Organization that is implementing
Associação para o Desenvolvimento MEERU – Abrir Caminho
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
The project aims to create APROXIMA Communities – a model for structuring informal support networks that fights social isolation and facilitates the inclusion of migrant and refugee families hosted in local communities, through the mobilization of volunteers to energize the informal support network of migrant families, based on the creation of genuine bonds of affection and belonging, promoting community transformation and allowing full and autonomous reception and inclusion.
The implementation of the APROXIMA Communities takes place through its 3 axes (Proximity Teams; Events in the Community; Awareness) that take the form of the following activities:
There are two program cycles per year, each lasting 8 months. For each cycle, a recruitment process is carried out, with interviews to clarify and adjust expectations. The pre-selected volunteers participate in a training program which rely mostly on non-formal education strategies and activities, presentations on technical subjects, volunteers and families’ testimonials about their experience and partners’ presentations of their work and how we complement each other. The training materials are improved from cycle to cycle to better match the volunteers expectations and needs.
Promotion of events for the entire community, such as: cultural sessions (poetry, theater, music), cooking workshops, football matches and other sports, walks. The preparation of the Events in the Community is carried out by the MEERU Technical Team, the volunteers and the families.
Awareness actions on Human Rights, Citizenship and Interculturality, and other areas of interest, for volunteers, host entities, families and the community in general. These activities/sessions include non-formal education activities and volunteers’ testimonials, in different contexts: schools, universities, informal youth groups, local community agents.
Periodic meetings to evaluate all actions carried out with volunteers, Partner Entities and Host Entities, resulting in the production of a Final Report.
In order to articulate the different responsibilities in the implementation of the actions, working mechanisms were established between partners: adoption of an online collaborative communications platform; participation in biannual action planning and evaluation meetings.
— 4 volunteers per family
— Planning meeting with the Proximity Teams to structure the action with the families.
— Intermediate meeting with the Proximity Teams in the middle of the program, for intermediate evaluation and reflection and contact with the volunteers of the other Teams.
— Final meeting with the Proximity Teams after the end of the program, for evaluation and final reflection and contact with the volunteers of the other Teams.
The Proximity Teams accompany families for a period of 8 months, according to a structured program that can be adapted to the reality and context of each Family and Proximity Team. The volunteers commit to sharing their life with these families through weekly meetings for moments of leisure, in order to create authentic and long-term relationships.
The monitoring and evaluation of the action of the Proximity Teams is carried out periodically through monthly meetings, monitoring reports and weekly contact points between the Proximity Team and the project’s technical team. The programme lasts 8 months, but the idea is that the relationships between the family and volunteers last beyond that.
These volunteers become, along with these families, builders of genuine bonds of affection, belonging and trust.
In order to validate the innovative methods and measure the impact of APROXIMA as a transforming project and promoter of social inclusion in Communities, through the Intercultural Dialogue, an Impact Assessment will be carried out by the UCP Partner Entity.
Dissemination of results in the media, on social networks, on the project website, at dissemination events – throughout the project implementation.
How was the Project born?
We usually say that MEERU | Abrir Caminho started before it actually started, when Safaa, Mahmood, Omar and Rafif – a family who had run away from Syria – arrived in Barcelos, a town in the North of Portugal, in the Spring of 2016. They were welcomed by a group of young people who lived in the village, among which was Isabel, a member of our team. Through sharing their day-to-day life with this family, and providing some of the informal support they needed, Isabel and her friends became the first Proximity Team without knowing it.
This first experience brought us to where we are today: through our core project – MEERU Aproxima – we are building a network of people that, based on the idea of proximity, are transforming their communities. Thus, the purpose of MEERU APROXIMA is to promote the sense of belonging and community engagement among migrant and refugee families living in Portugal. Through our program we find, train and mentor volunteers who become, along with these families, builders of genuine bonds of affection, belonging and trust.
Challenges in the implementation
1. Most families do not speak Portuguese fluently, which presents a communication barrier.
Although this is a challenge, it creates an opportunity for the teams to bond with the families and help them improve the language. Families improve their Portuguese not only because they practice with the volunteers in “everyday communication”, but also because there is a clear effort from both sides to create a learning space (some teams have prepared lessons to informally teach the language to the families).
2. Is challenging to help integrate all adult family members in the employment market. These challenges are closely related to the families’ expectations regarding the Portuguese reception system (in areas like health, employment and housing), very high in relation to reality.
It depends a lot on each case. MEERU works on these expectations through close relationships with Host Entities and Proximity Teams, mostly through reality check conversations with the families. Besides that, we cooperate with Host Entities helping search for jobs and facilitating the communication with the employers and the family.
Impact on refugees or local community lives?
We still haven’t concluded the impact evaluation (no official results yet). How do we measure?
- how many times the family meets their team
- the family created other relationships and bonds within the community
- the family knows how to navigate the system
- the family actively participates in the community
- the family improved their knowledge of the language
- number of awareness-raising sessions in the community
- how many people attend each session
- improved knowledge of diversity and interculturalism
- percentage of people with receptive and welcoming behaviors towards migrants and refugees
- motivation and future perspectives
- perception of safety of the family
- general perception of well-being of the family
- good emotional management skills
- active participation in the community
- existence of community relations
- participation in community groups/events/activities
- number of people who are working
- number of people who are in school
- knowledge on how to use the available services to look for a job
- improved knowledge of the language
- increase of motivation/future perspectives
- the community knows more about diversity/interculturalism
Even though we don’t have official results from the impact evaluation yet, we have identified many successes to date:
- Some volunteers include their own friends and families in this process, bringing everyone together and allowing more people to be part of the family support system.
- Families who were struggling with their integration process when we first started, now state that they don’t want to leave Portugal (and some volunteers who were considering leaving in the future, don’t want do leave anymore).
- Families improve their Portuguese not only because they practice with the volunteers in “everyday communication”, but also because there is a clear effort from both sides to create a learning space (some teams have prepared lessons to informally teach the language to the families).
- Families with children usually rely on volunteers to help with homework and study time, communication parents-teachers (meetings etc.).
- Volunteers have an important role in helping family members prepare for job interviews (and also helping search for jobs and facilitating the communication with the employers and the family).
- Families have someone to turn to in good and difficult times.
- Families are more autonomous (when compared to the beginning).
- Proximity teams that have finished their mission with MEERU are transitioning to autonomy on dealing with more technical issues and contacting with host institutions.
- General positive feedback from the families and volunteers.
- Four generations of volunteers already ended their official commitment with MEERU and all kept their relationships with the families as if nothing changed.
Is this project/program replicable and/or scalable?
APROXIMA responds to a social problem perceived by the migrant and refugee population in Portugal that has grown exponentially in recent months and is expected to continue to grow. In addition to creating a sustainable and effective mechanism to combat the social isolation of migrant and refugee families by transforming the Communities that host them, the positive social impacts of the project continue after its conclusion due to:
Volunteers have a strong component of individual empowerment for social impact, making them aware of the clear urgency of mobilization for inclusion and development of intercultural communities. Thus, after their direct involvement, the volunteers carry the transformative experience and lifelong commitment, being able to autonomously replicate the model (without any follow-up cost).
Boosting previous experience within the project itself, MEERU activates the Alumni Volunteers network in training future volunteers, in raising awareness and in all events in the community.
The dynamization of APROXIMA communities encourages experiences, knowledge and urgent values throughout the Community in a society in transformation, in which the ability to dialogue interculturally is crucial. The dynamism and action that is created within the community is an activator and catalyst for impact actions that are not only superficial, but integral and permanent. In the proven logic of ‘Peer Communities’, the empowerment sense of the implemented methodology makes communities capable of a systemic positive social impact.
The Replication Manual produced during the project will provide the Communities with the tools to prolong the positive social impacts generated over time and will allow other organizations, namely host entities in other geographic areas of the country, to replicate, under the guidance of MEERU, their methodology for hosting.
By experiencing and proving the opportunities for inclusion and interculturality, companies in contact with the project are mobilized to maintain or increase investment in the positive impacts of social inclusion and interculturality.
Once the impact of the MEERU APROXIMA project is implemented and proven, it is expected that in the future the system will assimilate the model and the human-affective component guaranteed by the project will be incorporated by public institutions.
APROXIMA is implemented with a strong focus on cooperation. In this way, we activate a network of actors aligned with the vision of social inclusion and interculturality who will be able to collaborate by finding joint solutions and responding to the needs/resources needed to make it viable to extend the project’s impacts.
Furthermore, APROXIMA is a project with high scalability through the implementation of the APROXIMA Communities Network.
In a Social Franchising logic, the model aims at the autonomous capacity of subsequent replication by other organizations/informal groups of people, based on the following points:
The project invests in the capacity building of the human resources involved, namely volunteers and local agents capable of replicating the model in other contexts/territories.
Once the model is proven, the method will be made available in open source to other organizations/informal groups that will have the ability to replicate it for free.
The model is an open proposal to receive other contributions. Other entities can adapt and transform it according to the Communities context.
The project is implemented in collaboration with a network of actors capable of enabling the local implementation of the project.
A space for sharing contacts, events and opportunities for all families and communities involved in it.
The new APROXIMA Communities will be implemented with the support and guidance of MEERU, ensuring the articulation between Communities and dynamization of the network itself. The costs inherent to this coordination will be covered by MEERU’s internal funding.
www.meeru.org/deamigosparaamigos [Consultation carried out between the months of November and December 2021 by ComParte and subsequent analysis and compilation of experiences and recommendations of the families, as well as of the volunteers that integrate the Proximity Teams that accompany these families]