Born and raised on the Sicilian shores, Viviana has three passions: the sea, encounters with other cultures and rescue work. She’s a lifeguard aboard the Aquarius.
“I was born and raised by the sea, in Sicily. I have always played water sports and so it was quite natural that I became a lifeguard. But for five years now, my real profession has been the reception and accompaniment of refugees and asylum seekers in Italy. I first worked in reception centres operated by the Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR) in Sicily. I worked mainly on the administrative side: identification of people, relations with the police headquarters, residence permits, asylum applications… After a while, I felt the need to expand my experience and I got a Master’s degree in Human Rights, specializing in “Migration and Development” at the Faculty of Human Sciences in Bologna.
My research dissertation focused on rescue work at sea, based on my experience with SOS MEDITERRANEE and on the Aquarius. While working in Bologna for the reception centre “Hub Mattei”, I volunteered a lot for SOS MEDITERRANEE Italy. Now, I’m part of the Aquarius rescue team. I have several different functions on board: pilot of RHIB [rescue speedboat], logistical management, assistant for operations on deck… Not to mention the maintenance of the Aquarius in which we all participate, and that is a real sailor’s job! Aboard the Aquarius I really feel as if I am bringing together the three passions of my life: the sea, meeting and learning about other cultures and helping people… Here we are not only rescuers at sea, but also humanitarian workers, as we support the Médecins Sans Frontières team in welcoming migrants on board. We thus participate in the medical accompaniment of the survivors welcomed on board, in the identification of the different types of vulnerabilities affecting people, in psychological support, in the distribution of meals…
A hope for life
I think my strongest memory from the Aquarius was the day I hugged a tiny baby – just a few weeks old – as his mother boarded the boat. His skin was all raw from scabies. Wrapped in his blanket, he was so light that he seemed not to weigh anything. And I thought, “Here on our boat we can give him at least a little hope for life.” My worst memory is very recent. It dates back to our last rescue, or rather our last series of rescues, when we rescued 4 boats in two days. Amongst the boats in distress was one with no one on board. We found traces of life: clothes floating here and there, plastic bottles… But we never found out what had happened to the occupants of this rubber boat; whether they had been rescued and if so by whom and in what conditions… A sort of ghost raft lost in the middle of the Mediterranean, like so many others we will probably never know anything about…”
Photo: Laurin Schmid @SOS MEDITERRANEE