When local people provide integration

When local people provide integration

Wed, 05/02/2020 - 12:12


Reception. The Xarxa 9 Barris Acull consists of a group of entities offering integration services for migrant residents to help foster coexistence in the area.

It’s an ordinary morning at the Xarxa 9 Barris Acull offices. Newly arrived people of all nationalities come to this centre in one of the most diverse districts in the whole city. Some come to get information on resources, but there are also young people attending weekly Spanish classes and couples getting advice on how to obtain documents. These are services that have become essential in a place where migrants and refugees arrive.

Yesterday’s migrants taking in today’s

What makes the Xarxa 9 Barris Acull a recognised and well-loved entity in this neighbourhood is that it was created by local people who, aware of what it means to emigrate and arrive in an unknown and often hostile place, decided to make life easier for newly arrive people. Lourdes Ponce, who works every day (every day!) as a volunteer in the office, explains the origins: “In the 1990s, people who’d arrived decades ago and who fought tirelessly to make this a decent neighbourhood considered the new reality of migratory flows had to be addressed as soon as possible. They started hearing about coexistence problems with newly arrived people in other places, and a group of community entities decided to get to work and help with the incorporation of these people into neighbourhood life and the city”. This spirit of integration runs through the eighty-plus entities making up the network as they coordinate between them to offer support and create opportunities for the various local collectives to engage.

“I wanted to do a voluntary activity in a neighbourhood I didn’t know but where there’s a future, a diverse and socially more complex future”

Reliable volunteers

Lourdes is not the only volunteer, even though she’s been doing it the longest and is the most involved among the network’s volunteers. According to the coordinator, Ro Cuevas, volunteers cover 50% of the hours of support and organisation needed to carry out all the activities at the centre.

Another volunteer is Alfons García, who spends two mornings a week teaching Spanish to people who need basic language skills to live side by side with others and to look for work.

Alfons has been a teacher all his life and is committed to education as an authentic social equaliser. Having spent years directly involved in politics, he explains: “I wanted to do a voluntary activity in a neighbourhood I didn’t know but where there’s a future, a diverse and socially more complex future”.

Alfons explains that his teaching methods resemble those of Paulo Freire, an educator and leading figure in the liberating policy of transformational education. This sort of language learning is therefore based around experience, using input from the students. Theatre, role-play and oral expression provide the tools for working with and learning the language needed for everyday situations (such as when they’re asked for papers, when they go shopping, when they attend a school meeting etc.).

Highly diverse territory

This living and flexible methodology for teaching Spanish is essential in highly diverse and volatile groups. The coordinator explains that the origins of the students are highly diverse, not only culturally but also in terms of their grasp of other European languages, something which can speed up their learning. At the same time, continued attendance of classes in the mid to long term is very difficult as people’s lives are very changeable: some students find work, others stop attending when they’ve done the obligatory 45 hors needed to apply for local status and others simply change where they live.

Florence Ligama and Mohamed Loukili are two students being taught by Alfons. Although they’ve been living in Barcelona for months, they’re finding it difficult to speak Spanish. They’re clearly motivated and enjoy the classes. In fact, besides language learning they consider the classes very pleasant, socially speaking. Nigeria and Morocco are their countries of origin, respectively, but they both agree their future is in Barcelona, in Nou Barris, and they’re making an effort to integrate with their surroundings.

The network works on coexistence and interculturality to promote attitudes and behaviour which avoid discrimination and strengthen social harmony and diversity.

Soups and other meeting points

The Xarxa 9 Barris Acull has a long history of social and community intervention with migrants in the district network of residents, through Spanish classes, legal advice and initial support for people arriving, as well as networking between member organisations. It also works on coexistence and interculturality, as the coordinator points out, to “promote attitudes and behaviour that avoid discrimination and strengthen coexistence and diversity”. They organise numerus activities, but the one which brings together the most energy and interest is the Universal Soup Festival, which has been held since 2004 and which last year involved 160 cooks and attracted 3,000 visitors to taste the soups. “Soup is a dish which is present in all cultures and at the same time represents the mixture, diversity and things we have in common, within this heterogeneousness”, continues Ro Cuevas.

Besides everyday needs, the network also organises the annual 9 Barris Acull meeting, a space for reflection and debate on topics relating to coexistence and rights.

Using the slogan “Yes to coexistence”, a movement was created from organisations in the neighbourhood and the local area to defend local people’s right to a place to practice their religion

Positive experiences of coexistence

It’s not possible to talk about the Xarxa 9 Barris Acull without mentioning the process to open the mosque in C/ Japó. The start of the process was a turbulent affair. Although the mosque was needed for the neighbourhood’s sizeable Muslim population, the proposal was met with distrust and even opposition by some local people. Using the slogan “Yes to coexistence”, a movement was created from organisations in the neighbourhood and the local area to defend local people’s right to a place to practice their religion, which ended up bringing results (it’s worth noting that the right to worship is legally recognised). Now the mosque in C/ Japó is a reality which nobody questions. Lourdes believes that the experience confirmed that struggles by local people should never stop and that the cohesion between associations in Nou Barris is a treasure which came about through these struggles.