the fellows who could help me bring about a change I had been pursuing for some time. It had been years that, partly as a result of the considerations of so many families, I wanted to put two cloth puppets in the memory box, and not just one (if you would like to learn more about the history of memory boxes and the meaning of cloth puppets, you can read here), but I had not been able to find a sustainable way to accomplish this goal. So I remembered Made in Carcere (Made in Prison) and wrote an email to Luciana delle Donne, explaining the project and my vision. In just a few days a beautiful chain was set in motion made up of enthusiastic people, certainly visionary like me, but with their feet firmly planted on the ground (because yes, the secret of visionary changemakers is to have their head in the air and their feet on the ground).Veronica followed us all the way, from the making of the first pair of elephants, to the final delivery. This experience involved dozens of excited people, dozens of industrious hands, many quick eyes to hoard the fabrics best suited for the tenderness and softness of Levante and her mom, several attempts to test the stuffing, much precision to cut ears, eyes and tails, sew everything, label all the elephant moms, pack and ship the boxes.

I want to thank the tailors, who found themselves handling our bereavement stories. It is not so common, creating beautiful things for people full of pain. It is not every day that one gets to deal with this type of family, and it was not obvious to be able to work on this particular product while conveying delicacy, care and love.

Luciana, who supervised the whole project, sent us these lines, which I would like to share: “Levante triggered unexpected emotions in the children…. Tenderness the most tangible one. Tenderness in the institution is forgotten, removed, hidden. With the realization of Levant they returned to childhood memories…. Time when everything had not yet been tainted by crime…. Memories of joy resurfaced… The workshop filled with soft colors and soft shapes pulled them into a state of lightness and fullness. Realizing Levant conveyed to them the sense of care of patience and they perceived time as precious. Each stage of processing a commitment to do well… But to do well not for themselves but for those who would receive them…. Finally, the other great emotion that is nullified in the institute is dedication. They wanted to preserve and display a pair of Levant on our bulletin board in the lab…they did not want to detach themselves from that object that evoked emotions, ignited memories and made workers proud. ”

The first memory boxes with the elephant pair are ready to go, and industrious hands are already looking for new fabrics for the second round of elephants.

Attention is the purest form of generosity, Simone Weil said, and there is not a single detail, of the entire Memory Box, that has not been thought of with the people who will receive it in mind. To whom goes, always all our attention and all possible care.


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