Haifa Alsakkaf is an Italo-Yemeni, Muslim who lives in Florence, Italy. After a long time in the field of Arabic language education, she discovered Loppiano and Sophia University Institute.
She speaks slowly and her pronunciation is good with a barely noticeable Tuscan aspiration. Haifa says she was born and raised in Yemen, her "wonderful country," torn by war for more than seven years. In 1994, when she arrived in Italy, in Florence, she was 22 years old and had a degree in Biomedical Laboratory Techniques and Biology. Her husband, Mohammed, had studied medicine in the Florentine city and, together, they had decided to settle there. “When I arrived, migration was a very recent thing, there were very few families like ours, mostly adult men came looking for work” she notes. However, we were already beginning to feel a certain dichotomy between our culture of origin and the Italian culture . . .” Her children grown, Haifa entered the work force as a science teacher in a Catholic school. “There, I saw the value of intercultural exchange, of contact among various cultures and religions. I understood the importance that the study of one’s mother tongue – in our case Arabic – could have for the second generations, in terms of their identity and for family relationships and cultural understanding between parents and children.” This is how the Al Shuruk School of Arabic was begun in 2001, a school for the Islamic Community of Florence, which had its first headquarters at the Giorgio La Pira International Center. In 2013 it moved to a public location, the Cairoli School, on via della Colonna, Florence. Although it was meant for the children of the community, today it is open to everyone. “Anyone who wants to learn the Arabic language and culture is welcome, Haifa explains. Alongside this – because interculturality goes in both directions – we have combined the teaching of the Italian language for our mothers, who have more difficulty learning Italian and run the risk of being less integrated».
Over time, the desire grew in Haifa to capitalize on her experience of teaching Arabic in multicultural contexts. And her dream came true when she encountered Sophia University Institute. «Thanks to the friends of the La Pira Center, I went to Sophia, I saw that interculturalism is really practiced there, which is an enrichment for everyone. Students who come from different places of the world live in a shared context, each with their own identity, their own culture, their own religion, without homologation. Hence the idea of a doctorate in Social Sciences, for Intercultural Pedagogy…». titled – “Mother tongue and linguistic pluralism, mother tongue learning in second generation Arabic-speaking pupils in Tuscany”. – The title is a bit long, Haifa admits, but it expresses the importance of learning one’s mother tongue in terms of one’s education, social identity and psychology. « It helps to know oneself, – she concludes, – to understand where one comes from and then to share this wealth and give back to Italian society».
Sunday, September 26th is the World Day of Migrants and Refugees which is titled “Towards an ever wider WE”. With Haifa in front of us we can only ask: What can education do to make this “WE” ever more open and inclusive? «Education is everything! – she forcefully responds. – Education is the starting point. Education, in the sense of making known, teaching the different cultures, not only the language or the history. In Italian schools a lot is already being done in terms of welcoming people, of placing them in an Italian context. But there is still no exchange, reciprocity. There is no prospect of anyone saying: “Very well, we give the language and the culture but we will also learn, we will also try to know the culture of others».