[LT] Cozy Corners with Migrant Women: Creating Relationships for a Sustainable Integration Process

Cozy corners with migrant women to establish relationship and to prepare for the sustainable integration activities were organised by the Diversity Development Group in the period of July-September 2023. This article outlines the experience to organise the meetings with migrant women and shares the lessons learnt for the future.

The first step to arrange the Cozy corners was to gather professional and experienced cultural and linguistic mediators. In total, five mediators, including two migrant women, agreed to join the project. An introduction workshop was organised for mediators in June 2023 to make sure that they understand the goals of the project activities and their roles working with migrant women.

In total, 13 Cozy corners were organised during the aforementioned period. The meetings with migrant women took place in Vilnius city (public spaces and Naujininkai refugee camp) and Refugee Reception Centre in Rukla (Jonava district). The decision to organise Cozy Corners in the refugees reception centre and refugee camp was made trying to reach migrant women who are in more vulnerable position and are not yet included in the society.

The aim of the meetings was to introduce the activities of PITCH project to potential participants of the training and to invite them to participate in the foreseen activities of the project. In addition, invited women talked about their needs and challenges of integration, and expressed their expectations for the upcoming training to facilitate their inclusion into the society.

In total, 39 women agreed to join the project and to get engaged into the training. Women come from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cameroon, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine. Their age varies from 19 to 71 years old. Even though women are very diverse in terms of their cultural background, language, education, work and life experience, all of them are keen to learn the Lithuanian language and to feel more engages in the Lithuanian society.

The mediators expressed that women who participated in the meetings were especially interested into learning the Lithuanian language or develop the language skills they already have. They believe that knowing the language would be helpful to spread their network and to have better relationship with the locals. Besides, migrant women are keen to understand better the local culture, customs and the way of living.

During the meetings, it was visible how participants were supportive of each other, thus, it helped to feel safe and be more open, especially for women who are in a more vulnerable position. Furthermore, an informal atmosphere with tea and treats helped them feel more relaxed. Consequently, women were waiting for the next meetings and expressed their willingness to continue their participation in the upcoming training activities. This confirms the relevance of the project and the methods that were used to reach migrant women and to establish the contact with them.

To establish the first contact and to encourage their participation in the personalised training activities was one of the biggest challenges the mediators faced. First of all, some women were afraid to talk with people they did not know. This was especially visible when contacting women who live in institutions.

However, with the help of social workers the contact was established and some women later agreed to join the training. Secondly, some women expressed that they have only emergency needs and wouldn’t see the possibility to wait to participate in the longer-term activities. Thirdly, the project cannot ensure the accessibility to the training for some groups of people, such as people with disabilities or with very limited mobility; people who have to take care about their disabled relatives 24/7. This quite limits the target group and does not reach women who are in very vulnerable position and who are in need for integration support.

Subsequently, training activities of up to 161 hours for a group of 39 participants will be carried out in the period of October 2023 – February 2024. It is expected the training course will benefit at least 30 migrant women. The training course encompasses of three types of activities – upskilling, awareness/orientation and social activities. It is expected that during these six months women will develop the skills that are relevant both for integration into the labour market, and to feel more engaged with the Lithuanian society. The activities will take place in refugees reception centres and refugee camps, the municipality and private spaces.

Some activities will be provided for women personally based on their capacities and needs, while other activities will be organised in groups. It is expected that some activities can be organised and led by women themselves to empower them and to increase their self-confidence. To promote migrant women’s networks it is planned to invite other migrant and Lithuanian women into the upcoming activities.

During the Cozy Corners, women also expressed the importance of childcare to facilitated their willingness to join the training activities. This will be provided for all participants who need it as it is expected that this also decreases the possibility of withdrawing from the activities.

It is expected that lessons learnt from these pilot training activities will help to develop more sustainable programs for migrant women integration in the future.

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