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Community Centre for Refugees in Sjenica

A dedicated space for integrating refugees in the local community, as well as providing cross-cultural and skills-building workshops.

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

According to the latest UNHCR report, there is a lack of ‘community support’, ‘activities’, ‘language classes,’ and ‘psychosocial support’. Our facility, therefore, would seek to bring local and refugee populations closer, which is proven to be key to facilitating the integration of refugees into society, shattering misconceptions and prejudices and securing better community relations. To strengthen this, we would employ locally-¬based staff, who would be able to better foster cross-cultural ties, and bridge the gap between both populations’ cultures. Further to this, as modelled in ‘The Workshop’ in Belgrade city centre, our facility would provide a host of recreational activities to entertain them. Again, building on our experience of ‘The Workshop,’ we would look to develop the curriculum already in place for English language and Serbian classes, the latter enhancing the possibility of integration. In the short-term, we hope that the community centre will mitigate some mental health issues that pervade among the migrant population, stemming from the idleness that exists within a camp setting. Offering, simply put, any activities, allows refugees to engage in some coping strategies, benefitting their mental wellbeing. Similarly, as we look to partner with other organisations, we will be able to provide professional support and care, tailored specifically to the refugee population In the long-term, we will see an increase in the skillset of the refugee population, in language knowledge and in directly transferrable skills, which will come from the classes and workshops provided. This will allow the refugees to have better access to the labour-market, especially if they have been granted asylum, as well as an enhanced ability to integrate into society, being able to better communicate with the local population. In addition, this will be furthered by bringing people from both communities together in the centre for our cross-cultural events.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Beneficiaries will mainly be males and females of all ages who reside in the two refugee camps in Sjenica, as well as members of the local community, who we will aim to work with to promote integration between the two communities. Certain programmes within the project will be tailored towards women, men, and children specifically, depending on their needs.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our community centre will be the first of its kind in Serbia, focusing on integrating the refugee population within the local community. Our existing facility, 'The Workshop', offers informal education, as do a number of other NGOs' facilities in Belgrade. Otherwise, there are a number of emergency shelters and centres offering legal advice. However, there remains a lack of opportunities for refugees to integrate into local society, with this aspect of their lives neglected by the NGO community, as well as the government, which has decided to house the refugees in camps that are usually a fair distance from economic centres. In Sjenica, however, the camps are near the town centre and it is also home to a muslim-majority population, and both factors could facilitate better integration. Also, despite being in the town centre, there is a significant lack of NGO activity in the town, due to its rural location. We would, therefore, play an important role in providing essential services.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Working with the refugee community in Serbia, providing emergency aid and having now developed to providing more long-term sustainable support to the population, we look to target our assistance where it is most needed. In co-ordination with UNHCR and the Serbian government's Commissariat for Refugees, we noted the lack of support for refugees in Sjenica. Likewise, after 2 years on the field, and noting the long stays of refugees in Serbia (2+ years) we feel the need to support their integration

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

By bringing together the local community and refugee population together through various activities and in sharing the same space, we will foster peace through mutual understanding and shared experiences. Sjenica is a rural, impoverished town in Serbia, and tensions can be exacerbated, there. However, with the religious make-up of the area and the predominant religion among the refugees being Islam, we believe that we will be able to engage with community leaders to support a development from co-existence to integration. Prosperity, as the second aspect of our centre, would come about through the range of workshops and classes that we would offer to the refugees. Investing in human capital and delivering access to skill-building will have a valuable revenue in the future for both refugees and receiving countries. With the support of professional volunteers who specialise in different areas and through the use of laptops, refugees will be able to attend courses on technical subjects.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We have already had preliminary discussions with some psychological support organisations to assist our work in the centre. We have proposed a room, free of charge, during the week for a trained psychologist to come and host sessions for the refugee population. As in Belgrade, we will look to work with local schools that migrant children attend, so as to tailor our extra-­curricular support to the curriculum, based on each student’s biggest needs. We will also encourage cooperation with potential partners and donors such as religious groups, local universities, companies and other organisations who will be able to support us in providing skills-building classes, as well as better facilitating integration.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

As mentioned above, Sjenica's majority religion is Islam, so we would hope to see an interest across the community in showing solidarity with the refugees and enabling their integration into society. Likewise, Sjenica is a rural community with high unemployment, which would see us able to recruit staff and volunteers relatively easily from the local community.

Geographic Focus

South-Eastern Europe, Serbia, Southern Serbia.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

Due to the ever-evolving nature of the refugee crisis in Serbia, with the numbers of asylum seekers entering and exiting the country fluctuating on a daily basis, this project will have an initial time-frame of 6 months. This will enable us to establish the centre, provide sufficient support for the migrant and local community, and then assess the impact the centre has had, before seeing whether it is appropriate to extend the project further.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Rhys what's your organizations name and do you have a website or facebook page by chance? Also you said you've done some prototyping can you share some details how many have you run a pilot, if so with how many people and what did you learn? Or if you haven't run a pilot yet, have you interviewed potential people who would come to your center, what did you learn that informed your current model about their needs?

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