5 questions with the WE EXIST PROJECT
1) A brief presentation of who you are as a group and overview of the project:
We Exist is a voluntary initiative by Allied Rainbow Communities that seeks to create a safe space where queer, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer, pansexual, questioning, asexual, aromantic (and other gender identities and sexual and or romantic orientations) Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Third Country National Migrants can be themselves. We meet people who contact us in person and we see how we can support them - if it's integration in Malta's queer communities or integration in Maltese society or by simply offering them someone who they can talk to.
2) When did it start and why?
It started in January 2019 after an Erasmus+ funded Training Course called 'SAIL 2 - safe spaces for inclusion of LGBT+ MASR (migrants, asylum seekers and refugees) led by Giosef Torino. We were inspired by the great initiatives that other countries had. Of course, related to LGBT+ MASR we had to almost start from scratch. There is some local work on the topic, but it's very unknown.
3) What challenges did you face and are still facing?
We had many challenges and still face many others. It was a problem to spread the word to LGBT+ migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and third country nationals in the first place. Then some people were not comfortable meeting us while others were comfortable only meeting us but not other migrants. Their cultures and contexts vary, sometimes even terms are not the same so it could lead to lack of communication although we try to solve this by asking a lot of questions about their cultural context in a sensitive way. We also wanted to use creative methods with them to explore subjects such as culture, integration etc but this had to be postponed due to many factors. We're also all volunteers with jobs and sometimes, it's hard to juggle the work. For a while, the project was paused but now thankfully we started meeting the beneficiaries again.
4) Which has been the best and worst moment while working with We Exist?
The worst for sure was when we tried having creative sessions to explore concepts with the participants but being so few, things happened and no one came. We knew this could happen though and if people cannot or are not interested in coming to such events, we cannot force the issue so then, we focused on gathering enough stories for a booklet to raise awareness about the diverse experience that LGBT+ migrants, asylum seekers and refugees face. There hasn't been one 'best' moment but many. Basically, when things go right such as when we get new participants and are able to help them in small ways. Some of the participants themselves have helped us out more than once, from ideas to translating to helping us edit so really, we use the term 'participant' as someone that is involved in the project and is not part of the organizing team but they are not recipients but contributors.
5) How do you see this project growing in the future?
Eventually, we'll have enough participants to have meetings both to discuss concepts and experiences and to socialize. We are aware not every participant may want to meet the whole group and that's ok but enough participants to meet, we'll eventually reach. We also hope to be able to raise awareness about the diverse experience of LGBT+ MASR communities withing local queer communities and beyond. Empathy and communication are key when it comes to migration and the mixing of cultures, ideas and expectations.