Volunteers from the seven project countries who participated in the VOLPOWER. The picture was taken during a one-week social media workshop that took place in Zagreb, in June 2019.

Empowering and integrating youth through volunteering

Andrea Carlà*, Eleonora Psenner**

EU AMIF (Asylum and Migrant Integration Fund) funded two-year project VOLPOWER, lead by Glasgow Caledonian University, explores how youth volunteering in sports and arts activities can serve as a mechanism for social integration for youth. Principal Investigator of the Italian/Eurac team of the project, Andrea Carlà and Eleonora Psenner, researcher of the project tells about the new pathways thorugh community building with contributions of migrants and the online art exhibition as an output of the project.

For the past two years we have been part of the Italian team of VOLPOWER, a European AMIF project, which aims to explore the effects of volunteering in sports, creative arts and culture on youth interaction and processes of empowerment and integration between EU and third-country nationals. Volunteering is an important aspect of today’s society; it is estimated that there are about one billion people worldwide who volunteer. Furthermore, volunteering is considered a thermometer of a society’s civic well-being. In this light, in VOLPOWER, we have explored whether volunteering would help people to feel part of a community. Could volunteering foster integration and bring young Europeans and young people from other countries closer together? Could volunteering help to foster and facilitate community building and mutual understanding?

30 young people from 7 European countries

To answer these questions, the VOLPOWER research team organized a volunteering experience for 30 young people in the fields of sport or creative arts and culture in the seven European areas involved in the project (Scotland, South Tyrol, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, the Netherlands, and Malta). We accompanied this group of volunteers, which include first and second generations migrants, asylum seekers as well as youth without migrant background, for a period of 13 months to investigate the effects of volunteering on processes of integration and empowerment. From our research, we confirmed that volunteering contributes to trust and participation in society, community development and social cohesion, in particular fostering the human, cultural and social capital of individuals. Indeed, VOLPOWER volunteering experience affected volunteers’ intercultural understanding, perceptions of differences and their networks of social contacts. Volunteers became more aware of their strengths and weaknesses and acquired various skills. Volunteering improved their access to the community, contributing to a renegotiation of their sense of belonging.

Visual and audio documentation

Based on the inputs given by the VOLPOWER volunteers during their participation in the project, an online art exhibition was born. The volunteers’ individual narratives that related to changing landscapes of migration, sense of belonging, identity, diversity, and inclusion were translated into art. The exhibition consists of a collection of visual and audio documentation produced by the young volunteers throughout the two years of the project and finalized with the help and innovative contribution of a group of associated professional artists. The content illustrates everyday processes from the lens of the involved youth groups, also touching on themes like hope, future imaginaries, personal histories, and aspirations. For participants and audience alike, the exhibition takes you onto a cross-cultural journey and gives insights to what inclusion across communities as diverse as Glasgow, Rotterdam, Malta, South Tyrol, Vienna, Zagreb, and Ljubljana can look like. By offering different voices in different formats, the exhibition shines a spotlight on the process of academic and creative engagement with the public. Unlike more traditional forms of research dissemination, the VOLPOWER online exhibition is a format that leverages the emotional attachment and makes the audience care and pay attention to the issues being discussed. At the same time, it provides a platform through which research data are presented in a more digestible and visually appealing manner while raising awareness on community matters, during the lifetime of a project and beyond.

From our experience with VOLPOWER, we have learned how volunteering plays a positive role in society regardless of who the volunteers are and where they come from. Thus, as assumed in the project MATILDE, we invite the pivoting of the perspective that often prevails in media and public discourses that portrays migrants as victims and passive beneficiaries of aid and services, or worse, as a threat or as welfare abusers. Instead, our research underscores their contribution to the society as active protagonists who are committed to the community.

To reach the main outputs of the project please click here.

To reach the digital exhibition, please click here.

Andrea Carlà* is senior researcher at the Institute for Minority Rights of Eurac Research. His research focuses on the interplay among ethnic politics/minority protection, migration politics and security issues. He is the co-editor of Migration in Autonomous Territories. He also serves as the Principal Investigator of the Italian/Eurac team for the AMIF funded research project VOLPOWER.

Eleonora Psenner** begins her artistic path within the ambit of performing arts and continues her professional journey in the ambit of documentary film and in the event- and tourism sector. Today, as a researcher with Eurac Research, she investigates topics related to culture and creative industries within the regional development context. Recent research projects include an exploratory analysis on the ecosystem of Creative and Cultural Industries in the region of South Tyrol (2017-2019) and the AMIF VOLPOWER Project focusing on Volunteering and Empowerment through creative arts with youth groups of mixed cultural backgrounds.

Eleonora Psenner
Andrea Carla

As MATILDE, our ambition is to rethink and re-represent the active role of immigrants and their descendants in rural and mountain regions of Europe. Join MATILDE Photo Contest and tell us how #HeartofEurope is more prosperous, more colorful and more diverse with immigration!

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