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Spain: Project “New Trails/Nuevos Senderos”, by the CEPAIM Foundation

Conversation with Emilia Rojo, the project coordinator of New Trails/Nuevos Senderos, an initiative featured as a good practice on the European Website on Integration (EWSI).

Interview by Elena Sánchez from CIDOB Foundation – EWSI Country Coordinator for Spain.

In 2006, the CEPAIM Foundation launched a project for the integration of immigrant families in depopulated rural areas. The initiative promoted professional and social integration of immigrant families in particularly vulnerable rural areas. It provided rural municipalities with human and organizational resources for the maintenance and the development of social and economic activities potentially threatened by the process of depopulation.

Let's start with a little history: how and when did the idea of starting this project emerge? Who launched it? Why this type of project? And what needs did you see that led you to launch this project?

This project, as you know, responds to two needs that were identified and which complemented each other at a particular time. The first is the social and labour difficulties that the immigrant population in urban and macro urban environments can have. The second is caused by the depopulation of rural areas. CEPAIM had detected the first problem through its experience working with the immigrant population, meanwhile the Provincial Council of Teruel, had detected the other need: the depopulation situation, the abandonment of rural areas by the local population which often leads to the closure of schools, and in turn closing schools entails more depopulation.

It is these two organisations which started trying to articulate how to relate those two needs to each other, which each had identified from its own experience and work. That is the beginning.

Could you give us a general tour of the project operations: actors, ways of working, etc...?

Initially, the project was based on the existence of what we called reception areas or welcome areas and zones or centres of origin, which are the more populated areas. If I remember correctly at the time there were centres of origin in Almeria, Barcelona, Madrid, Murcia, Valencia and Seville. And it was here where families, family units, with particular socio-labour integration difficulties in the area where they were living, would be identified and with whom the project would work and offer moving to rural areas.
And as reception areas there were, mainly, the municipalities of the provinces of Teruel and Cadiz. Even though after it expanded to Soria in Castile and Leon, and Guadalajara in Castilla la Mancha. Currently we also work in a district of Salamanca in which there is a significant number of rural municipalities; in fact we actually have a centre in Ojosa del Duero.

Once the centres of origin and of reception had been identified we did two types of work: on the one hand families were identified in the centre of origin and on the other hand the municipalities that needed to receive immigrant families were identified and worked with, with the possibility that they might host families. Specifically with target municipalities we searched for possible jobs, the services the town had were studied and diagnosed (schools, health centres, etc.), the resources they had, the salary details, the housing possibilities. All this information about the target towns was included into what was called the "Offer" and the families had all this information available in the centres of origin. This way the family had all the information before making the first visit to the town and before making a decision, so they could imagine how life was going to be there.

And how is all this information collected? What system do you put in place to collect all this information?

There are CEPAIM centres in different regions; there is one of our teams who is working on this objective together with the municipalities. When we started there was an office from our organization in Teruel, and also when we worked with the Provincial Council of Teruel, the Council itself had a team working with us: identifying and analyzing possible Councils and the types of offers that existed. In other territories CEPAIM already had a centre that emerged from the project "Red de Centros ITHACA" (Network of Centres) for Social and Labour integration, and in which counselling and employment mediation tasks were carried out. In these centres, every day a significant number of people or families were received who were struggling to find employment, or were struggling with adjustment or integration or because they were people who came from rural environment and who were not comfortable in urban areas where they had emigrated. In these cases, CEPAIM centres offered them the option to take part in this project.

Families who agreed to participate were advised by a team of counsellors or mediators. The profiles of the counsellors who worked on this project were multidisciplinary and transversal, such as: labour mediation, cultural mediation, mediation for coexistence, family mediation, etc. Depending on each team the work done with families was orientated from different perspectives, depending on the objectives or the needs of each situation. As for the qualifications of the personnel working on this project, they are very diverse. There are personnel qualified in psychology, anthropology, sociology, education, social work and social education.

Then we worked with the families who have declared an interest begins. If there was already an existing "Offer" by the municipality it was directly connected with the family, or if not, which is the most common case, when the family showed interest in moving to a rural area, the training started within the mediation program. In this sense it was rural training: to explain where they would go, what was going to happen, what type of job or function they would perform, and so on. You have to keep in mind that jobs in rural areas are very specific, and that immigrants that move there should have acquired the necessary skills to perform their jobs adequately. Sometimes it is necessary for the family to have a car or a driver's license, so the family is assisted in achieving this, given that in some municipalities you need a car to get around, to go to the doctor or to school. Therefore this process consists in taking into account local conditions of where they are going to go and prepare the family, to ensure that the move is successful.

In short, in these actions there is a close relationship between all those involved, both at the place of origin and in the host place. And among these actions was a signed agreement between the municipality and CEPAIM which contained a protocol with all the information, commitments, and obligations of all parties.

What else did a municipality commit to apart from providing a job offer?

The municipality stated that it was interested in hosting an immigrant family in order to facilitate them with a space where they could carry out their vital project, and to carry out the social, cultural and economic development of the town. The municipality agreed to facilitate the registration of the family, access to education for underage children, access to housing, an employment contract according to the offer that would be defined, access to health and social services, and to perform mediation between the family and the neighbourhood if it was necessary.
Meanwhile CEPAIM stated that it would undertake the work of preparing the family for the move (training), accompanying them in the move and subsequently following up on the integration process in that municipality.

I wanted to ask about the issue of follow ups and support to immigrants. Could you explain a little more on what the follow up actually consists of?

When there is a formal job offer there is a first or ‘previous’ visit to the municipality by the interested family or families (it can be several visits), who had been previously trained and sensitized in the centre of origin. This visit is organized and accompanied by the mediator or the counsellor who has been working with these families. This first meeting is for the City Council, Mayor, and stakeholders (eg, in cases of caring for dependents) to meet with the family, and to establish whether or not this arrangement satisfies both parties. If so, the family returns to their home and prepares for the move. Once the move is completed, the monitoring process is carried out by CEPAIM from the centre in the host territory.

The follow up process is very comprehensive: registration, health services, education of children, housing conditions, administrative procedures, etc. While the City Council agrees to provide everything it is the guidance counsellor who accompanies the family at all times. Most of all, the counsellor seeks to facilitate relations with the neighbours, help make the entry process as easy as possible for all parties involved. Because at the end of the day we cannot forget that we are working in rural areas, where societies are usually very closed. This produces a complex phenomenon because, on the one hand, municipalities accept with pleasure the arrival of younger families with small children, who give life to the town, but on the other hand, this is something that will break their routine and monotony; the presence of other people, regardless of whether or not they are foreigners, creates change. In such closed systems the presence of a new element means that everything has to relocate, and this requires special attention to the process.

The follow up is continuous, because all sorts of things have happened. Sometimes there have been disagreements on the job offer for which the family moved, sometimes the offer is no longer there or it has had to close down, etc. On all these occasions there is the need to follow up on the immigrant family, to find another job or even to relocate to another municipality. This follow up process of the family used to last for two years, now it is minimum one year and a half in person, and on the phone it is usually up to two years. However with families with which there is a relationship that goes beyond professional barriers, these two years are actually much longer through informal contact.

To date with how many immigrants have you worked, do you have any data?

We do not have total numbers to date, but from 2002 to 2011 the project has served a total of 1366 households, which are 1643 adults and 1293 children, although not all of these families have moved. It means that these are families which have been surveyed, that have been interviewed and have participated in some activity but may have decided not to leave. And the project information has been spread to 1583 Spanish municipalities, and there have been signed agreements with 155 municipalities.

And in all these (155) municipalities families have moved?

No family has gone to a town where there was no signed agreement, but in some municipalities with which the agreement has been signed there are no families who have moved there. And there are also municipalities with more than one family.

How are locations added to the project? How does diffusion work?

In the beginning when we were working with the Municipal Councils it was these administration that proposed municipalities. But now, either it is the municipalities themselves that address CEPAIM directly or else it is done through the dissemination work included within the project.

Could you give some examples of jobs that are available?

One of the most sought after jobs is "City janitor", which is the person in charge of maintaining internal and external public spaces. Almost all rural municipalities individually or in a joint manner among several towns have this figure, so this offer used to be very common. Another frequent job offer is to manage the local pub or community centre, which in rural municipalities is the same thing: it is the place where you watch TV, you do the meals, games are played, etc. This offer was very interesting for immigrant families as it allowed the whole family to be together, and it was the most social offer and which gave most flexibility.

There have been job offers in ham curing, which is one of the most industrial tasks. Jobs related to grazing cattle has been another frequent offer, which is sometimes covered as paid employment and at other times as entrepreneurship. There have been grazing cases where the immigrant family has become the owners of the cattle and the municipality has lent them land; making it also possible to maintain communal grazing.
Another interesting experience is that of an immigrant woman who by herself opened a hairdressing business in the village and the municipality offered her a free place to carry out her job. But without enough customers in that municipality, they agreed among different neighbourhood municipalities to lend her different work spaces in each town. Finally, this woman created an itinerant hairdresser business moving between several small municipalities with her own car.

There has also been work related to the care of the forests, cleaning or collecting wood, but these have been less common offers as it is usually large companies that carry out such jobs. In these cases, municipalities have tried to mediate so that these large companies hire these migrant families.

The truth is that these work experiences in rural municipalities are not only productive activities, they are services. Each of these immigrants is providing a community service to many people who otherwise would not have this possibility.

Could you speak briefly of the accommodation in the towns. Do families have to pay a portion?

Yes, it is a fundamental principle that they pay rent, that families have the commitment to pay the house rent. On some occasions, and, depending on the conditions of the family, the project has given financial support, but it has always been a priority that families pay some rent, so that they achieve a degree of autonomy and responsibility. The project has always been very clear that if we talk about integration, it is essential to work on autonomy; the support, guidance and follow up are basic to this project, however only until necessary and always working on the principle of autonomy. Nevertheless, we have always tried to assure that rental prices be low.

Who provided this type of accommodation, the council or individuals?

Normally the council intervened, but the property could be private. When the "Offer" was made it included if there was housing available, the conditions attached, and the price. In cases where no specific housing was included in the "Offer", information on the homes available for rent in the town would be given.

I would like to know what works and what does not work within the municipalities? What municipality characteristics are you searching for to make the project operate well and the families settle for the long-term?

There is for example a necessary condition that municipalities are not smaller than 100 inhabitants. It is a flexible condition, but if it is less than 100 people immigrant families may be disappointed, especially if they do not come from rural areas originally. Having more than 100 inhabitants ensures that there are some kind of services. Also it is best that the town is near a county road to facilitate access to services and resources (health, education, shops, etc.). Although it may seem unimportant, these issues can make the integration process more difficult and become an inconvenience that gets worse over time. Another issue that is favourable is that the municipalities have had a similar experience in the past, i.e. that there was a previous incorporation of new neighbours, whether they were immigrants or not. This implies that there is a habit of accepting other people to live with as new neighbours.

Why does it work in some towns and not in others? The answer is not easy but the figure of the leader who is interested in the project is important. If one of the people involved in the project (the mayor, for example) is a person who is anchored in society and in the community, and is in favour of change and innovation, this increases the likelihood of success. If you have the complicity of some neighbours it is more likely that things are easier.

I wanted to ask about the issue of rejection. When immigrants come to the municipalities have you detected rejection / discrimination from the locals?

From CEPAIM we have no knowledge that this has occurred; no major conflicts have arisen. There have always been some origins or gender preferences but the project does not allow these certain profile preferences; neither by mayors or municipalities, or by families within the selection process. Obviously everyone can chose and give their opinion, but decisions have more to do with the objectives of the project (for example, if a municipality needed 4 children because its school would close otherwise) than with individual motives. We have not allowed preferences for Muslims or Catholics, or for Africans or Ecuadorians.

There is also a task that is included in the project which is awareness raising, and it can be individually or in a group. And although sometimes it wasn’t formal, we have always tried to do dialogue, encounter, and awareness tasks. The goal has always been to think that a family can meet the needs of the municipality regardless of the person's religion. The aim is to take into account the needs of everyone: that the school doesn’t close, that older people are not so alone, that the social bar keeps open, a job offer. The project seeks to benefit all, and therefore we must come to a coexistence pact. There are other times and other spaces that do not recognize this reality but here there is an understanding that it is convenient.

Let’s talk of integration by both immigrants and host communities. How is it and what are the main problems?

The integration problems that are occurring do not come from the relationship between the native population and immigrants or their nationality or ethnicity differences. Rather, the main difficulties are faced by the families who come to the municipalities and are unable to adapt, especially when municipalities are not what they imagined. During the follow ups many immigrants claimed that "the first winter was very hard, it was very quiet" and that has had to be overcome. The major difficulty comes from here. Most dropouts that have happened in the project have had more to do with the inability to withstand the winter (cold, loneliness, etc.) than other types of mismatches. The rest of the problems originate from mistrust (Muslims working in drying of hams) but through knowledge and education these can be eliminated.

As you say, the towns have a need and that need is met when a family arrives, making it much easier for the community to adapt to the new family, than for the family unit to adapt to the new community.

Individually they may have their own expectations and at some point they might see that these are not met, and furthermore that they will not be met in the future, and at that point they will not want to continue with the project, which is also reasonable. But in those cases you have to consider if something has been done wrongly in the process, if the information or training was not sufficient and see where the mistakes were made. You cannot always identify what will be the experiences, especially when personal issues occur (divorce, family problems, etc.).

From what you say training is basic, without that support and follow ups, without that previous work during and after, the project would not have been a success…

The work with the family before, during and after is very important. Because the municipalities who are part of this project do so because they have a need, and will therefore accept change, as they understand it as beneficial. You therefore have to work with the family units, you have to identify to what extent the desire to move is shared by all members of the family. Some projects have failed before starting because they were supported by only one part of the family unit, not the entire set. For families this is a change of their life project.

With what type of foreigner do you work?

We only work with regular immigrant population, from outside the EU, because that's what funders require us to consider as priority communities. This limits and hinders the project in the present context. As there is a growing naturalised foreigner population, which while not facing any more legal barriers they still face certain difficulties or barriers in finding employment.

Do you have some information on the profiles of foreigners?

We do not have specific data but it corresponds quite similarly to the situation of settled immigrants in Spain: most are from Latin America and North Africa. Most are families with children. Since last year we have begun to expand the concept of family: single parents, or individuals. In short, we have adjusted our concept of family unit we had been using since the beginning of the project.

So what works and what does not ... You noticed that there are families that work better than others, or people with a particular profile?

Yes, the project works if it is a complete family unit, otherwise it does not usually work. It works well with people who originally come from a rural area and who are entrepreneurs. With an entrepreneurial attitude, not necessarily because they are going to start a business, but because they have an attitude of availability, they are responsive to change, and resistant to uncertainty.

An interesting example is a man who took over the social bar along with his family. It was this man’s entrepreneurship capacity which led to the bar having over 25 cars parked outside its doors every Friday and Saturday night. The man, along with his family, began serving burgers for young people, and this attracted young people from all the nearby towns. Such actions have much resistance in the countryside, there is much fear of change, however there are initiatives that work, that give an added value, which give a service to the community so that meeting spaces are generated.

I wanted to ask you about assessment ... Do you have concrete assessments activities?

In 2004, an evaluation research task was undertaken, which reflected an assessment and also served as a methodological guide for action. Also there have been final and intermediate evaluations conducted according to the demands of the funders. These assessments are useful for us, on the one hand to justify the activity, and secondly, to monitor how the project is going and see where we have to make changes.

In the last few years what results have you obtained in the project?

The current situation in Spain is really conditioning the project. The rural municipalities do not have economic resources due to government budget cuts. This means that, for example, some jobs (for instance town janitor) are not offered anymore, or only for a short time period or as a part-time job. A family cannot move for such a job offer. Municipalities continue to ask for families because they still face difficulties because of population loss, closing schools, aging of the population, lack of resources, etc. but they do not have paid jobs to offer anymore.

Moreover families we work with are also going through some very complex and complicated situations both financially or psychologically. The willingness and ability to undertake an entrepreneurial position, of which we have spoken, has been reduced. There is no clear personal predisposition, families have lost their ability to take initiative and start something new.

During 2013 we continued informing interested families and doing the work of family selection to cover the few offers that were available. We are currently working on identifying new employment opportunities for families. While there is no paid employment, the rural environment does have many resources. We are trying to identify opportunities for self-employment, or find resources available that can make life easier for people according to their personal situations. In this sense we are starting to work a lot with the entrepreneur profiles within the families, we guide and support them in this regard.

Do you think that all these capacities for self-employment are more viable in rural environments rather than in the urban world, for instance through farming or grazing?

Within a context of self-sufficiency, not to create big companies, everything will have to be micro. For example, currently we have an offer from a municipality which offers two free housing opportunities, and this makes us rethink our principles, we are looking for ways to take advantage of this opportunity for a family. One possibility is to find a family that has social benefits for the next six months, or has some money saved up. This could be combined with small activities: facilitate land for a vegetable garden, or temporary employment contracts, etc. Everything is more unstable, there is more uncertainty, but we need to consider all possibilities. We have to re-diagnose the territories.

In this sense, we also have to rethink the centres of origin and destination. The target centres will always be rural, but we are working with the urban-rural geographic mobility. There is no longer a destination and a fixed origin, now we must consider that there is geographical mobility. Within the rural environments there can also be change or transfers, depending on where we can identify opportunities.

The crisis has brought, in short, a change in the offers, and it is not just in the sort of employment opportunities, but also on the availability of houses, of commitments, etc. We have to understand that in this current situation there are no job offers, there are opportunities, and we have to know how to diagnose them.

If any organization would like to replicate this project, what advice would you give them before it started?

It has to be clear that this is a vital project for the person making the move; it is their life plan, a life choice, and not just a job. If the family does not see it this way, it is better to direct them to another project, to another career path. On the other hand, municipalities should also be clear that the people who move there are not there to meet all the community’s needs, the community cannot expect the family to be the solution to all of their problems. There has to be always an exchange agreement and an adjustment between supply and demand/need.

For this adjustment of expectations the figure of mediator is central. The mediator helps both sides to fit to the needs of each of the parties. The process of accompanying, mediation, awareness rising, and promotion of communication are all essential for success

How is the project sustained right now?

Currently, since 2012, it is funded in two parts, firstly it is subsidized by the Migration Board, the MEYSS (Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs), co-funded by the European Social Fund within the operational program of fighting against discrimination. And moreover it receives funding from the Ministry of Health and Social Services. The funding received is from public annual announcements so every year we have to present the project and its history.

Is there something else you would like to add?

Something that we have already touched upon and that is caused by the context is the problem with profiles of families that our funders require. The funding requires us to only work with non-EU immigrants, which makes it impossible for us to work with nationals (either native or foreign born). The possibility of working with nationals would give a new profile to the project as it would allow us to work with immigrants and local population at the same time; we could work on integration and coexistence in both directions, as the EU recommendations mark. Also this would avoid creating the perverse effect of "to the immigrants you say yes, but to me (native) you say no”.

Yes, in fact that is one of the questions we wanted to ask you, if whether with the crisis you are receiving requests from local population?

There are contacts, there are native people calling us, but we cannot help them in the framework of this project. In these cases we provide information: we give them the contact of provincial councils, but we cannot give them support or training. Currently 40% of the people who are coming to our centres are Spanish nationals who encounter the same problems and difficulties as foreigners.

As I was telling you there are no jobs but there are new opportunities that make us rethink the way we work, and which require another approach to the project. For example, there are municipalities that offer the lease of public/municipal resources, through tenders. There are municipalities that are offering to lease, for example, a municipal rural house with a rent of 1000€ per year, or a mill. Another council, which had no resources, leased a biodiversity interpretation centre, a lodge with 12 beds, a classroom-workshop and a greenhouse-workshop; these can have a productive use. In these cases CEPAIM through Nuevos Senderos, is looking at how to fit all this equipment with a family that has an entrepreneurial profile and is educated or trained.

The current situation is causing us to rethink not only the project Nuevos Senderos, but also CEPAIM’s way of working.


Source: EWSI Editorial Team