Untold Stories, the power of Digital Storytelling to promote intercultural dialogue

10/11/2021, por Angel

Untold Stories, the power of Digital Storytelling to promote intercultural dialogue

Marcel Clària and Charolotte Lloyd

Open Cultural Center

Empodera Impact Stories talks with Marcel Claria and Charolotte Lloyd. They both work  at Open Cultural Center (OCC), which was established in 2016 at Idomeni refugee camp, at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe. OCC is now active in Northern Greece and Barcelona, operating two inclusion centres which offer educational and cultural projects for migrant and refugee communities. Marcel works in finance and events, and Charlotte manages the Language Lab, our language school.


Tell us about the project Untold Stories ¿How was the idea born and how are you shaping a more inclusive world through Digital Storytelling?

Back in 2019, we saw the necessity to amplify the voices of individuals and share their stories in the city of Barcelona, Spain. The main purpose of Untold Stories is to raise awareness of the diversity and multiculturalism that big cities have to offer. Therefore, we focused on disseminating personal experiences so other people can relate to their lives and have a better understanding of their personal situations.

The idea for “Untold Stories”, directed by Open Cultural Center, was influenced by the ongoing digital project called “Humans of New York”. Over the course of two years, many people were involved in making “Untold Stories” happen, including Mariia Iefimova who was the project manager at OCC at the time. Many external and internal OCC volunteers, including us, worked together on different aspects of the project, from finding participants and carrying out interviews, to creating the website, writing articles, collecting information and organising the exhibition. Photographers, filmmakers, web developers, translators and designers all contributed to bring the project to life, but the most important contribution was that of the people who agreed to share their stories with us.

Throughout this project we were able to share the ongoing and final results with a physical exhibition, as well as, through digital tools such as social media and its own website. Therefore being available for everyone around the world, not exclusively to Barcelona city.

Moreover, jointly with other on-line projects we have contributed to raising awareness on sensitive topics such as economic inequality, migration, asylum seeking and various common barriers for foreigners in Spain like language, paperwork and the difficult access to the job market.



You are part of the Open Cultural Center team, how do you promote inclusion of refugees and migrants through educational and cultural activities?

OCC’s work is based around the values of inclusion and diversity, community building, volunteerism, youth empowerment, and innovation. The educational and cultural activities we offer range from language classes for adults and children, to a dedicated women’s space, and a coding school, all of which are completely free of charge for our target communities in Greece and Spain.

MigraCode, a coding school set up in 2019, allows people with a migrant background to access an 8-month web development course, so that they can acquire the skills required to find employment in the tech industry. Many volunteers involved in this project are also migrants, who understand the challenges associated with migration and integrating in Europe. This is also the case with OCC’s other projects, as many of our team members are part of our target community. By working and learning together we are able to provide better support to each other and ensure that everybody feels safe and understood. Our educational and cultural activities are aimed at meeting one of OCC’s main goals, the social and economic inclusion of migrants and refugees.



Tell us about the results of Untold stories Barcelona. ¿How did you engage the participants and how many nationalities took part in it?

As commented previously, the results were a website showing the different stories in an article format and an exhibition in our center in Carrer del Rec 27, Barcelona. The exhibition took place for three days during the Festa Major of el Born, the neighbourhood we are based in. Many people from the local and neighbouring community came to the event and learned from the rich diversity of Barcelona and our organisation.

In total there were forty participants, counting with a total amount of thirty-one different nationalities. The participants were reached out in different ways; mostly we approached strangers and asked for their consent to interview them for the sole purpose of this project. This helped us know more about the faces we see on a daily basis. Some of the other participants were previous OCC volunteers or people close to our team who were eager to take part in Untold Stories.



Regarding the stories shared in the project, what kind of difficulties are most common among migrants in Spain?

While reading and discovering some of these amazing stories we found out that the common themes that migrants suffer in Spain are technical, academic and professional barriers. A lot of people disliked the bureaucracy in Spain to obtain a nationality or a residence permit. Also, given that Catalonia has its own official language, for most of them it was difficult to learn two languages at the same time; since Spanish is usually prioritised, rather than Catalan.

Due to the latter, people feel left out of the local culture and in a vast majority creates an inequality between locals and foreigners. Local people are more likely to get hired in a better job position and have easier access to education and academic qualifications for the local and national job market.


Digital Storytelling is a powerful inclusion tool. Are you expecting to give the project continuity?

Over Summer 2021 we held the “Untold Stories” exhibition at the OCC office in Barcelona. This was the final phase of the initiative, and for a variety of reasons,“Untold Stories” is no longer one of OCC’s ongoing projects. However, the website and Instagram pages will remain online and accessible for the foreseeable future, so the stories told and experiences shared are still available to read, and we would highly recommend checking them out. For example, you can read about Berkem from Turkey, Sara from Afghanistan, or Sunday from Nigeria.

At OCC we continue to use digital storytelling in our work to raise awareness and spread knowledge about the reality of the migrant experience. We recently interviewed Anandamaya Arno, a MigraCode graduate, about her journey from Venezuela to Spain, and her new job at a tech start-up. You can read the interview in two parts, here and here.



Open Cultural Center has two bases, in Barcelona and in Greece, from your experience: Is there a true integration of migrants by the institutions and by the citizens themselves? What could we do to build a more inclusive model of society?

The two locations where OCC works have very different demographics and present different issues in terms of the integration of migrants and refugees at a local and national level. While Barcelona is a large multicultural European city, Polykastro is a small town in rural Northern Greece, near Nea Kavala refugee camp, surrounded by small villages.

Through these projects we enable migrants and refugees to integrate in their local communities, but also on a European level, since many of our team members are from different countries in Europe. However, we agree that public institutions could put more financial inputs and effort on a real integration for these vulnerable groups in Europe now more than ever!

Our perspective for a more inclusive model of society would be more open attitudes towards foreigners from European citizens, fewer barriers to social and professional integration and the total eradication of racism, xenophobia and chauvinism on our planet.



Tell us more about your project MigraCode, the first code academy for refugees and migrants in Barcelona. How can people join and collaborate?

Migracode acts as a bridge between the demand for skilled people in the tech sector and people with a migration background who are eager to work in the tech industry. Founded in 2019, we are cooperating with other code schools in Europe to build a large community of companies and students to foster both labor integration as well as social inclusion.

We believe that everyone deserves the right to follow education, especially those with less opportunities. Therefore we focus on those with a migration background and who have the eagerness to learn, but are often not able to do so.

We provide an eight months bootcamp on Full stack web development which is taught by our volunteers who have professional experience of software development in general. There are several ways one can collaborate and support our program. For example, one can become the main instructor who will be responsible for teaching two classes per week of four hours for a period of two to four weeks (depending on the module). Classes are on Saturday morning or afternoon, and on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening. Another option is being a support instructor or technical slack mentor to support any student that needs tech support for specific questions about the homework or projects by replying to help requests whenever it suits you (like a forum).

Apart from the above-mentioned profiles, we have several other profiles such as Code Buddy for students who face big educational challenges and who started coding from scratch, we link them to a steady ‘CodeBuddy’ during the course. Moreover we have a sub project called CodeWomen project within MigraCode that offers our female students a support platform to exchange knowledge and create meaningful connections.


You are working with the project ITFLOWS, offering tools to address the situation in the European Union: What consequences has the current global crisis of COVID-19 is having on migratory flows?  

Recently, due to far-right movements and selfish migration policies, the flows are more centralised in certain areas – main portuary facilities and international airports. Another big concern on this topic is the rise of human trafficking from southern countries. The fact that European countries establish more hostile migration policies makes illegal migration flows the only way for some people to escape their countries of origin, increasing the risks of the lives of migrants and refugees. For example, in the case of Syria and Yemen you either go to war for an ideal you do not believe in, or risk your life for an unknown future.

Covid-19 was also a big backlash on migration flows due to sanitary and health policies in northern countries, making it harder for people to flee from their homes. On the other hand, for the people who were able to make it, it was harder for them to obtain a legal status due to the paralyzation of public entities which processed these procedures. However, we still believe that the root of the problem are racist attitudes and European migration policies.


What is your opinion and predictions on How is everything going forward during and after the global crisis of COVID-19 and how technology can generate sustainable solutions for the future?

We actually wrote an article about the reality of the refugee crisis during Covid-19, which you can read here. As a small grassroots organisation we have seen the positive impact and the power of technology on the lives of the migrants and refugees we work with. For example, in Barcelona’s booming tech sector, people with a migration background who have skills in IT and web development can access many job opportunities. On the level of our organisation, apps, online tools and platforms have simplified processes for managing our projects and allowed us to broaden our reach and therefore support more people. Looking towards the future we are very optimistic about technological developments and the opportunities and possibilities they will generate for our target communities.


OCC Official Site – https://openculturalcenter.org/

Untold Stories official Site – https://untoldstories.info/

Instagram: bcn.untoldstories











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