The Social Labour Cooperative


In 1981, Villa Maraini established a Social Labour Cooperative to enable former drug users to provide printing and gardening services to external contractors. The Cooperative enables drug users to move towards reintegration into society.
The Rome Consensus Coordination team asked Dr Massimo Barra, Founder of Villa Maraini, more about how the Centre was started:

RC: How did you first have the idea for Villa Maraini?
MB: In 1976 I went to France to see how drug users were treated there. In Paris I visited the Marmottan Hospital, of the famous psychiatric doctor, Oliverstein, and in Toulouse the Therapeutic Community run by Lucien Engelmeier, known as “le Patriarche”. Back in Italy, I wanted to do something in between the two French experiences.

RC: How did you go about setting it up?
MB: Once back from France, in August 1976, I wrote a note to the President of the Italian Red Cross, asking him for the possibility to use some abandoned rooms in order to host 5 drug users during 4 hours a day, having them working and paying them for their work. The President authorized this initiative that at that time was an unprecedented, revolutionary one, writing on his letter “Adelante, con juicio!”.

RC: Did you come across any obstacles?
MB: Obstacles have been and continue to be the leitmotiv of each activity run by Villa Maraini. In 1976, the sons of politicians and powerful men had not yet started to take drugs, so at that point there was no sensitivity towards the issue, which was considered to be marginal. The first budget I had for my activities was 500 Euro per month! A few months after, the Italian Red Cross decided to shut down the experiment. My staff not only opposed this decision, but extended the service to 24 hours/day, starting a powerful media campaign against the National Headquarters of the Italian Red Cross, who refused to change their decision to close Villa Maraini. The campaign was successful, but the relationship between the Italian Red Cross and Villa Maraini has since remained tempestuous and the real, budgetary needs of Villa Maraini remain uncovered.

RC: How did you overcome these obstacles?
MB: Despite strong internal debates, the group with whom I created Villa Maraini has always been very united. Thirty-two years after, apart from one person who has left, the seven founding team members are still working together.

RC: What is the most important achievement for you in the work of Villa Maraini?
MB: Having challenged the underground world of drug use with an aggressive strategy that does not limit itself to waiting for drug users, as most anti-drug centres do, but that looks for drug users in those places where their daily tragedy is enacted. That is why we can say that Villa Maraini knows all the drug users in Rome. We were the first ones in Italy and among the first ones in the world to put the principles of harm reduction into practice, many years before that terminology was even used.

RC: Are there any plans to expand the programme even further?
MB: We are ready to become the reference centre of the International Federation in this sector, and think that de facto we already are.

RC: Why is so important for the Red Cross-Red Crescent to tackle the issue of drug use?
MB: The International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent enjoys the trust of both the Authorities and the marginalized. It is for this reason that it can cover the “grey zones” of extreme marginalization that governments have difficulties in accessing. It is in the interest of any government to have a Red Cross or Red Crescent National Society active, without prejudices or ideologies, in the field of substance abuse and assistance to drug users, basing their activities on evidence.

Treatment Example: Spanish Red Cross – Centro de Encuentro y Acogida (CEA) – Meeting and Shelter Centre

The Spanish Red Cross has set up treatment centres in Almeria in order to reduce the risks associated with drug taking. These treatment centres do not focus on rehabilitation, but rather they work to reduce the harm associated with drug taking, such as transmission of diseases, and to alleviate the conditions in which many people addicted to drugs live. These treatment centres aim to:
■ Minimise the risks associated with drug taking
■ Improve the quality of life for drug users
The Rome Consensus Coordination team asked Rafael Aranda Gimenez from the Almeria Branch of the Spanish Red Cross about how they went about setting up the programme.