How a neighborhood in Rome welcomed a refugee to his new home

A Host and her neighbors helped a newcomer adjust after relocating from Mali.
By Airbnb on Jul 2, 2018
2 min read
Updated Mar 22, 2022


  • As a Belgian living in Rome, Els wanted to pay forward the Italian hospitality she once received herself

  • Through Airbnb’s Open Homes program, she was contacted about hosting Fode, a young man who was recently granted refugee status

  • Over the course of his stay, Fode and Els went from strangers to family

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When Els, a Superhost in Rome, read about the Open Homes program on Airbnb, she was intrigued and decided to sign up. She has welcomed travelers from all over the world to her home, but knew that offering refugees a temporary place to stay while they settle into their new communities would be a special hosting experience.

When Refugees Welcome Italia contacted Els about hosting Fode—a young man from Mali, West Africa, who was recently granted refugee status—she was excited about the opportunity to make a positive impact on someone’s life. The experience ended up being transformative for both of them.

Els has welcomed guests from all over the world

Els felt nervous and excited to host Fode. As a Belgian living in Rome, she knew what it was like to start a new life in a strange place, and wanted to pay forward the Italian hospitality she received. With the help of Sara, a case worker from Refugees Welcome Italia, she was prepared for what to expect and knew Sara would be there for support every step of the way.

Sara from Refugees Welcome joins Fode, Els, and her neighbors for an alfresco dinner

When Els met Fode, they formed a bond. Fode is the same age as Els’ son, and she felt a “motherly instinct” toward him as he shared his journey with her. Over the course of Fode’s stay, they went from strangers to family. Her neighbors also became part of Fode’s life too. Just as they took Els in when she first moved from Belgium, they showed the same hospitality and love for Fode. When Els wasn’t around, Fode often spent time with the upstairs neighbors sampling Italian dishes and learning more about each other’s cultures.

Fode says that living with Els was the happiest he’d been since he got to Italy. He was surprised to have all these Italians take care of him, not because they were obligated to—but because they wanted to. Starting a new life is daunting, but someone else’s kindness can make all the difference. This experience created a lasting impact on both Els and Fode.

Els and Fode prepare a meal with her neighbors

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About Refugees Welcome Italia

Refugees Welcome Italia (RWI) is a nonprofit organization that partners with Airbnb’s Open Homes program. RWI was founded in December 2015 as part of the international Refugees Welcome network to match refugees with local people (families, couples, singles) who want to host them temporarily.

Information contained in this article may have changed since publication.

Jul 2, 2018
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