I first met Ivan in 1995 while collecting aid in Italy for delivery to refugee camps in Croatia and Bosnia. I remember his smile and warm handshake.
It was a few years before we saw him again. He called to offer us some boxes of clothing he had collected, and we went to his home, where we met his wife, Francesca, and their two children. From then on, we stayed in touch, and over time, we’ve learned a lot from each other.
Ivan and Francesca often expressed their frustration in trying to adjust to a society that was losing its values. They wished they could adopt a different lifestyle, but didn’t know how. Then on one of my more recent visits, it was immediately obvious that something was very different. For one thing, their dining room had extra tables, which quickly filled with what seemed like a river of lively children from the neighborhood. Ivan was busy serving and introduced me to Claudio and Manuela, another couple who not only lived in their small town, but also shared a similar vision.
Later on, I got to know other families who were also part of a network called Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale (Ethical Purchasing Groups). The aim is to cooperate in order to buy food and other commonly used goods directly from producers or retailers at discounted rates, while also emphasizing the use of local and fair-trade produce, and reusable or eco-compatible goods. Ivan and Francesca (and their now three children) were some of the founders of the local branch, and needless to say, they always found a way to direct some love and attention to their “neighbor near or far.”
A few months ago, they hosted a lunch for a group of underprivileged families we brought to their home. They went to the nth degree to make all 16 of us feel welcome, and treated us to the most delicious homemade delicacies. After the meal, everyone received a small bottle of olive oil (see photo) pressed by their family from the olive trees in their garden.
As time passes, it’s clear that what was once an experiment has grown into a tried-and-proven alternative life choice.