26.08.2021

Change starts at the community level: conclusions from the WIDHT event

In an increasingly interconnected world, how can we “unlearn” our thinking patterns and transition to a system based on solidarity? How can we ensure that everyone’s contribution to society is equally valued? These were some of the issues brought up at the WIDHT event 6 July.

The WIDHT project focuses on the challenges migrant women face when integrating in their new communities. At the multiplier event 6 July, we discussed how adult learning can foster integration by placing migrant women and their experiences to the forefront. In addition to sharing project results, we heard from two migrant women who became “champions of learning” in their communities and discussed the power of transformative education.

“We can all contribute to the world we are living in,” said Paola Berbeglia from Associazione CREA, WIDHT project coordinator, who opened the event. “We’re all global citizens. It’s a way of being aware of what I’m able to do, no matter where I am.”

The Erasmus+ project WIDHT: Women in Diaspora communities as champions of learning to live TogetHer has analysed the ways in which migrant women share their experiences and knowledge with other members of the diaspora community. Taking language learning and citizenship education as the backbone, the project partners developed a report on how women use informal and non-formal learning with their peers. In addition, a toolkit was created for adult educators working with disadvantaged learners at beginner and intermediate language levels.

One key result of the project is an interactive map of local adult education providers and resources.

“The idea is to start from the point of view of the user and not of the service – it’s a revolution,” said Ms Berbeglia.

Inclusion starts with understanding who you are

“You have to be humble and make sacrifices,” said Betty Ogbemoudia, an intercultural mediator who has previously cooperated with Associazione CREA and is currently pursuing a degree in the UK. Sharing her experience of moving from Nigeria to Italy and her initial struggles to make first connections, she added that being patient was the key to succeed.

“You don’t see the solution after one day: it takes time. You start improving your language, meeting people, making friends”, said Ogbemoudia.

There is a lack of understanding of the challenges that migrant women face

Another speaker, Joy-Tendai Kangere, underlined the existence of systemic barriers that keep newly arrived migrant women from finding employment or pursuing learning opportunities. Born in Zimbabwe and based in Ireland, Ms Kangere is an advocate for education equity, adult learning, equity, diversity, and inclusion with a law degree from UCD Sutherland School of Law in Dublin. Having had to balance being a mother and a full-time student herself, she found that childcare is one of the main barriers for women.

“There is a lack of understanding of the challenges that migrant women face when they want to go back to education,” said Ms Kangere.

“There are people who come in with qualifications, masters, doctorates, and you really have to start from the beginning, scrap everything that you’ve done in your past life. It can be daunting,” she continued.

This was also emphasised by Ms Ogbemoudia.

“The knowledge we have as women, as Nigerians, as Africans – we can bring it here. But it’s not recognized. Our certificates are not recognized, that’s discouraging,” she said.

Both Ms Ogbemoudia and Ms Kangere have been actively involved in initiatives supporting their diaspora communities. While Ms Ogbemoudia uses her experience as an intercultural mediator to connect with other newly arrived migrants, Ms Kangere co-founded Roots in Africa, an organisation that promotes cultural heritage especially among young people and addresses the trauma that people face pre-migration and post-migration.

“It’s something that I’m really passionate about”, stated Ms Kangere. “Inclusion starts with understanding who you are. Who am I, what makes me? The plan is to connect with other organisations on the continent. We focus too much on our differences than on our similarities. There is so much to learn from each other.”

Everyone is a piece of the puzzle

The key role of dialogue and peer-learning was also underlined by Patricija Virtic.

“Learning is a mutual process. We need to receive and listen to others,” she emphasized.

Encouraging different perspectives is crucial if we want to ensure that education is transformative

Patricija Virtic speaking at the event.

Ms Virtic works for SLOGA – Slovene platform of NGOs for development, global education and humanitarian aid and for the Bridge47 project. She introduced the participants to the results of the Bridge47 project and its roadmap for implementation of the 4.7 target of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Universal access to education is not enough. What we need is transformative education that encourages learners to reach their full potential and goes beyond cognitive knowledge,” she said. According to Virtic, transformative education imparts core values, attitudes and skills that promote respect for human rights, justice, diversity, equality and sustainable future.

“Encouraging different perspectives is crucial if we want to ensure that education is transformative. It transforms the learner into an agent of change. It’s not just that I have the knowledge – what am I prepared to do with it? How am I contributing to the whole society?  Global trends make it necessary to learn and unlearn if we want to transition to a society that is based on solidarity. We need learning to be holistic, we need citizens of all ages and backgrounds to participate, everyone is a piece of the puzzle,” said Ms Virtic.

Everyone needs a seat at the table when taking decisions

What needs to happen at the policy level to enable transformative education and learning for change? How can our policy environment be supportive of the specific needs and struggles of migrant women and provide grounds for dialogue between citizens of all walks of life? The project has complied policy recommendations, such as the need to develop partnerships with a variety of stakeholders and mainstreaming a gender perspective in ALE policies.

“Everyone needs a seat at the table when taking decisions,” said Ms Kangere, commenting on the recommendations.  “You cannot throw change and force ‘unlearning’ on people. It’s more on the ground discussions, start with slow bits, at the community level. Let people know who the new neighbours are before you start with big words like ‘anti-racism’ or ‘racial equality’. You need to start at the basics”.

Text: Aleksandra Kozyra, EAEA

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