Italy on a budget

Journey through Italy

Schools World Service Reporter, Ben Thompson Join Ben Thompson on his journey through budget Italy

Italy is in the middle of a money crisis which is having an impact on everyone - including school pupils. If Italy doesn't get its finances under control, the problem will have a knock-on effect around the world.

Schools World Service Reporter Ben Thompson journeys through Italy to find out how young people are coping.

Like the rest of Italy, Ben's also on a budget, so he's backpacking by train through the cities of Prato in Tuscany, Rome and Naples.

Fabric factories

A factory worker and Fabio di Segni (our Italian Fixer) in a textile factory in Prato, Italy. Inside one of Prato's textile factories, the team arrange fabric for the shoot

Ben's journey begins in Prato. The town is famous for its textile industry, producing high quality wool and fabric. Traditionally, thousands of people have been employed in Prato's textile factories.

But in recent months, some of the factories have fallen silent.

Like Greece, Spain and Portugal, Italy is in serious financial trouble.

Italy's problems have been building up since the 1990s, when the governement spent too much money on things like roads, railways and government wages. Italy got into massive debt, and it's now having trouble paying that money back.

From China to Italy

During the boom years, thousands of families from China moved to Italy to work in Prato's textile industry. The city is now home to Italy's largest Chinese community. Ben met up with 17 year old Wei Dong. Wei Dong's family moved to Italy ten yeas ago and his parents own a factory here.

Secondary School pupil, Wei Dong At school, Wei Dong enjoys science and English. He recently won a literature competition for a story he wrote about life in Prato

Wei Dong told Ben, "my father used to own three factories in Prato, but he's had to close two of them. At the beginning, we used to earn a lot of money, but now we earn half that. I try to stay out of these problems. My parents want me to study, not to worry about Italy's economic crisis."

At the end of the day, Wei Dong heads home to an empty flat. His parents work until 9pm to keep their factory going. Wei Dong fills his evening studying and building models. When he leaves school he wants to go to university and become an engineer.

School money worries

Start Quote

I want to work abroad, because here in Italy it's difficult to find a job nowadays.”

End Quote Secondary School Pupil Prato, Italy

Wei Dong's classmates have been affected by Italy's money crisis too. Many of them told Ben they're having to cut back on spending.

One boy said, "I try to save as much money as possible. Before I could buy more things like clothes, or I went to a restaurant during the week. Now I go out only a few times."

The young people have noticed how badly Italy's economic problems are affecting industry in Prato. Some of their parents have lost their jobs.

Pupils told Ben, "we think that the crisis in Prato involves every one of us. And the biggest problem is that many textile factories have been closed, so many people have been made redundant or dismissed."

Secondary School pupils in Prato A class of pupils in Prato discuss Italy's economic problems in their English lesson

Because unemployment rates are so high in Italy, many of the pupils Ben spoke to are considering leaving Italy altogether when they finish school to search for work elsewhere.

In fact, youth unemployment in Italy has reached nearly thirty percent. That means that one in three young people aged 16-24 can't find a job when they leave school.

One of the ways the government has been trying to solve Italy's problems is by cutting back on spending in schools. But this has caused an outcry among young people.

School cut backs

In October 2011, thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against education cuts. Ben met up with a group of friends from a secondary school in Rome who had taken part in the protests.

Reporter Ben with young activists in Rome Ben listens to young activists who took part in a recent protest in Rome

They told Ben, "there are huge cuts at school. Our school can't even afford to buy toilet paper. The building is collapsing and we're wasting our education, because when a teacher is off sick, there is no money for supply teachers."

Italy's Prime Minister resigned over the cuts, but these pupils in Rome have mixed feelings about the new government.

"We're going to carry on protesting," they said. "We want to inform students what's going on in the political world. We're not going to stop protesting just because we have a new government."

Fountain of money

BBC camera woman Sara filming the Trevi Fountain Our camera woman Sara films close-ups of coins in the Trevi Fountain

One of Italy's most iconic landmarks is the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Legend has it, that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you're ensured a return trip to Rome.

An estimated 3000 euros - about £2500 gets thrown into the fountain everyday. The coins are sucked up by a giant vacuum and the money is used to fund a supermarket for Rome's poor.

People who don't have much money or have lost their job come to the supermarket from all over town. The charity who runs the supermarket says that in recent months they've seen a big increase in the number of families who come here.

Musicians with a mission

A band of musicians called Bidonvillarik in Italy. These young people are part of a band called Bidonvillarik: they bash trash to make music

The future is uncertain for many people, but the South of Italy is especially hard hit. Ben hopped on a train to Naples for the final part of his journey.

The region around Naples has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the country. With nearly half of all young people being out of a job.

But instead of making a fuss about Italy's money problems, one group of young people make music! They're in a band called Bidonvillarik and their instruments are created from recycled rubbish - anything from old hairdryers and dustbin lids, to the inside of a washing machine.

Although the music helps them forget their problems, the young musicians are still feeling the crunch in their everyday lives.

One of the band members told Ben, "I used to do sport and music. I would go swimming and to the gym, but since this crisis I have less money, so I had to give up sport and now I just do music."

Bidonvillarik band leaders Lello and Raffaele Band leaders Lello (centre) and Raffaele (right) hope that being part of the band will give the young people hope and encourage them to stay in Italy

Many of the teenagers are worried about the future. "I see a very dark future ahead of me," said one boy. "Our parents are losing their jobs and getting their wages cut, so us youth, we don't have any reassurance anymore."

And Italy's not the only country in Europe facing high levels of youth unemployment. In Greece, over 30% of young people are without a job. The figure is even higher in Spain where it is 41%.

Throughout Ben's journey, many of the young Italians he met told him they can only see one way out of Italy's problems. And that's to leave.

But with such high levels of unemployment in other European countries, finding a job elsewhere could be just as difficult as finding one in Italy.

Schools World Service is a BBC British Council co-production

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