Thursday, 09 May 2013

The 'Rossinyol' project, example in the fight for equal opportunities and social inclusion in Catalonia

Carla Marchesi

Barcelona (CNA).– Catalonia is a key territory when it comes to the reception of foreigners. Global migratory flow trends have made the foreign population in Catalonia significantly multiply between 2000 and 2012. In this period, Catalonia went from having 181,590 foreigners to 1,186,779. Last year, immigrants represented 15.68% of Catalonia’s total population, and 16.74% of those foreigners were children between 0 and 14 years old. Girona – located in north-eastern Catalonia – is one of the Catalan provinces that has usually had high immigration percentages, so it is constantly looking for solutions to problems may result from the fact of being a foreigner, such as inequality or social exclusion. The ‘Rossinyol’ project contemplates these issues in its objectives. It is an adapted version of the ‘Nightingale’ project, consolidated in different European cities, and was brought to Girona due to migratory patterns over the last decade. The ‘Rossinyol’ project is based on a mentoring network aimed at accelerating the inclusion process of immigrant children, and local university students play a tutorial role for Primary or Secondary school foreign students who are in difficult economic and social situations. In 2006, the ‘Rossinyol’ project was implemented for the first time both in Catalonia and Spain thanks to the University of Girona (UdG). Apart from Girona, the project is currently applied by different schools, organisations and Universities in Barcelona and Navarra, a region in the north of Spain.

The ‘Rossinyol’ project dates back to the 1970s in Israel. This country created a national tutorial program, the ‘Perach Project’, aimed at students in difficult circumstances. Later on, in the 90s, the University of Malmö, in Sweden, adapted that project to the city’s context, where more than half the population were of foreign origin. So in Malmö the ‘Näktergalen’ program -‘Nightingale’, in English; ‘Rossinyol’, in Catalan- was developed. It was implanted in 1998, and its objective was to relate university students to school students, mainly immigrants.

The ‘Näktergalen’ program was expanded to Europe under the name of ‘Nightingale’. It is currently present in different cities in Austria, Finland, Germany, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, where the mentoring network is consolidated. The project’s philosophy is related to its name: ‘nightingale’ is Malmö’s pet, “a little bird which sings wonderfully when it feels safe”. So the basic reason of the project is to make sure that immigrant children have the key tools so they can develop independently and safely in their new society.

The ‘Rossinyol’ project and the University of Girona

In 2006, the ‘Rossinyol’ project was implemented in Catalonia by Jordi Feu, a member of the Department of Pedagogy at the UdG. “Nine years ago, I decided to get involved in this project because a friend of mine told me about her experience in an international conference held in Ireland, in which Carina Sild, head of the Malmö’s program, explained the ‘Nightingale’ project. Then, the UdG didn’t have any social compromise project in Girona, so I started ‘Rossinyol’ because I thought it was fair and necessary”, explains Feu, who leads the project in the province of Girona, along with a team at UdG composed by Òscar Prieto -coordinator- and Jessica López -technical support-. Nowadays, the ‘Rossinyol’ project is applied at different schools in the Girona province, such as Palafrugell, Figueres, Lloret de Mar, Sant Feliu de Guíxols, Blanes, Palamós, Banyoles, La Bisbal d’Empordà or Olot.

Jordi Feu remembers the difficulties the project encountered when it was imported to Catalonia. “The first thing I found was indifference. The University is a large institution where people do a lot of things, so trying to launch new projects is not easy. But little by little, interest in the project began to get bigger and today it is consolidated”, explains the director of the project in Girona.

From theory to practice

Universities, schools, town councils, the Catalan Government and other organisations help the implementation of the ‘Rossinyol’ project. The program is aimed at making the social inclusion of children who have migrated to Catalonia, but it also wants to highlight and work on values, such as respect, tolerance and diversity. Elisabet Moreras, member of the ‘Servei Solidari’ foundation – a non-profit organisation in favour of social inclusion, which also coordinates and manages the ‘Rossinyol’ project in Barcelona – defines this program as a “win-win” plan, where two realities get closer so that both mentor and student can benefit.

In order to achieve its goal, the ‘Rossinyol’ project follows a simple plan. The volunteer university students who want to take part in the program are selected according to their availability and involvement. Then, they have to pass a training course. Once this is finished, each volunteer mentor meets weekly, and during the academic course, with the student he has been adjudicated. The mentor helps the foreign student to practise the Catalan language, discover the city and the leisure and cultural activities it offers. In this sense, although each pairing is given a budget for activities, Elisabet Moreras says that is important to expose the child to free proposals so he can be assure that he can have a good time without spending a lot of money. In the case of the UdG, each “couple” has a blog where they write about their weekly meetings, and, in the case of Barcelona, the ‘Servei Solidari’ foundation does the weekly follow up by means of personal meetings with the mentors.

A piece in Rossinyol’s puzzle: Amina and Laura

Amina is eleven and from Morocco. She came to Figueres with her family a year ago and this school year is taking part in the ‘Rossinyol’ project. “I really wanted to participate in it, because at first I was afraid, I know no people here, nor the language nor the city. I wasn’t nervous about meeting my mentor, because I knew that she could help me end this fear”, Amina explains. Her mentor, Laura Martínez, is in the third year of her Nursing studies at the UdG. She presented herself to the project because she had to choose university elective credits. In her case, sport or artistic activities didn’t attract her, so she chose the ‘Rossinyol’ project: “I prefer taking part in the ‘Rossinyol’ program because I like to do things that make me grow. ‘Rossinyol’ allows me to collaborate with a person that really needs it, and it also fills me with values”. Her sensitivity to children and the fact of being an only child also led her to the project.

Amina and Laura remember their first meeting: “It was back in November. We met and, over a snack, we talked about the things we like doing, school, University, our families...” Amina explains. They repeat this speaking routine every time they meet. “I remember that, at first, the language was a difficulty. But every week Amina improves a lot! She has a great ability to learn. Naturally, she was shy at first to ask me things, but now she feels safe enough to tell me what she wants and what she doesn’t want at every moment”, Laura says.

They meet every weekend and, depending on the weather, carry out different activities. “Amina is really creative. She loves making crafts and everything related to culture. In this sense, we have done a lot of things: we have made cakes and pictures, we went to the cinema, we went to a magic show...”, Laura explains. And Amina is very proud of their relationship: “I’m very happy with Laura, because we do things I like a lot”. Laura stresses the fact that by helping Amina she is breaking with her routine every weekend: “Neither Amina nor her parents are from here, so it is complicated for them to go out, see new things, make new relationships, as would happen to us if we migrate. I like to bring Amina out and make her learn where she can go to have a good time, as children do”.

Through the ‘Rossinyol’ project, Laura and Amina’s lives have blended in. Amina likes almost all her school subjects but, when someone asks her about what she wants to become when she grows up, she casually responds: “Nurse”. “I like looking at Laura’s pictures when she is wearing her white coat. She looks like a doctor!”, Amina says.

Although there is 10 years between them, they both make clear that they maintain a solid friendship they would like to maintain when the project finishes. “I have been lucky with Amina. She is a lovely girl and, above all, she is really grateful and polite, which is difficult to find in children today”, Laura explains.

Results of the project

At the moment, there are no impact studies about the ‘Rossinyol’ project results in Catalonia. “We are working on a study in order to present common and easily transportable indicators to social mentoring projects. Once we have them available, we will be able to evaluate the impact these projects have on tutored children, especially related to their self-esteem and occupational and educational aspirations and expectations”, Jordi Feu explains.

However, it can be said that the ‘Rossinyol’ project works. Its expanding figures show this. In Barcelona’s 2010-2011 project, seven “couples” participated, and this course there are 25. 2006-2007 was the first project course in Girona, which started with 4 mentors and 5 students, which clearly contrasts with the 96 “couples” today.

Beyond the figures, Jordi Feu explains how he perceives the improvements among tutored children: “Every time we start the project, we organise an ‘Initial Party’, where volunteers and students can meet each other and exchange phone numbers so we can manage the meetings. When we finish the course, we organise a ‘Final Party’, where we can see the improvements. Those shy children, who at first didn’t venture to talk, explain to everyone how their experience went, in Catalan, and with a wide smile”.

Both Moreras and Feu are sure that next year the ‘Rossinyol’ project will be repeated and they firmly believe in its social repercussion. “If everything goes well, we will maintain this year’s places, and we are considering the possibility of expanding the project to more towns. It is a plan that in the long term can be an important contribution to social cohesion and equal opportunities”, Feu concludes.

  • laura_amina

  • Laura and Amina are taking part in the 'Rossinyol' project this year (by C. Marchesi)