by Marina Chiarmetta with Silvana Rivella

MILAN. The COVID-19 emergency is putting great strain on the Italian National Health Service (SSN), which is recognized as one of the best in the world. Established in 1978 it defines the complex of functions, structures, services and activities intended for the promotion, maintenance and recovery of the physical and mental health of the whole Italian population.

Three years before the institution of the SSN, a then young doctor, the late Professor Erminio Longhini, decided the founding in Milan of AVO, aka Volunteer Hospital Association. Due to the Italian population’s lockdown, celebrations in what would have been the 45th anniversary of that unprecedented charity initiative will be postponed. Today we want to recollect the invaluable story of AVO and at the same time honor the AVO’s volunteers who due to the Covid 19 emergency have been obliged to leave their service with great regret. The newborn AVO’s initiative was tested for the first time in the Sesto San Giovanni hospital, at the time a detached section of the Maggiore Hospital of Milan, thanks to a handful of volunteers guided with passion by the wife of the Founder, Nuccia Orrù Longhini. Then, in December 1978 the SSN’s law n. 833 sanctioned a precise regulation of Federavo, the Federation of AVOS (www Federavo.it) in which the Hospital Voluntary Associations defined in the AVO acronym converged. Federavo exercises coordination, guidance, training, promotion and supervisory functions over the activities of federated associations.  Today it counts about 240 locations operating in over seven hundred hospitals and other hospitalization facilities, spread throughout the national territory with more than 25,000 volunteers. They are present in hospitals, in addition to Medicine, also in specialist departments such as Oncology, First Aid, in Spinal Units and Functional Recovery, as well as in nursing homes, in psychiatric structures, in hospices, in private clinics and in some cases even at home. They are next to the sick, especially those who are alone or lacking a friendly presence, comfort, listening, small services, entertainment in a time that, even if short, is at their complete availability. In rest homes where hospital stays are long and tiring they organize reading meetings, projections of photographs and videos, birthday parties, gardening workshops.

Today, as AVO is experiencing the impossibility of personally participate alongside the SSN due to the Coronavirus lockdown, it is continually looking forward to arising many initiatives tied with hospitals, institutions and patients. Fundraisers were created for the purchase of the useful stuff requested by the institutions. The Federation of AVOs has set up a national toll-free number for volunteers, in-patients and health personnel.

In many locations, listening counters have been set up, telephone lines have been activated and connected above all to the hospitalized elderly. They are particularly alone due to the lack of visits from relatives and friends who are asked to stay at home to avoid the spread of the infection.

Protective masks are made in a location in southern Italy and one of our volunteers organized a puppet show to be shown in rest homes by video. Many volunteers, especially the younger ones, together with other associations, take care of the preparation of food packages for the most disadvantaged people and the delivery of medicines at home for those who cannot go to the pharmacy. Actually, we are witnessing the rise of a wonderful solidarity work. Also, some volunteers who can’t wait to resume their service and feel unmotivated are addressed by AVO to support in a virtual but equally important way the multiple initiatives. It is certain that the stabilisation of the Coronavirus emergency will see the AVO’s volunteers fully back alongside the SSN.  Italy continues to face this crisis head-on and surely will come out soon, despite having paid a high price. Waiting to be able to resume their service in the hospitals and assist convalescents, volunteers are beautifully demonstrating the spirit of initiative, creativity, and human responsibility that is their characteristic for 45 years now.

Mrs Marina Chiarmetta was volunteering in several Associations since the Sixties. The first FEDERAVO volunteering formation course was held on May 6th, 1976 in Milan. As for 1982 Mrs Chiarmetta Saija started volunteering within the Federavo Association that is holding conventions both with AVEurope and IAVE (International Association for Volunteer Effort). By now Mrs Chiarmetta is an active member of the Federavo magazine ”Nuovo Noi Insieme” (Active Together).


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