Examining Migration, Health and Social Justice in Sardinia

Text Box: Photo:  UW students enrolled in the study abroad program, Island Migrations: Health & Social Justice in the Mediterranean, listening to residents of Castlesardo, one of two refugee and migration “centers” near Alghero, Sardinia.

UW Bothell and UW Seattle Students Examine Migration, Health and Social Justice in Sardinia


Global events such as war and economic crisis have led to an unprecedented surge of migration all around the world, but particularily in the Mediterranean. This past summer, UW Bothell School of Nursing Health Studies faculty member, Jody Early, along with Erin Clowes, faculty from the Comparative History of Ideas Program (UWS), co-lead a study abroad program to Sardinia to examine the interrelationships among forced migration, health, social policy, marginalization, and urban planning.  

The program, Island Migrations: Health & Social Justice in the Mediterranean, was set in the coastal city of Alghero, Sardinia, and partially funded trhough a UW Global Innovations grant.

Text Box: Photo: UW students with program faculty at the University of Sassari.The program was a unique, interdisciplinary and multi-institutional collaboration involving faculty from UW Bothell (School of Nursing and Health Studies), UW Seattle (Comparative History of Ideas Program), University of Roma Tre (Department of Architecture), and the University of Sassari (Department of Architecture, Design and Planning). Course assignments and topics drew from disciplines such as: public health, anthropology, urban design, public policy, art and social work. In addition to university collaborators, the program involved a wide network of non-profits, artists and human rights activists, such as Global Outreach Doctors, Afrika Alghero, Si Fa Cosi 2.0, AntiSuffix, ResPublica, and Architects Beyond Borders. You can learn more about the program, and read student blogs, by visiting the program website, http://Sardinia2016.weebly.com.






Twenty-two UW students (7 from UWB) participated in the program which involved a 10-week pre-departure seminar and a four-week study abroad experience in Sardinia. Students, faculty and collaborators in Alghero applied community engaged methods and a social ecological framework to examText Box: Photo: UW students speak with Harrison John (2nd from right) about his experience migrating to Alghero from Gambia.ine factors associated with health and migration. “This was definitely not a situation where we (Americans) were swooping in with all of the answers to fix the situation. We talked to students in the pre-departure seminar about the fact that we would leave and things would not be resolved, but this reality was difficult to accept,”Jody Early explained. ”We were privileged to be invited to explore these issues and their complexities with our collaborators in Italy. We  learned so much from and with our Vel Mari and Roma partners. It was  truly a unique and transformative experience.”


Text Box: Photo: Program collaborators at Vel Mari, Mohammed Sissoko,  Musa Sanyang, Mustafa Adem, and Harrison John working on their  digital stories and narratives with instructor and volunteer, Irene Baule (far left).UW Students worked with partners from Vel Mari (once a hotel, now a refugee and migrant “center” in Fertilia) and Roma/ni young adults to explore factors that support or inhibit “multicultural cities” and migration policies in region. Program participants gained a richer understanding  of the lived experiences, challenges, and injustices faced by refugees, asylum seekrs, and Rom/a/ni people (Europe’s largest and most marginalized ethnic minority group).


 Teams conducted observations and facilitated interviews with a wide variety of community stakeholders, including: Alghero residents, tourists visiting Sardinia, local government officials, business owners, staff from non-profits, health practitioners and social service professionals, youth, academics, Romani rights activists, law enforcement, staff at Vel Mari, and individuals who had migrated to the area.

In the pre-departure sessions, facilitated by Jody Early and Erin Clowes, UW students and Vel Mari partners (young adults seeking asylum in Europe and enrolled in Italian and computer classes at the Center) used digital storytelling and a (closed) social media platform to exchange introductions and stories through technology. This allowed the two groups to introduce themselves prior to meeting in Sardinia.


Text Box:  Photo: Vel Mari, a former hotel and resort in Fertlia, now serves as a refugee and migration “center.”  The center has assisted hundreds of individuals seeking asylum and refugees status by providing housing, Italian  and computer classes, medical care and legal assistance.  Once in Sardinia, students and faculty were invited to dinners and discussions at Vel Mari and Castlesardo (another migration “center” near Alghero). Although there were often more than 9 different languages and countries represented in the room at one time, food, music, dancing, and storytelling helped to mitigate language barriers and provided opportunities for human connnetion and authentic learning.



  Rounded Rectangle: ”…Understanding someone’s past and struggle to get where they are now is only part of their story. We cannot be defined by a single moment, a single story. We are a collection with many chapters.”
      --Sophie Knudson  (UW Student)
    Rounded Rectangle: “I am glad you (Americans) are here. I want the world to know that we are different colors but one people.”
--Harrison John (from Nigeria)


















Text Box: Photo: Harrison John  watches as Coulibaly (Bouba) Bakary  shares his  “I am from” story with the students and community partners  at Vel Mari.




Through group discussions and weekly refletions, students were able to connect world events (e.g. Brexit; EU immigration policies;  Black Lives Matter) to what was occuring in  Sardinia. Wrote one UW student, “I spent a significant amount of time reflecting and drawing parallels between immigrant communities here in Italy and those back home.”




  Rounded Rectangle: “…..that evening had a glow about it that I only recognize when I am with my own family. The food  was cooked by incredible souls who created a space that connected a diverse group of individuals. Their hands created a feeling of home, warmth, and family. I will never forget that night.”
-Isabela  Ahumada (UW student)






Text Box: Photo: Emergeny Alghero teams provide front-line medical care for refugees and asylees arriving by rafts on the Sardinian coast.Students also had the opportunity to explore the role of health organizations and front line support services available to refugees and asylum seekers in the region. They heard from guest lecturers, such as Dr. Denise Bates, with Global Doctors Outreach, speak about the work of NGOs and medical first responders who provide emergency and front-line services for refugees and asylees across the world. The group was also lucky to learn from Dr. Speranza Pirreda, a local physician and volunteer with Emergency Alghero, who spoke about the most common health issues and risks associated with forced migration and displacement. Dr. Speranza arranged for students to visit a local hospital and to talk to staff and volunteers from the group, Emergency Alghero, a branch of the international humanitarian organization, Human Aid Emergency.[2]


In the final week of the program, the artist’s collective, Ati Suffix, helped the the students,  along with Vel Mari and Rom/a/ni partners,  translate all their emotions and ideas into an interactive, performance art exhibit in downtown Alghero. The civic art project,  S'abba tenet memoria, La costruzione idraulica della comunità (constructing a community hydraulic project ) sparked discussions with locals about about immigration and building inclusive, “multicultural cities.”  The act of creating a human water fountain that flowed throughout the heart of the city, connected the distant, but celebrated history of the region to the current “flow” of migration. The performance brought together  community members, UW students, and refugee and Romani partners in a symbolic moment.


Text Box: Photo: Migration and water: Connecting community by creating a human fountain in the heart of Alghero.




















Text Box: Above: : UW students along with Vel Mari and Roma partners, artists, and faculty prepare for the civic art performance.



  Rounded Rectangle: “….water is like migration. Just as water can take on different forms (ice, water, air) we, too, change in time. As humans and citizens of and with the world we have a past that is still within us, a future that will change us, but who and what we are now will not forever be our lasting self.  We are moving, we are coming and going, changing, evolving, but always building on what we have encountered.”

-Emily Aleinikoff






















As with any study abroad, the program was not without its challenges. Working in the summer heat,wrestling with issues of privilege and power,  getting robbed (of program equipment), collaborting across institutions and disciplines, working through language barriers, and dealing with last minute changes  were just some of the things the group encountered.  A reccurrent theme became “always expect the unexpected.” However, despite all of this, there were profound lessons, such as:



Sophie Knudson: “I found myself often checking my privilege when people would complain about the heat, or the walk to class, about not being able to understand the language, or about the wifi not working.... . “

Merissa Lee: “With the series of locals, tourists, professors, politicians, doctors, directors, lawyers, civic artists and activists we’ve engaged with, I have gathered many perspectives of migration and social justice that were both eye-opening and contradictory. In class, we have talked about systemic oppression, racism, “migrant crisis” and marginalization of the Roma. In this program, I got to see these concepts manifest right in front of us as we encounter these first-hand experiences. We have had grapple with the difficult topic of marginalization of the people at Vel Mari and the Roma collaborators. Migrants who are forced to leave their countries face challenges that go beyond what I can imagine and I’ve gathered that this phenomenon is relatively new in Sardinia. The Roma community has been alienated for many generations and the majority here do not acknowledge this. With the mindset of knowing that there is little I can do right now, through this program I have begun my journey to creating more awareness of the issues that few people talk about.

Abby Talkington: Coming from a study abroad student who also never experienced the devastation and trauma that migrants and refugees are navigating through first hand, I can tell you that hearing about experiences and circumstances of people while making eye contact with them was enough for me to strive to be conscious of my own detachment. To be attentive to it. These people are not characters and their lives are not stories. They are not mere figures, or martyrs, or objects of sympathy. They are people sharing the same moment in time as all of us. All this regardless of how detached we are from them.....

The afterwards of this blog post is an additional consideration. With detachment and a lack of immediacy and in the United States we are prey to anti-immigration rhetoric, as many of us realize already. Our failure to address anti-immigration rhetoric around us that we may not agree with, however, has immediate consequences.”


 Want to help make a difference locally for refugees and their families in the North Pudget Sound area? Contact Northwest Refugee and Immigrant Services at http://www.nwris.org  or Refugee Women’s Alliance at http://www.rewa.org .


1.                http://www.globaldoctorsoutreach.org

[2]     http://www.emergency.it/en-index.html