Written by Micaela Lafratta, SB Espoir project assistant
You enter and you can feel the history that the walls whisper to you. Everything is shiny, exciting and new. All that is around, invites you to explore, to touch. You feel adventurous and ready to submerge yourself. Is not how all of us felt the first time that we visited a museum? We all have been in museums, not only once but dozens of times. When we were at school, we had the first encounter and later when studying at high school we had a better understanding of what we were observing. Even we have gone with friends. Just for the pleasure of hanging out. And every time it overwhelms us the familiarity of the buildings and the expositions that we know will tell us a new story. But what if you had never been in one?
That is the case of one group of teenagers from a Red Cross asylum-seeker accommodation centre in Uccle, Brussels. A place where not only you can find different nationalities and cultures, but also experiential backgrounds. This means, at the end that, not all have had the opportunity to do such common things like going to a museum, as we could think, until they arrived to Brussels.
In SB Espoir, a programme of SB OverSeas that provides psychosocial support to asylum-seeker minors, we had the opportunity to visit the House of European History with these youth. A place where they had the opportunity to enrich themselves about European history. For the ones that have been living in Brussels for some months now, it meant knowing more about the country and continent where they have begun to be welcomed. For the new ones, it was a new experience, in all the possible ways. For instance, in the exhibition there was a 60’s old fashioned car to show how life was in that period in Europe. As soon as the youth caught a glimpse of it, they went to it straight away to test out how it would drive it. This maybe be something expected of a much younger child, but perhaps not a teenager — definitely not a 17-year-old Belgian. But for these youth, seeing a vintage car in person is a completely new experience. What is accepted as normal here in Brussels, may not be in another place around the world. And in this situation, even the most common things can be a revealing experience. A moment of discovering and understanding of a whole different culture.
The integration in a society it is fundamental for immigrants to start feeling like home, to find their places in an unknown country where people has different costumes than the ones where they come from. To visit such places creates the opportunity to normalise even going to a museum, tick to the “I never did such a thing” list, and allows to create a first and pleasant memory of a list of new ones, that inspire not the fear and mistrust but the familiarity. So, what do we explore next?
If you want to know more about SB Espoir, visit our website and read our latest report from our observations and feedback from three years of the project.