In Italy, Farsi Prossimo uses art and culture as tools of inclusion


women in a museum

Farsi Prossimo is conducting a pilot project called "Métissage", supported by Fondation CHANEL

Like other countries in the Mediterranean basin, Italy is a destination for people seeking safety from war, poverty and other threats in their home countries. In Milan, social cooperative Farsi Prossimo provides ways for roughly 6,000 people seeking refuge and asylum from their homes to connect with Italian people and culture. Farsi Prossimo, in partnership with various public bodies, manages the care of these vulnerable groups: women victims of human trafficking, refugees, severely marginalised people, unaccompanied foreign minors, etc. It has notably created several reception centres.

Since 2018, Farsi Prossimo has been running a pilot project called “Métissage”, supported by the CHANEL Foundation, using a new approach based on integration, welcome, dialogue and self reconstruction through art and culture. Aimed at the women housed in the shelters, the programme aims to develop their social and intercultural skills in order to restore their self-confidence and to promote their autonomy and integration into Italian society.

Art and heritage as teaching aids

The programme of the “Métissage” project is organised in 3 modules. The first one is composed of Italian language courses to develop and improve the basic language skills of the beneficiaries. ” These courses are based on a playful and communicative methodology and on multi-level material, designed and developed according to the group. Many women have not attended school either in their country of origin or in Italy, while others have a master’s degree or other high-level qualifications,” says Francesca, who is in charge of the operational coordination of the programme and teacher of Italian as a second language. The challenge is to maintain a group dynamic and offer everyone the opportunity to learn by adapting to their specific needs.

For the second module, Farsi Prossimo organizes educational visits to places of art, history and citizenship. “Each visit is preceded by preparatory work in class: we introduce the participants to the museum and the works of art, as well as a brief biography of the artists,” says Francesca. These classes are thus an opportunity to acquire new vocabulary, to establish a dialogue around the artists’ biographies and the life paths of the beneficiaries. They also provide an opportunity to study the area of the city where the museum to be visited is located and the means of transport to get there. Then, after the visits, the journey continues in class with collective work that allows the group to bond together by drawing up small guides to the museums discovered, compiling the women’s words and sharing their view of the world. This module develops the knowledge of the Italian artistic and cultural heritage and the ability of the beneficiaries to tell and interpret it, while working in groups. “It is often assumed that women, despite their differences, should feel good together in the classroom, but this is a process that requires time, understanding and involvement,” adds Francesca.

The third module consists of multi-sensory art workshops aimed at developing the social skills of the beneficiaries through well-being, while using each person’s experience and skills. These courses are based for example on the ritual practice of henna, natural body treatments and care, work on non-verbal communication and emotions, etc.

To better understand the beneficiaries in order to better teach them

The “Mixed race” project, followed in small groups of 15 maximum, allows for an individualized approach, which is necessary given the background of the beneficiaries. Coming mainly from Nigeria, Somalia and, to a lesser extent, Eritrea, Morocco and Ivory Coast, the women hosted by the Farsi Prossimo reception centres have in fact the sad fact that, along with migration, they have lived through a traumatic experience with heavy psychological and physical consequences. “Most of these women were not able to enrol in a classical language course because their ways of learning are different from those of other students. They need to find their own pace of learning. And before that, they need to feel welcome. These women have been through difficult journeys and they deserve our full attention,” explains Francesca.

In order to best adapt to their specific needs, the Métissage project team works closely with the social workers who follow the beneficiaries in the reception centres. “It is very important to share with the referring educators for several reasons: to be able to give the women the attention they deserve, given their fragility, and above all to share our different professional perspectives. In order to be able to “teach well”, we need the point of view of the educators who live in contact with them and have a global vision of their journey”, says Francesca.

Thanks to this innovative approach and the collaboration between supervisory staff, the Métissage pilot project has so far helped more than 50 women to rebuild their lives and understand a new culture while mixing it with their own history. The results are very encouraging and will no doubt make it possible to duplicate the system to new reception structures.

Camille C.