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The Indians saving Italy’s traditional cheese industry | Italy

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It’s 4am in a tiny village in the province of Reggio Emilia and 38-year-old Kloty Jaswantsing is already working hard on the farm. He feeds the cows. He milks the cows. He cleans the cows. Twice a day, every day.

A decade ago, when Jaswantsing imagined his future, he saw himself working as a computer engineer in his native Punjab province in India. But at home, there are more computer engineers than there are jobs.

Others from his village had already made their way to Italy – they said the pristine farms along the Po Valley looked just like home. The difference was that in Italy there was work and the possibility to provide some financial security for his wife and two daughters, now aged eight and 11.

So, eight years ago, Jaswantsing followed the “Sikh Road” to Italy to work in the milk factories. He arrived at the Catellani Gianni Farm in the village of Masone.

At first, the language and culture felt unfamiliar. But Jaswantsing was determined to learn both.

For years, he toiled on the farm while his family remained in India. It was a difficult time. But six months ago, his wife and daughters joined him in Italy. Now, his children attend the local school and Jaswantsing says he feels as though he has finally established a sense of home.

Jaswantsing and his family are part of a growing community from India who now reside in the Parma and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy, aptly named the “Food Valley”. The migration of Indians to the area began in the 1980s and has continued ever since. Now, more than 45,000 of the roughly 170,000 Indians who live in Italy work in 4,000 Food Valley farms and cheese factories.

They work closely with their Italian coworkers and many Italian cheese-makers say they admire the newcomers’ work ethic and their affinity for the livestock. The flat plains with their sweltering summers have become home and the Italian villagers have become their neighbours.

In breaks from work, they play cards together at the village bar and discuss local news stories. During traditional village parties, they celebrate together.

But now, with xenophobia rising across much of Europe, Jaswantsing and his compatriots worry that their close ties to the local community and their years of hard work may be at risk. They read about the wave of populism sweeping through Italy and, although it hasn’t reached their villages, they worry about what might happen if it does.

Still, Jaswantsing says there is a part of him that refuses not to hope for the best and which believes he and his family will primarily be judged on how hard they work.

“We are an honest family and we are [here] to work and to … integrate in[to] this small community,” he says.

The fear of growing racism and xenophobia is just as real for Indians who migrated to Italy decades ago and now have Italian citizenship.

Before he came to Italy, Lal Madan, 57, was a farmer in Punjab. He now works on a farm in the village of Gainago Torrile in Parma province. For decades, he and his wife Kumari Sudesh, 46, have worked 365 days a year as cheese-makers. Their 20-year-old son has followed in their footsteps.

Madan says he is proud to make Parmesan cheese and that it has taken him more than 20 years to learn how. “People eat this cheese in every corner of the planet,” he says proudly.

But working in a small traditional Parmesan cheese factory is not easy. The factory where he works produces 5,000 handmade wheels of Parmesan cheese each year and there is no time for a vacation. But the payoff is that everyone in his family now has an Italian passport.

Madan shares a similar view on the challenges facing Italy as many of his Italian-born neighbours. Taxes, he says, are too high and he worries that the continuing migration to Italy may upset Italians. But what concerns Madan the most is that racism and xenophobia are on the rise not only in Italy but across Europe.

While some like Madan and Jaswantsing are nervous, many newer arrivals say they are willing to risk racism and discrimination if it means a future in Europe.

Sinsh Gursharn, 25, arrived in Italy a year ago. He now lives in Sant Ilario in Reggio Emilia and drives 60km to work his 10-hour shift at a cheese factory seven days a week. While he hears about xenophobia and populism on the local news, he says no news is bad enough to deter him from his objective: for him and his wife to be able to have a baby, buy a house and live their Italian dream.

Across Europe, the far right is on the rise and it has some of the continent’s most diverse communities in its crosshairs.

To the far right, these neighbourhoods are “no-go zones” that challenge their notion of what it means to be European.

To those who live in them, they are Europe. Watch them tell their stories in This is Europe. 

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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