Bernardo M. Villegas
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Uplifting the Young and Poor

           In many depressed communities all over the world, the ones who suffer most from poverty are children and adolescents who lack opportunities for education and cultural formation that are available to their more fortunate counterparts among the middle-income and high-income families.  Things get even worse if the communities in which they live are amalgams of immigrants coming from different regions within the same country or from different countries, as in many European cities.  In some European cities, the concentration of immigrants in ghettos become serious threats to peace and order as these communities become hotbeds for terrorism and criminality.

          In a recent trip to Barcelona where I accompanied some Filipino CEOs, owners of business and senior executives who are participating in an Advanced Management Program delivered by the IESE Business School (in cooperation with the University of Asia and the Pacific), I had the occasion to visit an institution that is doing much to address the serious problem of youth poverty in a very central district of this famous Spanish city.  B-Raval is a socio-educational center sponsored by an NGO called Initiatives for Solidarity and Development.  It organizes programs and activities aimed at social cohesion in a multicultural barrio called Raval in the central district of Barcelona.  At the same time, it has become a think tank for the study of immigration, a very important phenomenon in Spain where more than ten percent of the population consists of immigrants, including some 60,000 Filipinos. 

          More than 1,200 adolescents have participated in the activities of B-Raval over the last fifteen years.  These youth come from households in a barrio called El Raval, in which some 49,000 citizens coming from more than thirty countries live with one another in great harmony.  The barrio is one of the most densely populated in the world in which 3% of the total population of Barcelona reside in only 1.1% of the total area of the City.  Close to 50% of its residents are immigrants who belong to the lowest segment of the middle class at the highest risk of social exclusion in a developed country like Spain.  After the Pakistanis, Filipino Overseas Workers and their families are the most numerous. 

          For the most needy families in the barrio, B-Raval provides primary assistance:  nutrition, clothing, counselling, etc.  The main attraction and channel for the formation of the youth is a set of sports activities (basketball and football).  Multiethnic teams are organized so as to help the youth to appreciate cultural diversity and to overcome the inequalities and discrimination that can result from immigration.  Those who participate in the activities of the Center are helped to acquire a deeper knowledge of their host country and region. 

          The Center is open to all, not only to immigrants.  The mixture of adolescents coming from different social and ethnic backgrounds and working on common projects—athletic, cultural, educational, etc.—facilitates mutual understanding and helps all to live peacefully with one another.   In addition to the sports activities, the youth are asked to commit themselves to be physically present at the Center three times a week (for training, matches, and team meetings).  To be active members of the Center, they have to show proof that they are regular in attending classes in their respective schools.  They have to present their grades to their coaches every trimester.   As the Director of the Center, Josep Masabeu, told me, “No one is allowed to play if he does not go to classes regularly.”

          Also benefiting from the activities at the Center are university students, young professionals and senior citizens who volunteer their services as coaches and mentors of the approximately 200 students who are participating in the activities at any given time.  A striking example of a volunteer is Glenn Caliba, son of a Filipino couple who immigrated to Barcelona in the 1980s.  Already identifying himself as a Catalan (he was born in Barcelona), Glen is an outstanding example of the youth helped by B-Raval to succeed in their studies.   A product of the formative activities in B-Raval, he completed his studies in Information Technology in the Polytechnic University of Catalunya.  A multi-talented individual, he also majored in piano in the Municipal Conservatory of Music.  He continued to improve himself by studying how to play the violin and the organ.  He then obtained an Erasmus scholarship to Germany and is now fluent in German (beside speaking Tagalog, Spanish and Catalan).  Since graduating from the university and obtaining a job in a software company, he has served as a volunteer at B-Raval for four years.  As a Filipino, I was proud of the fact that Glen Caliba is some kind of a cover boy for B-Raval. 

            Upon returning to Manila, I have spoken to my colleagues active in promoting football and other sports among the street children in depressed communities that they should try to replicate B-Raval in the squatter areas of the big cities of the Philippines. This model of youth formation may also succeed in the poorest communities in Muslim Mindanao, where the school drop out rate among the youth  is abnormally high.  Those who are interested in more details about B-Raval can log on to its website (www.braval.org) or email braval@braval.org.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.