I received a call from my sister the other night. ‘I thought you may want to know, the house opposite ours has caught fire.’
Since that call, my entire neighbourhood has been engulfed.
My hometown is a victim in the circle of fire that has taken over the Mediterranean, from Spain to the Greek Islands, leaving no place unscathed.
I am from the Sicilian capital of Palermo in the south of Italy, which on Wednesday reached 47 degrees Celsius, the highest recorded temperature on the island since tracking began in 1791, causing deadly wildfires to break out.
The wind caused the flames to spread through the mountains, around the coast, near the city. Houses were burnt, the airport was closed and Hospital Cervello was evacuated. As the body count rose, historic buildings were destroyed and natural reserves were put under threat of being wiped out of existence permanently.
Disbelief doesn’t quite cover it. Neither does anger, or shock.
I haven’t lived in Sicily for a few years now, after leaving to study in Scotland, then making my home in the North East. Yet, what my hometown has been going through hurts as if I was there.
Knowing my family isn’t safe, and knowing many of the beautiful places and nature I grew up with won’t be there when I next return, has opened a gap in my heart.
More than that, the tragedy has put into perspective what is happening here, in my new UK home.
Where I live, in Yorkshire, it hasn’t stopped raining and hailing for three weeks now, and the forecast suggests it will continue this way. To think that just a month ago, the country recorded the hottest June on record, reaching upwards of 32°C.
And who can forget when, last year, the Government issued a red weather warning as London reached 40°C.
From summer hailstorms to scorching heat waves, there is no denying we are dealing with abnormal climate conditions. It may be a different type of disaster, but the root is the same.
Here in the UK, we are seeing how climate change is affecting other countries in very extreme ways, and yet I fear we fail to see how we are next.
The only thing that sparks hope in my heart at such times of hardships are my firsthand experiences of how the UK is capable of building community.
When the war in Ukraine broke out, the UK rallied to help in whatever way they could, whether that be through donations, fundraising or even offering their homes to refugees.
During the Covid lockdowns, people cheered for the medical staff, looked out for neighbours and came together in a way like no other.
It didn’t matter they were already struggling themselves, it was the right thing to do.
The fight to help was relentless, and everybody seemed to share a sense of selfless responsibility.
I believe we are at another momentous time in history, one that requires that same community spirit. The fight against climate change is only going to have an impact if we work together – and I’m proud to see that’s exactly what people in my home country are doing.
Many people I know back home refuse to believe in climate change. There is a sense of surrender in the Mediterranean, a belief that since we’re the land of the sun, we are doomed to suffer it through the harshest degree.
But now I’ve seen people band together, offering shelter and food to displaced communities and doing their bit to pick up the pieces. Posts offering food, clothes, and shelter in their own homes flooded social media.
Soon, stories of three families living under the same roof to help each other out reached the national news.
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People couldn’t tame or stop the flames, but they did focus their energy on doing their bit for the community.
Even the sceptics couldn’t look away.
Climate change has people divided all the time: on social media, in public debates, in schools. Perhaps, focusing on our shared existence and goals really is the only thing capable of helping us navigate what’s coming, as we continue to head towards the inevitable.
That means not letting politicians divide us, and not giving in to the pointless culture wars of governments, neither in Italy or in the UK.
The latest events, with my Mediterranean home on fire and the constant fear that someone I love may suffer next, has made me look inwards. It is at times like this that I feel the full guilt of leaving, even if I couldn’t change what’s happened.
But there is a way for me to help, and we can all do it regardless of what place we call home. Real change starts by getting involved in local activities, no matter how big or small, whether it’s a day picking litter at the beach, chipping in with green initiatives city-wide or donating to fundraising campaigns.
I am grateful to the communities I found in the UK, and how they made me a more conscious of my environment, in Sicily and Yorkshire.
I am starting to feel now that ‘belonging’ will have a different meaning in five or 10 years’ time. If we don’t act now, climate change will make us all stateless. As climate disasters become more frequent and more destructive, people will be forced to flee to other places. My hope is that they will be welcomed.
Maybe it isn’t down to where you come from or where you are now, but how your words and actions speak in the interest of communities you love, now more than ever.
Immigration Nation is a series that aims to destigmatise the word ‘immigrant’ and explore the powerful first-person stories of people who’ve arrived in the UK – and called it home. If you have a story you’d like to share, email [email protected]
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