SPAIN. Barcelona. Lucía Demajo runs a family hostel in the heart of Barcelona. JAM Hostel Barcelona opened six years ago to promote responsible tourism with a sound set of social values. To illustrate, their hostel offers yoga lessons, family-oriented rooms, and silent common areas. Additionally, they also cultivate good relationships with their neighbors by participating in local actions. Recently COVID-19 forced the closure of all hostels.
As the world adjusts to new conditions brought on by the pandemic has brought, Lucia has adjusted too. Motivated to help others she decided to turn her hostel into a shelter for those more affected by COVID-19.
She told Transcontinental Times, “We phoned the administration, international and local NGOs, socially-oriented foundations for three months. We received many words of support and solidarity but nothing concrete.”
Co-operation as a means for change
At last Fundación BarcelonActua reached out. This NGO works on social integration through local initiatives run by citizens. They had been informally contacting different hostels to provide shelter to some of their students.
For example, 18-year-olds who had just lost state guardianship and were left on the streets, asylum seekers, undocumented immigrants were seeking shelter. They all faced waiting lists of up to 5 months to have a bed in a municipal hostel.
“These people get to us derived by other NGOs who have state support, like the Red Cross. But other we find directly on the streets. We immediately provide support to help them find a place of their own within Barcelona’s society,” says Laia Serrano, founder, and CEO of Fundación BarcelonActua.
“This situation of abandonment was not created by the COVID-19 crisis. COVID-19 forced the municipal hostels to close their doors and has dramatically hardened the situation for those left on the streets with no certainties,” Laia continues.
“We had a great synergy with Lucia’s initiative from the beginning but we needed the funds to make the project in their hostel a reality. The Alcantara Family Foundation finally stepped in. We had been working with them for a year and they expressed their desire to help immigrants in dire situations in Barcelona.”
Social support enhances empowerment
To ensure the forty-five people now in JAM Hostel Barcelona have adequate aid for their integration, volunteers help in the kitchen, with sports, and to organize hikes during the weekends. “To have necessities covered and the daily support of so many people is paramount to their empowerment within the community,” Laia adds.
Lucía and co-founder Damiá Rubio see that their efforts in promoting a respectful environment within their neighborhood are bearing fruit. Sometimes the opening of refugee hostels in the city can lead to tensions, but not in this case.
“Our neighbors are very supportive of this initiative, and I wish we could integrate this model with our usual clients. The interaction among locals, refugees, and tourists is beneficial for us all,” explains Lucía. In fact, networks of co-operation prove, as Laia adds, “that cultural differences and the intermingling of diverse people make our society richer.”
Personal commitment shapes communities
The end date for this project is the 31st of December. Both Laia and Lucía hope this project can be replicated in other hostels and the funds allocated in order to sustain this innovative integration model.
Lucía tells us she is aware this is not a permanent solution. Hence they need all the aid they can get for the adequate integration of refugees and the strengthening of social networks. Namely, administrative and state support is vital for the up-scaling of such an integrative model.
Meanwhile, forty-five people can rest and find a certain degree of stability in a life that is hard and forgotten. Lucia’s motivation, Fundación BarcelonaActua’s network, and Alcantara Family Foundation’s concern made it possible.
Together they have shown that social solidarity works and brings benefits and empowerment for everyone involved, even during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.