Sunday, January 26, 2014

One Woman's Courage: Time4Life reaches out to Syrian refugees

I met Elisa at a wedding in Rome, and we shared a taxi back to our hotels in the early hours of the morning. As the taxi hurtled across town through the nearly empty streets, Elisa told me her story. Given the fact that it had been a long day, and it was nearing 2 a.m., I don't remember all the details of that conversation. But I clearly remember the passion and commitment that Elisa embodied, and her story has haunted me ever since. I've pieced together information from several sources to share that story here.

Elisa carrying supplies to children in Syria
"A week ago, a child of two months died in my arms. He had a temperature of 94 degrees. He was drenched: his hair and feet were soaked with water." Elisa Fangareggi coughs and tells the story of an ordinary death in the refugee camp in Syria Azzaz. During her last visit to bring medicine and milk powder to the displaced, she contracted pneumonia. But in the words of this 32-year-old attorney from Modena, there is no trace of heroism. Only the concern and indignation of a mother of three girls, determined not to surrender to the horrors of a war that is stealing games, family and the lives of thousands of young Syrians."  Franca Roiatti  (translated from the Italian by blog author)

Elisa with Syrian children helped by Time4Life
At first glance, you would not guess that Elisa would be the type to frequently undertake dangerous missions to deliver medical supplies to children in Syria, victims of the war that is being waged around them. After becoming aware of the situation and the need, Elisa took a leave of absence from her job as a civil lawyer and with the support of her husband (also a lawyer) and three young daughters, she founded a volunteer organization, Time4Life, that is devoted to helping these children. She told me that her role as a mother compelled her to DO something, to be active in  making a difference. She now makes twice-monthly trips to Syria, to deliver in person the medical supplies and food that are necessary for survival.

Elisa surrounded by donated medical supplies.
David Bianchini, a writer for Modena Online, wrote this about Elisa's work: "A courageous mother returned to Modena after delivering 400 pounds of milk powder and medicines to 200 Syrian children in the refugee camps on the border with Turkey. It is a dangerous experience in the midst of civil war, and it comes with death threats, but also many thanks from the population. Elisa Fangareggi, civil lawyer and mother of three children, is not afraid. Together the friends and activists of the association Time4Life continues its good work." (translated from the Italian by blog author) 
The Time4Life mission:
"There are 4 million displaced people in Syria because of the civil war. One cannot count the victims of hunger and poor sanitation in camps where they are lacking food, medicine, clothing, and health care. Those most at risk, as always, are the children. We organize periodic mailings, staff and aid in refugee camps in Syria, delivering directly into the hands of Syrian families powdered milk, medicines and money donated to our collection centers throughout Italy. With the support of specialized volunteers, in addition, we set up medical clinics and dental clinics in the camps to provide assistance to children and their families." (translated from the Italian by blog author)

The Time4Life website is in Italian, but donations can be made internationally on the site through Paypal. I urge you to consider supporting this mission, and make a difference, as Elisa and her fellow volunteers continue to do every day.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Museo Ferragamo : The Amazing Shoemaker

One of my favorite fun museums in Florence is Museo Ferragamo, home of the famous shoemaker, Salvatore Ferragamo. I ventured into the museum for the first time in 2010, and have made numerous trips since then to view the creative and interesting exhibits they have. Last year they had an exhibit on Marilyn Monroe on the 50th anniversary of her death that was absolutely fabulous. I spent several hours in the museum viewing shoes, journals, film clips and videos of her life. That exhibit has now moved on to Prague.

This year the focus is on the theme of shoemakers in fairy tales. I picked up a free audio guide at the entrance, and entered a world of fantasy that could have gone on for the entire afternoon, but I only had ninety minutes to spare, as I was meeting a friend for lunch that day.

Entrance to the museo, then down the stairs.
I wasn't allowed to take photos of the exhibit, though I saw many others doing so! To get a glimpse and learn more, here's a review, with many great photos:

Salvatore Ferragamo Presents ‘The Amazing Shoemaker

And here's the link to the Museo:

Museo Ferragamo

The exhibit will be open until March 31, 2014.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Study Roman Architecture online for free!

Coliseum, Rome
I've recently started an online course on Roman Architecture that is being offered by Yale University through Coursera. I've explained Coursera and MOOCs in a previous post. The course is free and lasts for 15 weeks. Each week there are a variety of videos to view, along with quizzes and written assignments for those who wish to receive a certificate of completion. Forum discussions are available for those who wish to participate. Since the course is free and open to anyone, students from all over the world participate.

From the Coursera site:
"This course is an introduction to the great buildings and engineering marvels of Rome and its empire, with an emphasis on urban planning and individual monuments and their decoration, including mural painting. While architectural developments in Rome, Pompeii, and Central Italy are highlighted, the course also provides a survey of sites and structures in what are now North Italy, Sicily, France, Spain, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, and North Africa." 

For anyone who is interested in Roman architecture, I'd highly recommend this class!
Pantheon, Rome
I'm particularly excited about this course because it covers many places and ruins I've seen in Italy, including those I've visited recently in Rome, Tivoli, Ostia Antica, Ercolano and Pompeii. Since my travels to these places are still fresh in my mind, I'm excited about this opportunity to learn more about them. I'll also be learning more about the Pantheon, one of my all time favorite places to visit in Rome.  Since I'm also enrolled in several other Coursera classes, I'm mainly interested in learning what I can from the videos.

For more information, check out this link:

What's more, this course is compiled from a more complete online course, also free, that is offered by the Open Yale Course site, which can be accessed at any time from this link:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sunshine and MOOCs

One of the things that I love about winters in Kansas is that we always have a lot of sun. Nearly every day the sun shines, filling the rooms on the south side of my house with an abundance of light. Regardless of the cold weather outside, it's warm, cozy and green inside. I have large bay windows in my dining room, which is filled with trees and plants of various sizes, and with the sun shining in, it feels like a small jungle of green.

the dining room, where I also have my computer, so I spend a lot of time here
Another aspect of winter is that it provides more time for introspection and study. I have several months where my work load is low, which frees me to pursue other interests. In the past, some of my best creative efforts have come about during winter. More recently, when the cold weather inhibits outdoor activities, I've developed the habit of learning something new, and online courses have become the venue of choice for my learning.  Last year I introduced the topic of MOOCs in my February and March posts. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, and these courses are offered free of charge.

My jasmine plant can be seen in front of the window on the right, with a fig tree behind it.
There are several sites that offer MOOCs, including Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy and EdX. I've only taken classes from Coursera, which last year included courses on Digital Learning, Philosophy, Social Psychology, Greek and Roman Mythology, and the History of Rock. I've completed some of them, but mostly I enjoy learning from the video lectures that are presented in each class. A certificate of completion is offered to students who complete quizzes and written assignments. Completing the course on Digital Learning provided a certificate that was accepted as a professional development requirement for my job as an adjunct professor.

Coursera offers free classes from more than 100 universities that span 16 countries. At present, there are more than 500 courses available in 20 categories. For instance, I've signed up for several classes that start this month:

Roman Architecture, taught by Yale University

Early Renaissance Architecture in Italy, from Alberti to Bramante, offered by Sapienza University in Rome

Moralities of Everyday Life, from Yale University

I'm eager to see what develops with these courses. The two courses on architecture will cover many of the buildings I've seen on my travels in Italy, so it will be a great way to learn more about them while also reminiscing. It's amazing that I can take courses that are taught by leaders in their field from renowned universities, for free, in the comfort of my home. I feel so fortunate to have the time to take advantage of these learning opportunities!

In March, I've signed up for a short class on Digital Cameras, which is offered by the university in my town, to learn more about my new camera. I've also found two Coursera classes on Buddhism that interest me. All in all, I'll be busy learning until spring!