This time it’s really different, our photographer Giulia Manfroni captured such a beautiful shot that it received recognition from the European Parliament to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day. The competition organized by AUTISM EUROPE selected only 25 shots from all over Europe to be exhibited in the European Parliament, and one of them is ours.
So we all find ourselves at Perugia airport at 6.30 pm, ready to leave, backpacks on our shoulders and so much excitement for the flight. Greetings, hugs, customary photos, and the last recommendations from parents who, for the first time, let their children go on a plane without them, abroad, in the company of Valentine and Mauro, our super volunteer. This time, Luca and Giulia, our communication angels armed with their cameras and other almost magical “technological gadgets,” are also with us.
Many smiles and we head towards the security check, which passes without problems, a bit slow but we get through. The wait for the flight begins, which is now close; we eat, listen to music on our cellphones, play games, talk, and finally board the plane. The aisle is narrow, we climb aboard, find our seats, and sit down. The excitement builds, the customary preparations, suggestions from the flight attendants, seat belts fastened… we’re off! This unique adventure has begun.
We land at Charles Le Roi on time, disembark, retrieve our luggage, orient ourselves, take a taxi, and check into the hotel. After a bit of organization at the reception, it’s time for bed. It has been a long and exciting day, and tomorrow will be no different. See you tomorrow.
Wake up at 7:30, breakfast at the hotel was definitely good and fun, then everyone was on the way to the parliament. An hour in traffic and we arrive, the staff of AUTISM EUROPE greets us and facilitates entry checks before guiding us to the exhibition floor.
We finally see our photograph exhibited among the 25 selected, and we meet the honorable European Parliament member Chiara Maria Gemma, who, after introducing herself, wanted to get to know us and complimented us on the beautiful photo, expressing her satisfaction with the Italian presence at this exhibition.
Later, we were taken care of by Honorable Salvatore De Meo and his super assistant Beatrice Brancadoro, who accompanied us during the opening of the exhibition.
The event is inaugurated by the Honorable Estaràs and Montserrat, followed by the president of AUTISM EUROPE, Mr. Neerland. Now it’s our turn, and finally we can talk about our association and our photo in front of various parliamentarians and other delegations, an international audience for the Brigata and our President.
After the speeches, we were unexpectedly approached by the President of the European Parliament, Hon. Roberta Metsola. Hon. Gemma introduced us to the President, who wanted to learn more about our association… it was an immense and totally unexpected emotion. We could never have imagined our Brigade meeting the top of European politics, it was truly a special and of course unique experience.
Still dazed and excited by the events, the guided tour of the parliament begins with the exceptional guides Hon. De Meo and Beatrice, who interact with our young people in a simple and natural way, putting everyone at ease. The first stop is the area where press releases, interviews, and press conferences are held that we usually see on TV.
Then we enter the hemicycle of the European Parliament, passing through the balcony, where the functioning of the sessions with simultaneous translation service for all international delegates is explained to us.
They made us sit in a smaller side room, where we experienced the life of parliamentarians with dedicated seats and microphones. A complex but functioning political machine… very interesting.
Afterwards, we went to the Mickey Mouse bar, where the chairs, as expected, reflected the name’s theme. Here, Honorable De Meo offered us a drink and wanted to listen to our voices, specifically regarding the daily and ordinary difficulties that people with ASD face. It was a very emotional and profound moment, and at the end of it, the Honorable renewed his availability to stay in touch and advised us to follow the digital platform, where we could find newsletters on European debates and information on all European, national, and regional tenders. He also offered to clarify any doubts if needed.
Then we visited the RED CARPET area, where the parliament welcomes all the authorities on official visits. We said goodbye to Hon. De Meo and Beatrice, with an appointment scheduled for the day after tomorrow when we will return for the conference. Before parting ways, they gave us some Parliament gadgets, including a foldable umbrella that came in handy as it started raining unexpectedly.
Now we head to lunch as guests of the RED CROSS EUROPE OFFICE, thanks to the collaboration between the Italian Red Cross and our Brigade (some of us are Italian Red Cross volunteers); our contact Vittoria Ruggero, from the social inclusion section, welcomes us and guides us inside. We immediately go to eat some amazing gourmet sandwiches, as we are both hungry and curious. During lunch, the director of the office, Mette Petersen, arrives and welcomes us with kindness and sweetness, in perfect RED CROSS spirit, concluding with a request to display our photo in their offices. Vittoria explains in detail their work. Mr. Ronan Mangan, responsible for the social inclusion section, asks for information about our situation and needs in Italy. After a great coffee and the mandatory photo, we say goodbye to RED CROSS and head back to the Parliament.
We were expected by Hon. Gemma and her staff. We were accompanied to the 12th floor, where high-level meetings between international authorities take place, and we could enjoy a magnificent view of Brussels.
We let the parliamentarians go back to their work and we enjoy the city and its specialties. Time flies and it gets dark, we have dinner at a fast-food restaurant and go back to the hotel, where we arrive tired and satisfied from such a different and unimaginable day just 3 months ago. We need to release some adrenaline and then everyone goes to sleep.
On Wednesday, we start with an international breakfast, we have taken our measures by now, we know what we like and where to find it. The day goes by peacefully visiting Charles Le Roi. Some of us have already returned home today, including Mauro, our volunteer… it was all planned.
On Thursday, we have an early breakfast and depart for the conference at the parliament entitled “Building an Inclusive Society for People with Autism”, organized and held by AUTISM EUROPE and Hon. Rosa Estaràs. We listen to interesting speeches by associations and young people on the topic of school and work integration, and then the very interesting speech by Peter Vermeulen, an expert on the subject, who describes in detail the condition of people with ASD, speaking of neurodiversity and neuroharmony. After the conference, we make contacts with those present, at least the most interesting for our association.
We meet again with Hon. De Meo and Beatrice, who have booked us a visit to the Parlamentarium, a multimedia museum about the European Parliament and its history, but only after taking us to the canteen… so cool, a beautiful self-service restaurant where our young people moved independently, choosing and paying for their meals.
The rest of the afternoon we are free to visit the city again. We return to the hotel in time for dinner and prepare for the night departure to return to Perugia. We wake up at 4 am, take a taxi to the airport and go through all the necessary procedures until we reach the boarding area. The young people have shown that they can manage with minimal support from those present; the Valentines give them confidence and the young people are calm, following the instructions and doing their best. Everyone is very good.
We take off, fly and land in Perugia, retrieve our luggage, and exit. The parents are waiting to know how it went, how this experience was. We say goodbye … we will see each other soon … on Sunday we will dance. Everyone is excited for the first DANCE AUT PARTY.