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Kudwa Academy, where young refugees and migrants are both students and teachers


Kudwa Academy, where young refugees and migrants are both students and teachers

A Project supported by UNHCR promotes knowledge exchange and engagement among refugees, migrants, and the local community in Barcelona.
11 January 2024
Participantes en Kudwa Academy

Ahmad, Laura, and Mostafa are part of the Kudwa Academy participation and training project in Barcelona.

Kudwa means “role model” in Arab. When Razan Ismail, the founder of Kudwa Association, chose this name, it was a clear statement of purpose. Because Kudwa, created by and for refugees and migrants, was created with the goal of being a community, a guide, and sometimes a lifeline for those who come to  Barcelona fleeing conflicts, violence, and persecution, or seeking a better life. 

Its latest project, Kudwa Academy, was selected by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to receive financial and technical support through the Social Entrepreneurship Grants program, which aims to promote social initiatives led or participated by refugees and stateless persons. In this case, participation and education are at the core of a project that turns the young people involved into ‘role models’ and, at the same time, eager learners. Because in each session, a community member shares technical, artistic, or social training with the others, creating a space for exchange and learning, but also a safe place to belong to, identify with, and discover how to engage in the host society.

“In Kudwa Academy, there is no hierarchy; there is an exchange of experiences. People who want to work with their skills, conduct workshops, and share their knowledge with others have a place here,” explains Razan. “Participation is gradual. When people feel safe, they start sharing more, taking ownership of that space, and participating more.” That is why, even though Kudwa Academy works on skills ranging from personal and professional development to public communication, the first step is to help newcomers regain confidence in themselves.

Having faced the same barriers is one of the bonds that brings together the young people in Kudwa’s community. Arriving in a new country, learning a new language and customs, understanding bureaucracy… And in most cases, doing it by themselves. ‘For me, the worst thing upon arrival was being alone. Once, I was very sick in my room and I thought, “if something happens to me, who will find out?” recalls Ahmad, a 26-year-old Syrian refugee who arrived in Barcelona shortly after turning 18. Loneliness, trauma after fleeing, migratory grief, and information overload upon arriving in a completely new context are some of the challenges they face. Finding a group of people to share with, learn from, and vent to is a fundamental step in integrating into their new country. 

For Laura, a Syrian artist and architect, the ability to share experiences is key to preventing the depression and blockage that many refugees and migrants feel in a new land. Founder of Kudwa as well, she felt visible for the first time when the association facilitated the first exhibition of her work, which combines embroidery and Arabic calligraphy. “People came to see my art, asked me why I do this, what inspires me, what story is behind all of this”, she recalls. “I love that people who are in the same situation as I am understand me, but when someone from here understands what I am doing and empathizes with me, I believe I have reached beyond. And that started with Kudwa”.

To give back a bit of this support and learn from other people’s experiences, Laura joined Kudwa Academy as both speaker and participant. Because if she can teach how to express through art, others can do it with words, through skills like communication or storytelling: how to convey a story that captivates an audience. The first step toward social change. 

But not only refugees and migrants have a place in the project. The local community is invited to join and participate, a presence that is crucial for Razan, Laura and Ahmad. Getting to know each other to understand and build community.

Creating these connections between communities is Mostafa’s specialty, an Egyptian sociologist who is also speaker and student at Kudwa. For him, Kudwa Academy is the first step in a project that will go much further, using interactive theater to enhance understanding and empathy towards refugees and migrants. “In this theater, people from the local community play the roles of migrants and refugees, they step into the shoes of the other”. A playful experience that has also elicited strong emotions and even tears when put into practice. 

After this initial experience of Kudwa Academy, everyone agrees on their desire to repeat and the positive outcomes. For some, it has been an opportunity to enhance their resumés by conducting workshops. For others, new skills to apply both professional and personal realms. But for all of them, it has been a useful tool to amplify their voices and make them resonate. “I want to work to change the system. To unite with the local community and that our voices are heard”, declares Ahmad, who dreams of getting involved in political action. In the meantime, he plans to create a football team that brings together refugees, migrants a local people from Barcelona to promote inclusion through sports.

Whether through art, like Laura; activism and sports, like Ahmad; theater, like Mostafa; or identifying and promoting talent through Kudwa’s projects, like Razan; they all share the same idea: to continue expanding a community that welcomes everyone, regardless of their origins, where listening to each other and supporting each other are the pillars from which to build a future together. 


Social Entrepreneurship Grants for Refugee Lead Organizations

In the framework of the Global Compact on Refugees and in line with UNHCR’s Community Participation strategy, UNHCR continues its commitment through the Social Entrepreneurship Grants for Refugee and Stateless Lead Organizations. This initiative provides opportunities for communities to participate meaningfully in identifying challenges related to protection and integration, as well as seeking better solutions.

The projects implemented through this initiative not only enable refugees and statelessness persons to be involved directly in the protection response in the country of asylum but also in the achievement of sustainable long-term solutions.