Faro gets refugees involved in cultural heritage


A new project launched by the Faro heritage agency seeks to give people in vulnerable situations an active role as creators and agents of culture


Faro, which means “lighthouse” in several languages, is indeed providing a guiding light to vulnerable groups of people who participate in its new project. The Flemish government’s agency for the support of local heritage is funding cultural initiatives in 12 organisations that work with vulnerable groups.

With financial support from the Leuven-based co-operative Cera, Faro is inviting migrants, the poor and youth from disadvantaged areas to express themselves and, in that way, become more integrated in society.

The selected organisations have been asked to work in co-operation with a cultural organisation and propose projects that engage participants in an artistic activity. The projects will be presented as part of the 16th edition of Erfgoeddag (Heritage Day) in April, which will be focused around the theme of rituals.

Faro aims to offer participants in the cultural project an active role so that, rather than remain passive visitors, they become the inventors, designers and promoters of a project. Art knows no boundaries and in fact challenges them, so it is an ideal means of creating a bridge between different social groups, according to the organisation.

The Limburgs Platform voor Vluchtelingen (Limburg Platform for Refugees) is one of the organisations that secured funding, and it collaborated with the non-profit Vluchtelingen Vlaanderen (Flemish Refugee Action) for their Coffugee initiative, a mash-up of “coffee” and “refugee”.

Friendly chats

Coffugee sees refugees welcoming visitors to museums and exhibitions with a cup of coffee, using this simple, hospitable gesture in a public setting to stimulate informal dialogue. Refugees will receive training in storytelling skills so they can share their unique experiences with their new communities.

“The funds we received have given us the opportunity to work on a more inclusive society,” explains Karen Wyckmans from Flemish Refugee Action. “The refugees have fascinating stories, which can change our way of thinking about them. We believe that interaction and encounters with the local community are important. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to start a conversation with Flemish people, who in turn experience many barriers themselves, not always daring or finding the opportunity to form relationships with refugees.”

Everyone has the right to take part in and contribute to culture

- Tine Vandezande

Apart from being a great way of breaking the ice between different communities, such initiatives allow disadvantaged people to gain self-worth in often trying situations. “The development of positive self-esteem is crucial,” says Wyckmans, pointing out that poverty often results in a lack of cultural participation.

“Asylum-seekers and refugees encounter many obstacles to attending a cultural activity,” she continues. “With this project, we want to provide them with access to culture, and we believe that the enthusiasm they generate will encourage their family and social network to attend cultural events as well.”

Another of the selected organisations is The Music Club, a Turkish music and folklore association in Beringen, Limburg. The club collaborated with the Unie van Turkse Verenigingen (Union of Turkish Organisations) on From Cradle to Death: Turkish Musical Rituals.

Universal language

In this show, musically talented youngsters from migrant neighbourhoods in Limburg towns will sing, dance and play traditional instruments – such as the baglama stringed instrument – and depict Turkish rituals at different stages of life.

“This gives these youngsters more opportunities to develop their talents and provides a positive platform for their Turkish identity,” says Kahraman Yücel of the Music Club, “but it also gets them to venture outside of their own community and the area they are familiar with.”

The Faro project certainly implies a social and perhaps more modern role for art and culture as a means of starting a dialogue and creating links through a universal language. “Everyone has the right to take part in and contribute to culture,” says Tine Vandezand, Heritage Day co-ordinator at Faro. 

Atheneum gemeenschapsonderwijs Anderlecht (Community Education Atheneum Anderlecht) is another of the 12 organisations that received funding, and it will be making a film with young people in Brussels.

“The context in Brussels, for example, is extremely interesting, as the classes are such a mix of students coming from different cultures and backgrounds,” says Vandezande. “The film will bring together all their rituals, and they will learn about each other and their different cultures. It is a means of creating understanding.”

Photo: a recent Heritage Day info session at the Yunus Emre mosque in Genk, Limburg

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