Conversation circles, clay bring Venezuelans academy closer to Roraima

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in partnership with the University of Aalto, Finland, carried out fieldwork in the shelters of Operação Acolhida in May. 

Conversation circles, clay bring Venezuelans academy closer to Roraima
Conversation circles, clay bring Venezuelans academy closer to Roraima

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in partnership with the University of Aalto, Finland, carried out fieldwork in the shelters of Operação Acolhida in May. 

The intervention sought to raise the perceptions of the refugee and migrant population from Venezuela about what would be an ideal collective space to meet the different demands and worldviews in a context as diverse as the shelters of Operação Acolhida.

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The activities used a technique called clay-storming (brainstorming with clay, in a free translation) and conversation circles to facilitate the exchange of experiences. In addition, qualitative research and workshops were carried out with groups of women, youth and children.

How to give a voice to vulnerable people and create a space with tools that make them comfortable to demonstrate their needs and desires”. 

This was the central concern that guided fieldwork carried out in May in the shelters of Operation Welcome by the University of Aalto, Finland, in partnership with the UN Agency for Refugees (UNHCR). The activities used a technique called clay-storming  (brainstorming with clay, in a free translation) and conversation circles to facilitate the exchange of experiences.

The work was so natural that it almost seemed like a hobby, said Rita Elena, a 37-year-old Venezuelan woman who has lived in Brazil for eight months. “The experience was very good, very beautiful and very relaxing. Sometimes we live under stress in the day-to-day life of the shelter, and this helps us to relieve stress”. She also added that “in the shelters, we have many people of different characteristics; this activity also helps people to share their ideas and communicate”.

Carmem Julia, 35, highlighted that the activity with clay was useful for relaxing and reflecting. “We built many things with our imagination, and in the end, we remembered our country. It looked really good. We shared knowledge with our companions and with the teachers, and it was excellent. We learned many things and exchanged many lessons”.

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The group of students from the Finnish university started field activities on May 10 in Boa Vista, holding workshops and conversation circles to exchange experiences. Students and professors from the Federal University of Roraima (UFRR) also participated in this stage, in yet another step closer to the academic community. 

In the clay-storming process, clay serves as a resource for interaction and communication, allowing the people involved to get to know each other better and also to work to express their ideas, both individually and in groups.

The methodology also facilitates group work and the elaboration of joint solutions in groups formed by people with different life trajectories. “We use one of several participatory design techniques. It is a way of including the population in the design of their surroundings and being more aware of the collective space. 

Unlike picking up a microphone and asking people to speak their minds, we use different tools that allow for non-verbal communication,” says Kristjana.

For UNHCR’s assistant shelter planning officer in Boa Vista, Patrícia Monteiro, who participated in the design of the project, the most important point of the visit by Aalto University was to bring an external view of Operação Acolhida into the context of humanitarian action. 

“Bringing a new vision is always important for the pursuit of continuous improvement. This was the first step toward deepening relations with external actors. Our objective is to promote social integration actions that involve the refugee and migrant population, the host population and partner organizations”.

For the group of students and professors at UFRR, it was an opportunity to get closer to humanitarian assistance and learn about the reality of refugees and migrants. “I am a resident of Boa Vista, and I did not know about the existence of the shelter. 

I had no knowledge, and when you get closer, the situation becomes much more real. The structure, the condition, it’s very interesting to be here. It is important to have these exchange spaces that include people in operation”, commented student Camile Gomes.

For professor João Carlos Jarochinski, from the International Relations course at UFRR, “it was important to get to know the methodology, which was quite different, also for the students to know a little about the actions, of what is done in Operação Acolhida, to be closer to the action in the shelters”.

He adds that, in a way, he contemplates an initiative by the university this year to get closer to humanitarian assistance. 

“We are now starting a very large extension action; 20 extension grants will be distributed to think about specific projects for refugees and migrants, the issue of shelter, including areas such as sustainable development, health, access to rights, literacy”.

An integral part of the Finnish institution’s Master’s program in Global Sustainable Technologies, the intervention sought to raise the perceptions of the refugee and migrant population from Venezuela on what would be an ideal collective space to meet the different demands and worldviews present in such a context. Diversified as the shelters of Operação Acolhida. 

The activities implemented included conducting qualitative research, workshops with groups of women, youth and children, as well as conversation circles.

The joint elaboration of the work proposal started in January 2022, in a constant dialogue between UNHCR and the Finnish university. The first stage of the project was to carry out qualitative research, with local support from the partner organizations AVISI and Fraternity Without Borders, interviewing 62 people in different shelters. 

Demographic profiles were identified, and a survey was done on how people relate to the activities and social interactions in which they participate on a daily basis.

This was the first time that the clay-storming methodology and the Master’s project in Global Sustainable Technologies at Aalto University were in action with refugees and migrants. In previous years, projects were developed on access to water in Kenya and Uganda, community kitchens in Mexico and sustainable waste management in Bhutan.

 

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