My name is Caterina Bellandi, better known as Zia Caterina, and I'm a regular taxi driver working in the streets of Florence.
What sets me apart is that I provide free rides to the hospitals for oncology patients, both children and adults, that I call my SupeHeroes.
I don't just drive them there and back, but I also become their companion, following and supporting them
through their tough journey as they fight their illness.
It all started back in 2001 when I lost my partner to cancer and I then decided to transform his ordinary taxi into this colourful one, driven by love.
I came alive through death and it is with this new life inside me that I made it my mission to bring joy, support and happiness to everyone I meet.
Zia (aunt) Caterina and her Taxi Milano25
Aunt Caterina, aka Caterina Bellandi, was born in Prato on March 6th, 1965. Her story is a story of love for her partner Stefano, who died of lung cancer. He was the driver of taxi Milano25; she inherited the taxi as a gift of love and wanted to transform it into a magical place, into a small enchanted oasis that, in addition to regular public taxi service, provides free rides to the hospital for children suffering from cancer and their families, the ones she calls her SuperHeroes, turning them into comic book characters with superpowers that make them invulnerable.
Aunt Caterina’'s SuperHeroes are special kids, extraordinary boys and girls who every day defy cruel evils and face unbearable pain with the desire to live and win their battles.
Why do you wish to be called “ Zia”?
It's a desire I've always had. Because the Aunt is the person closest to the mother who can spoil and does not have the task of educating. I've always wanted to be a mom, protective like a hen. All the children in the world are my children because they are the children I never had.
Aunt Caterina, you're a bit strange for a taxi driver. Why do you dress so funny?
I am very shy. I have always loved hats because they help to communicate and to be less afraid of others, of those you do not know. The hat communicates that you are different, it says: "You can! Come to me!" I started with the hat. Then I put on the cape after meeting Patch Adams, because he wanted some clowns for the trip we made together. Instead of the nose that doesn't belong to me, I put on my cloak to create magic. The bracelets, necklaces and all the hanging stuff are small pieces of the people and especially of the children I meet and that I always carry with me and that make me feel strong. The first bell I put around my neck was to remember the bell collections my father had.
Why did you decide to do this job?
For love! The man I loved, Stefano, before dying, told me: "You will be Milano25, me, and my work!" and I, frightened, I started this journey without knowing what to do and where to go. I just wanted Milano 25 to live on through the lives of others.
Why do you call your kids "superheroes"?
The Superpower lies in enduring pain. The superhero can be anyone who learns to know and defeat their fears. My children are superheroes because they are fighting the worst of enemies, an invisible and unspeakable enemy: death. The superhero will never die, he will remain forever in my heart and in the hearts of those who had the privilege of meeting him.
How do you become a superhero?
You have to be there, for better or worse, you have to live the moment with extraordinary strength and do what you have to do. You have to live with what you are required to do at that moment. Do not live anything in the middle but everything in its totality.
How did you come up with the idea of representing them as animals?
I love animals and my dog, a Saint Bernard called Krissina, is the mascot of Milano25. Animals, like children, have a sincere soul, they do not think but feel and are instinctive. They reflect the character of the heart.
Officer for the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic "for her generosity in giving ill children and their families some
serenity by driving them with her taxi for free to get treatment"
After the untimely loss of her partner Stefano, taxi driver, she starts driving his taxi, turning it into an engine of love.
She passionately works as a taxi driver and dedicates part of the day to going with and distracting ill children who are going to the Meyer Hospital (Florence) to get treatment. Known as Zia (Aunt) Caterina, she created a network of people who, through the non-profit organization Milano 25, collaborate with her in various initiatives to help ill people (organizing birthday parties, meetings and events with her Milano25 taxi)
"Slowly we created a network of mothers who, by word of mouth, get in contact with me and stay in contact with each other.
In dark times, even a small light can make a difference".