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"Cultural Hug" - Language and Cultural School of Refugees

Refugees have their own set of cultural traits such as gastronomy, idiom and dance. In their new home they can get paid to teach the locals.

Photo of Andre Cervi
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The objective of the idea is to enhance opportunities for income generation and entrepreneurship to refugees through teaching languages and cultural experiences to locals (in the case, brazilians). The students will pay the courses and, beyond language learning, will also break cultural barriers, living culinary, dance and festive traditions workshops with the refugees. The project rescues the best particularities of each refugee and their culture. In urban centers, such as São Paulo, there are many people interested in learning different cultures with foreigners. The project can be also implemented in other urban centers, where refugees usually have marginalized jobs (underemployment). Atados, a non-profit focused on mobilizing volunteers to social causes, is organizing the first school of refugees. This way, the course and the refugees can be self sustainable. Also, the school will teach for free technical skills (such as gastronomy) to them, so that they can be employed or start their own business. The first step is to learn the local language. We work in partnership with Adus and BibliASPA, two non profits focused on teaching portuguese to refugees in São Paulo.


Refugees will benefit mainly through income generation. The refugess will have the oportunity to offer paid courses (with their language and cultural habilities ) to local students. Also, part of the money will be invested to teach for free technical skills to refugees, so that they can either teach at the school, be employed in other places or start a business (e.g. particular french lessons).


We are already testing the idea. On the 19th May, we launched "Abraço Cultural" (projetct name), which stands for "Cultural Hug". On July, refugees will give classes in 4 idioms (French, English, Spanish and Arabic) with at least 4 different refugees from 3 nationalities (Colombia, Syria and Congo). In only 10 days, there are 60 interested students (we are already thinking on expanding the pilot). To keep costs low, we are counting with volunteers and partnerships: 1. Educational volunteers: for each teacher, there is group of 3 to 4 volunteers focused on helping them on pedagogical skills and materials. 2. Comunication volunteers: the whole visual identity, video and art pieces (such as folders, facebook posts, etc.) is beeing done by volunteers 3. Place Partner: BiliASPA (non profit) is giving their rooms to the project for free. Many NGOs have available classrooms to give. Atados expertise on volunteering and partnership can be passed to other cities, to scale the project.


Many brazilian non profits and group collectives that work with refugees (Adus, BibliASPA, Cáritas, among others) are enchanted with the idea, because the school of refugees can bring income to refugees and to be self sustaintable financially, which is a big challenge to organizations that work with refugees. We have already partnered with two of them: Adus and BibliASPA. One feedback given by them is to create free technical courses to refugees, so that we can benefit refugees that don´t already have the right set of skills to get a job or to start a business. Their idea has already been accepted and we plan to offer free courses now. When we launced the facebook page (, 10 days ago, many people and media contacted us to spread the idea.

SKILL SHARE (optional)

Atados expertise can be divided in three parts: 1. Volunteer mobilizing and managing 2. Creating partnerships 3. Project Planning and Implementation


I´m co-founder of Atados, an online platform that connects volunteers to social causes. For the past 3 years, I´ve been working with social causes and implementing social projects. In Atados, I´m the responsible for New Projects. More important than that, there are many volunteers engaged in the i.


  • Yes, I have implementation capacity and am interested in and able to make this idea real in my community.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Shane Zhao

Thanks for sharing Cultural Hug Andre! It's exciting to hear that your team has recently launched a pilot of this idea. Can you share with a bit more about the structure of this program? e.g. what's the duration of the classes taught be refugees, is there a training program to on-board refugees as teachers, and are you collaborating with any other partners besides BiliASPA? Also, it'd be helpful learn about key assumptions about this iniative that you'd like to test out during the pilot phase.

Photo of Andre Cervi

Hi Shane,

About the pilot, the courses will have 35 hours on July and will be taken at night - it´s an intensive course. The courses will have traditional classes and also cultural classes. For example, we will have practical arabic culinary classes, learning how to make traditional dishes and also learning about food and kitchen ortography.

For each refugee, there´s a group of volunteers helping them since middle march. The volunteers will also participate as monitors in classes, to help the teachers if they have any doubts.

The whole project is focused on partnerships and our idea is to unite the various organizations that work with the refugge cause. Now, we also have partnerships with Adus, L'Amour Movies, and Performaweb. We´re also trying to partner with Cáritas and with the government.

On the pilot, we want to test the following:

1. Student acceptance: are people interested on learning with refugees? How much are they wiiling pay?
2. Teachers capacity: are the refugees ready to teach? Do they have the personal skills? How much training do they need?
3. Financial viability: how many classes do you need to be financially viable - paying rents, teachers and structuture? What are the investiments we need to hold the free techical courses to refugees?
4. Scalability: can we scale the "Cultural Hug" to other cities? What are the staff, structure and financials required to that?

Thank you for your questions! =)

Photo of Caroline Schmidt

Dear Andre, I think this should be a "natural" approach to capture what each person has to give to the community - refugee or not. I like about it that the refugees come in because their "specific skill/ knowledge" is in demand - usually "they" are portrayed as "receivers" only without highlighting what they can give. My questions/ observations are: each country handles the "employability" of refugees differently (i.e. their legal status, etc) so I wonder about them earning money. Therefore the "non-monetary" part of your program (teaching them sth about the new country/ city they live in or train certain skills) seems a great solution. How do you reach out to the "refugee community"? Do you help the participating refugees to enter the local labor market and find a job? I think this is a fantastic way of social and economic integration. Good luck.

Photo of Andre Cervi

Hi Caroline, thank you for your comment.

To change the mindset of seeing the refugees not only as "receivers" is great part of the idea.

We're reaching the "refugee community" by partnering with local organizations that already work with them, usually offering free portuguese lessons. Also, in São Paulo, there´s a "shelter" provided by the government that refugees can stay for 3 months and we have contact with them

To help refugees to enter the local market, we are partnering with a social program provided by an enterprise called EMDOC. Their social program focus on breaking the barriers of local enterprises to hire refugees. The partnership is not stablished, but I hope we have good news on the next weeks.


Photo of Daniel Assunção

Im part of the team as a volunteer and Im very glad to be part of the project! We have a great team of volunteers and future teachers engaged in the cause!
Hope we can have benefits from IDEO as well as all the partners we have been arranged during the process

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Andre Cervi

Thank you! We're very excited with the initiative and the pilot!

Photo of Emerimana Daniel Christian

Hi Andrew,
I think that this idea is of great value in the life of a refugee. It is one of the possible way through which a refugee can be empowered to be the change he/she wants to be. I liked the idea that refugees will have the opportunity to offer paid courses, and as was reading this; I asked myself a lot of questions. Some of which I thought how possible it is. Do you think that local students will be interested in learning new languages? Will their interest in learning a new language lead them to the willingness to pay for those courses?

Photo of Andre Cervi

Hi Daniel,

I´m glad you liked the project.

We are starting a pilot and there are more than 60 interested students. The course also offer some differentials to students: they will not only learn language, but will also learn culture and will have specific workshops on dance, gastronomy.

If we are able to create great courses/experiencies and also to spread the word through communication, I believe this idea can be implemented not only in São Paulo, but also in other cities.

The refugees issue is on the agenda of the media, so they can also help to discolose the project.