Interview with Ms. Maja Radinovič Hajdič
MSc, Director of the Adult Education Centre Jesenice.
“Provision of comprehensive support enhances the feeling of migrants that they will be able to integrate into the local environment.”
Ms. Maja Radinovič Hajdi
Adult Education Centre Jesenice.
The Adult Education Centre Jesenice operates in a multicultural environment. In an interview with IOM Slovenia, the Centre’s Director, Ms. Maja Radinovič Hajdič, MSc, outlines the institution’s efforts to provide support to migrants and to strengthen an inclusive environment.
The Includ-EU project focuses on the challenges related to the integration of migrants at the local level and on opportunities to strengthen an inclusive intercultural society. The Adult Education Centre Jesenice, which you head, has extensive experience in this field. Could you please outline the characteristics of the environment in which you operate – Jesenice?
Apart from Velenje, Jesenice is the most typical Slovenian environment with a large share of migrant population, most of whom move to Jesenice for work. This originates from the former state: as we have recorded in our institution, after the Second World War, many workers from Bosnia and Herzegovina were recruited and employed by the then Jesenice ironworks. Firstly, workers moved to Jesenice and lived in separate housing (so-called single homes), and their families joined them at a later stage.
Jesenice is an intercultural city, and we are proud of that. An estimated half of the Jesenice population has a foreign background, although the majority are Slovenian nationals. With the immigration from Kosovo, the local community and its institutions encountered a language they did not understand, and migrants faced exclusion due to the language barrier.
To overcome this situation, the social work centre employed a linguistic and cultural mediator through the public works scheme (on-job training funded through public funds) a few years ago. Since we are a centre which supports migrants’ participation in educational and integration support activities, the municipality decided to provide funds for the employment of the linguistic and cultural mediator in our institution upon conclusion of the public works programme. An informal network has been established of institutions and organizations in need of the assistance of a linguistic and cultural mediator in working with migrants. The network includes primary and secondary schools, the community health centre, a local hospital, the social work centre, the administrative unit and a pharmacy. The linguistic and cultural mediator is present in these institutions according to her weekly schedule, and of course she also responds to emergency requests. The institutions adjusted their activities with migrants according to the presence of the linguistic and cultural mediator.
Thus, we have been a multicultural centre for several years now. Other institutions refer the migrant to us, and upon a counselling session we direct him or her and provide assistance. We offer free learning assistance for migrant children. The number of our projects supporting the inclusion of migrants is increasing.
We have been implementing a project for the social activation of migrant women for three years now. It is an 8-month program attended by five groups of migrant women. We have been seeing really good results; the participants are successful in finding employment. Within the framework of the program, we provide assistance and guidance about challenges the participants face in various areas – education, health protection, social protection, employment. I think this is our key success: as an organization we are geared towards providing comprehensive support, which also enhances the feeling of migrants that they will be able to integrate into the local environment.
The Adult Education Centre Jesenice implements several programs that enrol migrants, enable them to acquire new skills and support them in integrating into society. You have already mentioned the provision of linguistic and cultural mediation and coordination of the latter among various institutions, the provision of learning assistance to migrant children, social activation for women. Please outline your core activities in this field.
Migrants represent a significant share of our beneficiaries. Within the multigenerational centre, we organize various activities for migrants, which are intended to support their integration and take place in various locations for the migrants to get to know the environment in which they live. We run a primary school program for adults, which is attended also by young migrants who, due to their lacking or limited Slovene language skills, have not been able to complete the regular primary school program by the age of 15.
To strengthen the inclusive environment, we organize various activities with migrants showcasing their knowledge and skills, e.g., culinary workshops, migrant women reading fairy tales in their mother tongue in kindergarten.
Migrants are offered a 180-hour language course “Initial Integration of Migrants”, but the scope does not suffice. Therefore, we engage volunteers who work individually with migrants (provide learning assistance, accompany them in arranging various tasks, spend free time with them), so that migrants not only strengthen their language skills, but also weave their own social network.
Utilizing an individual and tailor-made approach, we respond to and adapt to the needs of each migrant. We often draw inspiration from good practices from abroad, transfer and adapt them to the local environment.
How do you include the promotion of multiculturalism in your activities and work – not only in activities with migrants as the target group, but also in other programs, as well as in the organizational culture?
Jesenice truly is a multicultural city, we live and breathe multiculturalism and we are not used to the negative attitude and hate speech against immigration. By providing linguistic and cultural mediation for migrants we develop good practices and strengthen opportunities, which is important also for the local economy due to the labour shortages, and in general significantly contributes to improving the lives not only of migrants, but of the whole community.
You include migrants in your work and activities, and you are also strongly entrenched in the local environment. Which integration challenges do you perceive?
The biggest challenge is the motivation of migrants. About 10% migrants in Jesenice enrol in our programs. If a migrant participates in a program that does not achieve the expected or desired effect, it is very difficult to motivate him or her for further activities. By working with migrant communities, we strive to improve the interest and motivation of migrants to join the programs.
On the other hand, of course, the challenge is that very little funding is available for support programs, and we would also need much more flexibility in implementing the programs. The 180-hour language program “Initial Integration of Migrants” is not sufficient. We are verified for implementation of this program and are currently implementing it for the Employment Service, which offers participation in the program to registered migrant job seekers.
Lasting changes require new solutions, new approaches. Systemic challenges in integration, characteristic not only for Slovenia, but also for the wider region – for example language barriers, housing issues, recognition of previously acquired qualifications – require a systemic response. But sometimes even small-scale solutions can contribute to a significant difference – could you give a such example contributing to strengthening the supportive local environment?
There are many examples. Within the PlurAlps project, we developed a manual/guide “Jesenice, my new home” with information on public institutions and various programs for migrants. The manual was translated into various languages spoken by migrants in Jesenice. We have also developed a manual on basic communication in medical treatment in four languages. We implemented many projects in schools and kindergartens.
We like to present good practices in the media, as this showcases that we can coexist. Perhaps the acceptance of migrants is not even a problem of the people, but of the political rhetoric.
You run an adult education institution; we learn throughout our life. We can conclude with your thoughts on the role of lifelong learning in migrants’ inclusion and enhancing a multicultural inclusive society.
Learning covers the full spectrum of migrant inclusion and working with the local community. We should be learning all the time, as new knowledge opens our eyes. If we get the impression from the media that migrants are a threat, if we hear the negative rhetoric of politicians, we should learn about other cultures, what they bring and how they enrich our environment. I have been an adult educator all my life, and I believe that learning is the most important thing in the world – knowledge is the only thing that no one can take away from us.
Thank you very much, we wish you a lot of success with your work.
Do you want to share your project with our community and stakeholders?