Volunteering in the Heart of the Pandemic: JCU Student and EMT Camilla Santoro

JCU senior Camilla Santoro grew up in Brescia, in Northern Italy, an area that is at the heart of the current Covid-19 pandemic. An International Affairs major with minors in History and Legal Studies, she is currently volunteering as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in her hometown while writing her senior thesis.

Camilla Santoro, student and EMT

Camilla Santoro on duty as an EMT in Brescia

What made you decide to study at John Cabot University?
I had the opportunity to spend my fourth year of high school in Australia, an experience that changed my life because it gave me the possibility to discover a new culture and meet people from all over the world. When the time came to choose a university, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to study in an international environment, possibly in English. I came across John Cabot and right after visiting the school, I realized that it was the right place for me. Moreover, I was enchanted by the American system of education that now I can confirm, values students and their efforts and educates them to be the new leaders of tomorrow.

What made you decide to choose your major and minors?
I knew that I wanted to study something that could help me make the world a better place, and thus my choice came quite straightforward: International Affairs. The curriculum offered at John Cabot impressed me and the faculty seemed extremely well qualified. After my first semester, I decided to minor in History, a subject that has always fascinated me. Last spring, I decided to take a second minor in Legal Studies after taking Public International Law with Professor Pamela Harris who stimulated my interest in the subject and with whom I have worked closely as a research assistant. The classes I am taking this semester with Professor Lyal Sunga have further deepened my interest in law, so I am considering it for my future studies.

Tell us about your senior thesis.
I am working in the field of Public International Law, and analyzing the failures of a doctrine called the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) and how it can be improved by an emerging concept within the UN system called ‘responsibility while protecting’ (RwP). In other words, I am looking at ways in which humanitarian intervention can be carried out in order to save victims of humanitarian crises, rather than allowing states to prioritize intervention in the name of domestic interests. Hence, I am analyzing different aspects such as sovereignty, military intervention, and humanitarian protection in the aftermath of the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011 and the non-intervention in Syria the following year. 

You are currently volunteering with EMT teams in Brescia. Please tell us about this experience. How did you become involved in this project? What does your work consist of?
After I came back from Australia and turned 18, I decided that I wanted to do something to help my community. In September 2017, I began my new adventure with the Croce Bianca di Brescia, and I discovered an extraordinary reality. After taking an 8-month course, I passed the regional certification and I was allowed to operate 100%. I have a 4-day shift every two weeks, starting on Thursday. Living in Rome has not stopped me since I managed to arrange my classes so that I could return home to attend my shift every other Thursday. My work, put very simply, consists of helping people. Once someone calls the emergency number, 112, my coworkers and I come. I love my job because I have had the chance to meet some of the best people I could ever meet in my life and my team La Quinta (the fifth) is amazing. This job has helped me grow a lot: I have greater respect for people’s suffering and I have learned how to empathize with people who see hope in those men and women dressed in bright orange.

Once we get a call, we prepare our gear, turn the sirens on, and go where we are needed. All the cases are different: we can find simple things such as stomachaches or much more serious cases such as car accidents and cardiac arrests; but in any case, we are ready to operate at our best. To be honest, the current Covid-19 situation is very challenging. We are putting our lives on the line, but we are more than proud to do so. We are well protected since we have all the PPE we need, and the protocols have changed in order to guarantee our safety. As was to be expected, many people have taken a leave of absence because of the pandemic, but it has been satisfying to see that many others responded to our association’s call for help for services that do not require any training (for example, blood and swabs transportation).

How are you and your family dealing with the stress of the current lockdown period in Italy? Do you have any recommendations for your fellow students?
My family is scared, as I think everybody else is. Living in the heart of the pandemic gives you a very different perspective of what is happening since it shows you that nobody is immune. My parents were frightened about me having to deal with patients with the virus and wanted me to suspend my shifts during this period. However, I talked to them and helped them to understand that I had to continue because our community needs people who can help now more than ever. They understood and are proud of what I am doing, but I am also proud of them because they have realized how important this service is.

After having seen many patients affected by the virus, I can tell you that the safety measures that the Italian government has taken are necessary. Nobody likes being stuck at home, living a life that is completely different from the one that we were used to. Experiencing it first person has shown me what kind of damage contagion can provoke. Family and friends pass away without even having the possibility to say a last goodbye. This is why it is extremely important to resist, to practice social distancing and to leave home only if it is absolutely necessary. Nobody likes this situation but as long as there are people who go out for a walk or decide to go visit friends, the virus will win. Here is my advice: if you love your relatives and friends, you have to stay away from them for the time being because this is the only way to save their lives.

What are your plans for the future?
I am considering different graduate programs and I am about to send an application to Utrecht University for a master’s in Public International Law. After that, my big dream is to become an ambassador. I would like to attend a course in order to prepare for the national exam for the diplomatic career with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I am ready to put all my efforts into transforming my dreams into reality.