Global events such as war and economic crisis have led to an unprecedented surge of migration to the Mediterranean. This study abroad program applied a cross-disciplinary approach and a socio-ecological framework to examine factors that impact the health and human rights of migrant and marginalized communities in Alghero, Sardinia. Course topics drew from disciplines such as: public health, anthropology, architecture, urban affairs, public policy, history, art and social work. Students and collaborators examined varied perspectives and policies pertaining to migration that impact social action and community health.
Our program was centered in Alghero, a city on the northwest shore of the beautiful Mediterranean island of Sardinia, (a global Blue Zone), which is off the coast of Italy. There we worked with and learned from Roma, refugee and migrant communities struggling to achieve equality on the margins of Italian society. While the city of Alghero is held as a positive example for Italy and the region for migrant inclusion policies, non-majority groups, such as Roma people, refugees, and migrants, still remain on the periphery throughout Europe.
In our ongoing discovery, we considered questions such as:
- What can we learn from island communities, such as Alghero, about factors that influence the health and well-being of newly immigrated, displaced, and marginalized populations in the region?
- How do the life stories we hear and situations we experience compare to what we have seen and heard in the media about "the refugee crisis"?
- How do events, such as Brexit, impact public opinion, migration policies, xenophobia, urban affairs, and health systems?
- What parallels can we draw to events in the U.S.?
This program was rooted in principles of community-based participatory research and capacity centered approaches to community transformation. Thus, students participating in the study abroad program had the opportunity to engage with and learn from their co-collaborators and peers, including: individuals seeking refugee status or asylum (primarily from Northern African countries and Bangladesh) living at Vel Mari (a former resort turned refugee and migration center in Fertilia); Roma activists and families, artists, scholars, NGO staff and volunteers, health professionals, and locals. Assignments and projects were intended to foster cultural humility, conviviality, and social consciousness.
Because individuals from migrant communities face a life expectancy two decades shorter than the Italian average, we partnered with local and international organizations, such as Global Outreach Doctors, and Emergency Alghero to better understand the pressing health for those migrating to Sardinia. We heard from those providing medical aid and emergency care to those migrating as well as displaced in order to better understand social ecological factors impacting health and well-being. Students examined barriers and threats in juxtaposition to factors within Sardinian culture and society that foster longevity. According to National Geographic and World Population Reports, Sardinia is documented to have the highest number of Centenarians in the world. In the tourist community of Alghero, students contrasted the duality of the beautiful Mediterranean: an island paradise for the privileged and a death threat for thousands forced to sail upon it, fleeing war and violence.
View a photo and video montage of the 2016 trip below. [Produced by Isabela Ahumada, Sardinia 2016 alum].