The digital publication of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)

Migration and Museums

Participants explore the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin as part of the Multaka: Museum as Meeting Point program.

This is an extended version of an article that appeared in a special edition of Dimensions magazine on equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The majority of countries in the world have seen a rise in immigration since the beginning of this century. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of international migrants increased in 165 countries or areas, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. In 2015, there were 244 million international migrants around the world, the largest proportion of which lived in the United States, followed by Germany, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates, according to the UN.

Although most migrants are not refugees, ongoing conflicts have contributed to this increased migration of people around the world. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency reports that there were 65.3 million people displaced by war or persecution at the end of 2015—the highest number on record. That’s one out of every 113 people on Earth. More than half of refugees come from three countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. And more than half of all refugees are children. The top host countries for refugees are Turkey (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.6 million), and Lebanon (1.1 million), while the highest numbers of internally displaced people are in Colombia (6.9 million), Syria (6.6 million), and Iraq (4.4 million).

As their countries and communities adjust to changing demographics and needs, many science centers and museums around the world are serving immigrants, migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people. Some of their stories are told here.

Also, you can watch the recording of an edition of ASTC on Air in which Athanasios Kontonikolaou, general director of NOESIS—The Science Center and Technology Museum of Thessaloniki in Greece, discusses his institution’s efforts to serve refugee and immigrant communities in a city that has seen a massive influx of new people during the past few years.

About the image: Participants explore the Museum of Islamic Art through a guided tour as part of the Multaka: Museum as Meeting Point program. Photo by Milena Schlösser, © Staatliche Museen Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst

In December 2015, the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, in cooperation with three other museums on the Museum Island in Berlin, started Multaka: Museum as Meeting Point—Refugees as Guides in Berlin Museums. This award-winning program trains refugees and immigrants with Syrian or Iraqi backgrounds to develop and lead tours for refugees, and importantly, to deliver these tours in the refugees’ first language. Multaka is the Arabic word for “meeting point.”

The four museums participating in this project (the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, the Bode Museum, the German Historical Museum, and the Museum of Near Eastern Art at the Pergamon Museum) cover topics from the ancient Middle East, Byzantium, and the Islamic Golden Age to more recent German history. In this way, they connect the cultural heritage of the visitors’ countries of origin with the history of the new host country.

With dialogue and discussion, guides and visitors select objects to reflect their personal backgrounds. No language barrier, no registration, and peer-to-peer dialogue has enabled thousands of refugees to explore the museums.

Multaka aims at active cultural participation by facilitating the interchange of diverse cultural and historical experiences. Visitors experience the high status with which the museum presents the cultural artifacts from their homelands, and we hope that this contributes to a sense of wellbeing for refugees in addition to helping them develop a confident and constructive connection with our cultural institutions.

In response to great interest from the wider community, we also organized 18 intercultural workshops in 2016 that enabled refugees and German-speaking natives to meet directly.

The program is extremely successful. Several thousand refugees have participated in the tours and discussed aspects of Middle Eastern and German history in connection to their own experiences. Great international media coverage has been generated, and the project was awarded two prizes and has been nominated for a third.

The narrative and content of our four museums are specific to our situation and location, and we also profit from a very good network of Syrian scholarship and heritage. Nevertheless, many of the points outlined here are also relevant to other museums and these ideas could be developed further by museums that choose to do so. We have been approached several times by different museums, institutions, and scholars who intend to adopt the concept. This article shall provide the opportunity to share ideas, methodology, and challenges.

It is not the aim of the project to generate more visitors. The Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum is visited by many hundreds of thousands of people each year. Our aim was twofold: how can we—as a museum that covers mainly the period from the Late Antiquities to the Early Modern period (17th century)—make the past relevant to our visitors today, as well as contribute the museum’s specialist expertise on Islamic culture to the challenges of a changing society?

The museum had already established the Syrian Heritage Archive Project. This is a project in which the museum works with Syrian specialists in documenting the cultural heritage of Syria. It is hard for newcomers who have lost almost everything not to also lose their hope sitting in shelters without work—especially for those who had once had a good education and position at home. The network of colleagues was extremely helpful in establishing the Multaka project by engaging potential guides quickly. Due to limited but important funding for several months at the end of the fiscal year 2015, we needed to move very fast. (Funding came from the Live Democracy! Program of the German Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth; the Federal Government Representative for Culture and Media (BKM); the Ernst Schering Foundation; the German Historical Museum Foundation; the Friends of the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum; and many private donors.) The project proved very popular with potential guides. Respondents came from diverse professional backgrounds: engineers, architects, artists, and lawyers along with professional guides, archaeologists, and conservators, giving visitors the benefit of a wide range of approaches to the artifacts. The group of guides was highly motivated. The enthusiasm and professionalism of the guides was the main reason for the success of the project. We worked from the beginning to strengthen social threads among us. Our museum is maybe in an advantageous position as we have worked for over a century in Syria. Some of our researchers are closely connected to the country—we have a direct emotional attachment. For any other institution it will be more difficult, but not impossible, to build up a network that can function as guides or mediators.

The museum adheres to a strong participatory principle and process. The idea was developed with Syrian contributors. Syrians are part of the project management team, and we work closely with our Syrian and Iraqi network. As many Syrians are not experienced in team work in their former professional lives, one would need time and a positive social commitment from the museum team. We keep in close contact through social media and regular team meetings. Guides are invited to be part of the project development, which they contribute to. But we faced administrative issues. For example, some guides had been living in Germany for two years or more and were allowed to work and be paid the same payment as a German guide. However, most of the Multaka guides were newcomers and not allowed to earn money due to their refugee status. To solve this problem the museum invited the Multaka guides to become members of the Friends of the Museum so they could receive an expense allowance (the same amount of money as the other guides). The Friends of the Museum were extremely helpful as they took over the financial administration.

The Multaka management team consists of Robert Winkler, Nazan Nassreddine, Cornelia Weber, and me. Many more guides and education officers are actively involved. The project profited from the high commitment of the directors and education officers of the three other museums. They spontaneously agreed to join and to dedicate the needed time.

The museums’ education departments developed a training program for the guides-to-be based around the themes of the museums and issues of didactics and methodology. A special trainer for dialogue-based communication was hired, as we do not promote a one-way knowledge transfer from museum to guide. The guides did not learn our catalogs by heart. We asked our guides to connect to items they were interested in. The guides selected their own museum and objects and brought in their own biography and life experiences. However to facilitate the process, the museum deliberately highlighted objects and narratives that may be relevant to the refugees. The refugees were invited to make sense of and reflect on the collections in the context of their own history. For example some topics from German history that proved to be very interesting for the Arab visitors include

  • The story of war and destruction in Germany: 1945 was not the end of history; it was a beginning.
  • German immigration to the United States in the 19th century or from the east after World War II: we all have in our history people who fled from war or poverty.
  • The wars between Protestants and Catholics, especially the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48): was it only about religion?

For many, Germany is associated with economic strength and property. The images of Berlin in 1945, completely destroyed, when translated to the situation in Syria and Iraq reflect a sense of hope for the future. The Thirty Years’ War became instead an example to discuss mechanism of war and confessionalism. Despite their religious, political, and social backgrounds, members of the tour were able to discuss and agree that confessionalism is often not the reason but vehicle of civil war. They talked of their own reality while looking back almost 400 years to another geographical setting.

We allow people to engage in dialogue: guides and visitors tell their point of view and depart from our academic interpretation. This was the biggest challenge and learning process for me as a museum director and researcher. But we were rewarded directly: people who had not internalized the museum visit as a common practice began to identify with the place. This is a major achievement as almost all Multaka visitors belong to a non-museum-going audience. (Previously I lived in Syria and Lebanon for 12 years, and the museums are almost always empty of people.) Our Multaka visitors are engaged with the museum. They discuss topics with the guides for one to two hours and many come back. Our guides actually became mediators to discuss, through history, our reality here and now. The history of others became a reflection zone for questions of oneself today. The museum is therefore not only an area of new social circles but also a positive reference point and venue for the intercultural constitution of our society. A public institution thus becomes significant for the biographies of Berliners of different origins. Multaka became a meeting point in its full meaning.

As an institution specializing in cultural history, we stress the dynamics of cultural processes and developments, for example, interconnectedness and exchange. In times of collective cultural uncertainty, we provide open, networked culture images (multireligious, multiethnic, transregional, cross-linked). We aim at our identities, which we see connected, plural, hybrid, and inclusive. Crossing the boards of four museums we focused in our training on a broad grand narrative in which all are embedded. The emphasis changed in each museum, based on the collections.

The guided tours in the Sculpture Collection and the Museum of Byzantine Art make reference to the interreligious roots and the common origins of three world religions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Cultures in the Eastern Mediterranean region were characterized over the centuries by religiously and ethnically plural societies, which today are under threat. The displays in the Museum of Islamic Art and the Museum of Near Eastern Art are based on outstanding testimonies of human history principally from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. Both museums provide many narratives of the migration of cultural techniques between Europe and the Middle East, the plurality of societies, or of the cultural interconnectedness in each epoch up to today. (See below.) The tours at the German Historical Museum connect these cultural experiences with the refugees’ new home. Incidentally, the majority of the guides from Iraq and Syria have chosen this museum as their preferred place of work.

Through the depiction of such commonalities and the incorporation into a larger cultural and historical, epoch-transcending narratives, museums have the immense opportunity to function as a connecting link between the refugees’ countries of origin and their new host country, in order to create a context of meaning for their lives here. In our case, we are in a fortunate position to have the grand narrative through the four museums adjacent to one another. However, there are key narratives that function anywhere:

  • Migration: No object in our museums exists without migration. Every object is an expression of transregional connection and migration: the exchange of techniques, thoughts, pattern, fashions, and ideas is the base of each narrative. No object and no subject in our society can be explained by rigid culturalistic maps. Where does iron come from? Or where does the alphabet come from? What about paper, gunpowder, the telephone, your jeans? Look at our lives: they are all about migration (and trade). No single thread of our cloth is pure and only German, Syrian, British, etc.
  • Shared heritage: The specific history of exchange of our cultures and what came from the Middle East may help us to understand that none of us would be as we are without the other. The list from the Middle East is long: science, philosophy, ceramic techniques like luster and blue white, paper, the game of chess, the oud as mother of the modern guitar (without the oud no Jimi Hendrix or John Lennon), etc. It is a long list and can also be reversed the other way around. Many cultural realities are interwoven and both sides of the Mediterranean were formative for each other over very many centuries.
  • Common threads in history: What are the common historical experiences? For example, the birth of our cultures from late antiquities or the drastic change of patterns of life during the 19th- and 20th-century modern period are closely interconnected phases of our developments. They are not the same but they are entangled. Parallel and connected histories of the human experience could focus on specific topics on a meta level like, love, war, living, social order, etc., on structures of interactions like trade and war (the Silk Road or the Mediterranean).
  • Contact zones: Historical and cultural connections between Germany, Syria, and Iraq, including exchange from that period of Carl the Great and Harun al-Rashid, the Staufer Frederic II and Sultan Kamil, Wilhelm II and Abdülhamid II; the heritage of Islam in Europe in Sicily, Spain, and the Balkans; court culture along the Mediterranean in the 12th- and 13th-century Venice and the trade with the Middle East; the Crusaders as culture transfer, etc.
  • Identity: By discussing the experience of discovering the intercultural networks of objects, often self-awareness may arise in the assessment of visitors’ own cultural identity. In times of social uncertainty and increasing culturalistic exclusion, cultural pluralism can be seen as a positive development. Objects from the past then function as reflective items and allow for the negotiation of collective identities. How were ideas in art, music, science, and history exchanged over the centuries? Where are our origins? We give concrete examples and unusual answers to the question of “Who am I and who are you?” We are in urgent need of that given the rising phenomena of right-wing populism or religious fanaticism.

The Syrian and Iraqi artifacts exhibited in the Museum of Islamic Art and in the Museum of Near Eastern Art are outstanding testaments to the history of humanity. Almost all visitors were delighted to see the appreciation for these cultural treasures in a prime location in the middle of Berlin. Many asked, of course, how these objects found their way to Germany. An open discussion about archaeology, protection of cultural property, and calls for return helped to develop a differentiated view mixed with a feeling of happiness to see them here. Meeting with their own culture in the museum made people feel proud and respected. “Something that keeps your head up”—an Arabic proverb to express pride and self-esteem—is mentioned often. Integration as an act of belonging is an active process and happens in steps when one feels respected. Multaka allows for a reciprocal experience: appreciation of the cultures of the Middle East at the Bode Museum and the Pergamon Museum and appreciation of the history of Germany in the German Historical Museum.

Cultural self-affirmation is, in the debate on immigration, always designated as an obstacle to integration. We believe the opposite is the case: if one feels appreciated—included and not excluded—one can gain entry into society much easier. Refugees conquer the Museum Island and make this country with its cultural institutions their own. The step in the museums and the active(!) discussion of our common historical heritage is the first step to wave new threads of belonging into one’s own cultural garb. Democracy is based on responsible citizen participation. Multaka facilitates cultural participation and encourages this participation on the way to becoming an active member of our society.

Through the depiction of such commonalities and the incorporation into a larger cultural and historical, epoch-transcending narrative, museums have an immense opportunity. In this way, museums can create a context of meaning for people and receive a new role and reliance in our societies.

Stefan Weber, director, the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Through the Breaking Ground initiative, Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, California, leveraged years of audience development work with Latino and Vietnamese families as the two largest populations in our city of 1 million residents, where people from minority backgrounds make up the majority. We were able to take the next step and expand our role in promoting cross-cultural exchange among five different immigrant communities: Mexican, Vietnamese, Indian, Filipino, and Chinese. Through community dinner dialogues, Breaking Ground has resulted in enriched museum offerings, helped build a sense of community among diverse groups of immigrants, and fostered positive relationships.

Pivotal to program’s success has been the partnerships developed with local community-based organizations (CBOs) working with specific immigrant communities, which served as liaisons to targeted families. They also helped conceptualize, plan, and implement the series of cross-cultural dinner conversations for 30 families each. With in-kind support from the International Culinary Center, we used food as a thematic bridge, choosing to highlight the tomato as an ingredient common to all five ethnic cuisines. The elegant buffet table with white linens invited guests to enjoy an entrée featuring tomato from their own cuisine while experiencing how the tomato is featured in other cuisines.

After dinner, museum staff organized the children into groups for exhibit exploration while the adults convened in the outdoor amphitheater. Tables seating eight displayed cultural objects as centerpieces, and the museum’s director of strategic initiatives invited guests to choose one familiar to them. They then exchanged stories with other guests, discovering firsthand many remarkable commonalities. This laid the foundation for the following one-hour dialogue in small groups about their children, challenges they face as immigrants, and hopes for the future.

Topline evaluation noted significant impact both on the participants and on the museum. Participants cited most often appreciation for the unique opportunity to learn about shared immigrant experiences and dreams for their children’s futures. Museum staff valued the new platforms that were created with the program participants—programmatic, exhibit, and social media—that highlight the intersections and commonalities between cultures.

Marilee Jennings, executive director, Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, California

One of the challenges of working with immigrant and refugee communities is understanding, from their perspective, how they see their new settings. This can be particularly challenging when community members speak different languages or are still developing trust in their new environments.

Several years ago, a local social service agency with an internal research department, the Wilder Foundation, connected with the Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul, about a study they were planning to better understand the experience of local immigrants and refugees. They were working directly with local communities to co-develop and co-execute the study; community members were involved at every stage of the process. Though the study was mostly focused on social services, public education, attitudes towards money, and other so-called “basic” needs, some of the researchers also wondered about how these communities felt and thought about local cultural organizations.

The Science Museum of Minnesota recruited other local museums and libraries to join the study. Through the course of this work, we learned more about how local communities see us and what role we could play in future work with immigrants and refugees. This was an unusual opportunity but one that we were really happy we dove into. Even people working on the project at the Wilder Foundation were sometimes surprised to know that museums cared about what immigrant and refugee communities thought of us. Work like this is too often thought of in terms of practical, basic needs, but cultural institutions should insert ourselves into the conversation.

Marjorie Bequette, director of lifelong learning, Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul

For two decades, the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center (KAYSC) at the Science Museum of Minnesota has developed programming to engage youth ages 11 to 25 in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, leadership, and workforce development—all through the lens of social justice. The KAYSC works toward a future in which young women and people of color represent a percentage of researchers, policymakers, educators, innovators, and leaders commensurate with their numbers in the general population. The KAYSC’s mission is to empower youth to change our world through science.

The KAYSC puts youth identity exploration and leadership at the core of creating a generation of young people with the skills and critical community consciousness to use STEM to make an impact in the world. This focus on valuing diverse identities and experiences, as well as building space for youth to lead community initiatives, creates a foundation for young people from immigrant and refugee communities to build confidence in their abilities to pursue STEM education and careers. We connect STEM to personal identity, passions, and community leadership.

Many KAYSC youth are first generation in the United States, and their families’ cultural and religious practices often conflict with Western ways of navigating the world. As a group, we have many opportunities to discuss our stories and uncover our history. This responsive approach is embedded in the KAYSC’s STEM Justice framework in the community building phase. Often youth become language and cultural interpreters for their families. When youth balance family culture with U.S. culture, they practice cross-cultural communication, teamwork, innovation, critical analysis, and adaptability—all invaluable 21st-century skills.

In working with students with outsider identities, it makes all the difference to create space for people to understand and appreciate difference and diversity and then establish leadership in the community. Outsiders become leaders.

Joseph Adamji, director, and Aiyana Sol Machado, curriculum assessment specialist, Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center, Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul

For families coming from other countries, physical objects and making practices can provide a sustaining link between their new and old lives. This was a defining philosophy for Making Connections, a (U.S.) National Science Foundation (NSF)–funded research project that helps the Science Museum of Minnesota engage families of color and American Indian families in “making.” Staff worked with over 100 families, including many from immigrant, refugee, or migrant backgrounds, to create activities and events that drew upon valued practices and attitudes.

A Puerto Rican participant described how he grew up with a small knife in his pocket to fix, explore, or create; in the mainland United States he feels that pocket knives are seen instead as weapons, a mentality that he thinks stifles creativity. Families from around the world—including Kenya, Laos, and Burma—also shared practices with cultural meaning like weaving, learning from each other and creating new bonds. One participant told a staff member, “The activities feel more representative of my people, and they add texture to our experience as we learn of other cultures that may not be the mainstream culture.”

Staff learned about the kinds of materials that best support making in these communities—including surprising materials that we would not have chosen ourselves. For example, some participants combined electronics with traditional beading or jewelry making in ways we never would have imagined.

For this project, our challenges and successes are related to helping potential visitors from immigrant, migrant, and refugee communities understand that the museum is interested in the “messy” and sometimes “dangerous” work that we call making. We plan to continue to work together in sustaining practices and attitudes that are important to us all.

Marjorie Bequette, director of lifelong learning, Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul

After a listening session identified challenges and aspirations within Albuquerque’s community of Mexican immigrants, Explora collaborated with Partnership for Community Action (PCA) to co-develop Explora Ingeniería, an afterschool engineering program embedded in the community and facilitated entirely in Spanish.

Now in its second year, Explora Ingeniería serves 30 fourth to eighth grade students from low-income, immigrant families affiliated with PCA. It strives to transcend the barriers of economic hardship, language, and lack of transportation in order to provide high-quality activities to the children and their families—in Spanish, in their neighborhood, and at no cost to them. The program is facilitated seven times each semester at a local community center with each session focusing on a different topic in science and engineering.

Students are encouraged to try new things in a welcoming, familiar environment where they can ask questions and get hands-on experience. As one of the educators noted, many of these students speak Spanish at home and English at school, making them feel split between two worlds. Facilitating Explora Ingeniería in Spanish helps unite the students’ two worlds. This year, educators focused even more on the parents, helping them actively facilitate learning at home and become role models for their children.

Feedback from parents has been meaningful and positive, with one mom stating, “It was a very rewarding learning experience for our daughters. It helped them develop new skills and expanded their view by showing them interesting ways of doing things because they got to experience it for themselves.” Another father was grateful his son had this opportunity and said, “If I had this opportunity growing up, my life would be very different now.”

Sarah Pratt, science writer and educator, Explora, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Explora in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is one of 10 science centers around the United States partnering with the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, the National Council of La Raza, and the ASPIRA Association to participate in CHISPA: Children Investigating Science with Parents and Afterschool. CHISPA (the Spanish word for “spark”) aims to strengthen Hispanic/Latino communities by engaging children in science and providing local science resources to families.

The program is an excellent fit with Explora’s “listen, welcome, and co-create” community engagement effort within the local Mexican immigrant community. During a listening session with immigrant moms, we learned that many of the parents left Mexico in search of better educational opportunities for their children, yet now feel stymied by a variety of barriers to access, especially in formal education settings.

In Albuquerque, CHISPA brought together Explora and another local organization, Youth Development, Inc. (YDI), and provided bilingual (English and Spanish) curriculum and materials for an afterschool program for elementary-aged children. A Spanish-speaking member of Explora’s educational services group trains YDI educators and teen mentors on the CHISPA curriculum and associated facilitation skills. The bilingual curriculum and facilitation prevent language from being a barrier to access. An important aspect of the training includes techniques for engaging families and helping parents understand the value of science education. The YDI educators and teen mentors then facilitate the curriculum as an afterschool program at the YDI education center. Additionally, Explora holds Family Science events at YDI each year and provides no-cost museum memberships to all participating families so that they can extend their learning at Explora on their own time.

CHISPA is one of a few Explora programs geared toward immigrant families; patience was required to build success. It took time for families to understand the value of Explora and, more importantly, to develop relationships with Explora staff that provided the warmth and welcome families needed to feel comfortable at the museum or engaged in materials-rich, science-intensive afterschool programming at community centers. The time was worth the investment. One couple, immigrants from Mexico who only speak Spanish, recently said, “We are grateful to have somewhere for our daughter to go after school that is better than a babysitter and that will help her. We don’t know science, but now she will” (translated from Spanish).

Andres Barrera Guerrero, educator, and Sarah Pratt, science writer and educator, Explora, Albuquerque, New Mexico

At the Association ScienceCenter-Network in Austria, we strongly believe that the value of science engagement activities goes far beyond education—they can connect and mobilize people, ultimately serving as a tool for social inclusion. Here are some strategies we have found useful when working with refugees:

  • Go where they are. We can’t expect refugees to actively seek out leisure activities; they are struggling to manage their new lives. However, we can offer meaningful activities close to their homes. With our project Knowledge°rooms, we temporarily convert empty shops in underserved areas of Vienna into mini–science centers. Free entrance, nonthreatening design, and cooperation with local community initiatives are the key ingredients for success. People living in the area get curious and, upon entering, find hands-on exhibits and stuff to experiment and tinker with. They start engaging with the activities, with each other, and with the multicultural and multilingual explainer team. At the current venue, we gave refugee groups—mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq—a headstart, inviting them for indoor and outdoor workshops even before opening.
  • Build up confidence. Many cultural institutions want to respond to the increase of refugees in our population but are hesitant. We have initiated a regular exchange between a group of Viennese museums and representatives of refugee/migrant groups and the nongovernmental organizations supporting them. Building trust is key here, and as word of mouth spreads around communities, a number of new collaborations and activities are emerging, like German language classes that use the context of a science museum.
  • Work with them. With the willingness to really understand the needs and challenges of refugees came the realization that this group is very diverse in itself. When we initiated a series of “walk-and-talks” with refugee scientists, the intimate and engaging conversations that resulted made it obvious how these individuals enrich us personally as well as our society.

Barbara Streicher, executive manager, Association ScienceCenter-Network, Vienna, Austria

Maloka Science Center in Bogota promotes social appropriation of science and technology among children and young people in Colombia through interactive learning experiences. One of these experiences is Maloka Viajera, a mobile exhibition related to issues of general interest such as math, astronomy, and electricity, which has reached out to diverse and remote populations that have been affected by the internal armed conflict in Colombia. This conflict has affected our nation for more than five decades, forcing internal migration and also intensifying the conditions for high rates of poverty and low educational levels. Colombia has 6.9 million internally displaced people, the largest number of any nation, according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Therefore, in this context, Maloka is challenged to provide educational experiences that foster the democratization of knowledge. For many of these populations, Maloka Viajera is their first exposure to science and technology subjects. Hence it is important to discuss the role that these experiences play, the challenges they face in the field, and the contributions they can make to long-term processes of production and appropriation of knowledge.

Maloka Viajera visits each territory for five days on average. Each group tours the exhibition for about an hour and a half, accompanied by about eight local guides who have received prior training. So far, Maloka Viajera has visited around 200 municipalities, 17 during 2016. Some of them are border areas that have been considerably affected by the Colombian armed conflict in recent decades, such as the municipalities of Apartadó, Mocoa, and Mitú. During the visit of Maloka Viajera to Apartadó (a small town close to Panama), we found that 64% of visitors have been victims of forced displacement and 86% are living in high poverty conditions.

Although Maloka Viajera has been operating for several years, this year we decided to conduct an evaluation to identify what is interesting to each audience, what are the greatest challenges and difficulties in each territory, and how to adapt our content to serve local needs, although the topics of the exhibition are the same for every region.

For example, we found that visitors were interested in alternative energies and their implementation in marginalized territories with limited access to public services. We found this interest related to the social role that they may want to have in the development and welfare of their regions. We also identified a high level of satisfaction with the experience of Maloka Viajera. This feedback challenges us to design and deliver experiences that might help connect science and technology with social needs and rebuild the social fabric, especially in rural contexts, now that we are preparing a post-conflict process. Our audiences are giving us valuable clues on how to better connect with the needs of the communities we serve.

Angie Ariza, researcher, and Sigrid Falla, director, Science and Society, Maloka Science Center, Bogota, Colombia

Together to Kindergarten, an initiative of the Long Island Children’s Museum (LICM) in Garden City, New York, serves Spanish-, Haitian Creole–, and French-speaking families who have immigrated to the United States and have children about to enter kindergarten. It began as a pilot program 11 years ago, amidst a confluence of community need, foundation interest, and staff passion. Children were arriving in large numbers in local school districts not having attended preschool, socially and academically unprepared for the school experience in their new country, and needing English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Their parents were not accustomed to a school system that welcomed—and even insisted on—parent participation. Immigrants, documented and undocumented, made up 16% of the population of Long Island.

The program operates primarily in the summer at LICM but with supplementary components throughout the year. We emphasize social skills, creative arts activities, reading/storytelling, and inquiry-based science-themed activities. LICM now runs four month-long classes each summer for families who have emigrated from Spanish-speaking countries (Juntos al Kinder) and families from Haiti (Ansanm, Ansanm pou Kindègaten). New this past summer was the addition of families from French-speaking African countries.

A critical and very successful component of Together to Kindergarten is parent/caregiver participation in weekly workshops taught in their language of origin that discuss how to navigate the U.S. school system, and how to use storytelling, songs, and everyday activities to support their children’s learning. Francisco Quijada, who enrolled three children in the program, talked in Spanish about the program’s impact as he prepared to travel with his family to the White House, accompanying LICM staff receiving the National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the (U.S.) Institute of Museum and Library Services. A portion of what he said is translated as follows: “Our children’s schooling is different from what my wife and I had in El Salvador. School here is more personal. They want parents to be involved. The parent classes at the museum taught us many helpful tips to work with our children on their education, including the importance of having a schedule, getting our children to bed early, and being patient as they learned.” He went on to say that his daughter Ruth became very comfortable with English because of her time at the museum. She received a 100% language evaluation score when she entered kindergarten and did not need to be in an ESL class.

The participation of families from different cultures requires knowledge of and adaptations to cultural needs and differences. LICM met this challenge by hiring staff members from the cultures being served in the program and being flexible about program adaptations. When we launched the pilot program, we worked with an adviser, Jeri Robinson from Boston Children’s Museum, to identify and address challenges, including which communities to select, how to handle recruitment, how to schedule parent workshops for differing needs, and of course, how to find funding. Over time, museum staff has learned from these challenges and developed a model program initiative that LICM has expanded and successfully solicited funding for, for several years. A recent funding source is providing resources that will enable the museum to produce an online toolkit for museums and other organizations interested in program replication and lessons learned.

Suzanne LeBlanc, president, Long Island Children’s Museum, Garden City, New York

Amidst political unrest and turbulence, Al Nayzak for Supportive Education and Scientific Innovation was established in 2003 to promote the culture of science and technology among Palestinian children and youth in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, emphasizing the importance of education in creating better opportunities. Through its various programs, Al Nayzak promotes scientific research and critical thinking in vulnerable communities, reaching out to thousands of students.

In accordance with Al Nayzak’s mission to nurture a generation of innovative critical thinkers that employ scientific and practical learning in their lives, we have established Palestine’s first Science and Technology House in the city of Birzeit. The Science and Technology House presents itself as a dynamic and vibrant environment where our visitors are introduced to the latest advancements in science, technology, and engineering in spaces including our Telecommunication exhibit, Robotics Laboratory, and Scientific Garden. Our expert science staff curated these exhibits to highlight the relationship between sciences and our daily lives. The visitor experience reflects a process of active engagement and creative knowledge acquisition. The Science and Technology House receives close to 15,000 visitors annually from marginalized schools in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Our staff also often designs specialized professional courses targeting university students, teachers, and staff of different organizations and companies.

Al Nayzak envisions an innovative, creative Palestinian society, capable of producing original scientific knowledge, integrated with sustainable development. Al Nayzak beneficiaries learn to employ scientific methods in their daily lives: the scientific content is localized to answer the problems children and youth face, and students become empowered with knowledge and critical thinking skills to overcome difficulties. In our path to realizing this vision, the Science and Technology House will continue to promote scientific and technological values and enrich our Palestinian society with a space of creativity, intrigue, and innovation. The Science and Technology House is the pillar of our vision toward establishing the first National Science and Technology Museum in Palestine.

Sarah Kuhail, public relations officer, Al Nayzak for Supportive Education and Scientific Innovation, Science and Technology House, Birzeit, Old City, Palestine

In 2015–16, the Access for All community initiative of the Manitoba Museum, Planetarium, and Science Gallery in Winnipeg provided more than 66,000 complimentary passes to individuals living with special circumstances. We offer three specialized programs to meet the needs of our various communities: Youth-Access for children and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, Community Access for families facing challenging circumstances, and Call it Home for new Canadians.

The museum welcomes newcomers to the province and introduces them to Manitoba’s heritage, diversity, and history through the Call it Home program. We have a longstanding relationship with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM), and every year we provide them with complimentary passes, including spots at the museum’s summer day camp.

In December 2015, we reached out to other agencies and organizations assisting with the resettlement of Syrian families to offer complimentary admission, and within a few weeks, we had distributed over 460 passes. We also provide complimentary museum access through several local schools that have family outreach programs that assist newcomers. In February 2016, 11 siblings who were in hiding for four years in Saudi Arabia arrived in Winnipeg to join their older brother who had arrived several years earlier and had been lobbying for their rescue. We were contacted to provide complimentary access to the museum for six of the siblings. After living in hiding for so long many things, like museums, were completely new to them.

In addition, the museum provides complimentary access to learning centers that provide ESL programs. Our website provides in-class activities and teacher resources that can be easily adapted to any classroom setting and at-home activities for students with internet access.

Scott Young, manager, science communication and visitor experiences, Manitoba Museum, Planetarium and Science Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Thailand is a country in Southeast Asia that borders Myanmar, Laos PDR, Cambodia, and Malaysia. As well as many neighbors, the country has a diverse mix of cultures within its 77 provinces covering 198,115 square miles (513,115 square kilometers). Sometimes it is nicknamed “the golden axe country,” which represents both the fertile land and its axe-like shape. The National Science Museum Thailand (NSM) is located in Pathumthani in the central part of Thailand, with a national mission to encourage scientific culture and promote science popularization in Thai society.

Since 2006, the Science Caravan, NSM’s mobile museum unit, has extended science-based lifelong learning opportunities to more than 3 million people from diverse cultures in all of Thailand’s 77 provinces. The caravan can be tailored to the local needs of each venue and usually features 40 hands-on exhibits, 10 science games and “making” activities, a planetarium dome, a mobile science laboratory, science shows, and teacher workshops. New and current exhibitions are added and others taken away temporarily or permanently to add variety. The caravan also tries to introduce relevant science topics and themes to the community and tackle global issues to raise awareness. Topics have included climate change, food security, and STEM careers.

The philosophy of the caravan is to extend opportunities for hands-on, interactive science learning to young children and adults and to provide tools so that this style of learning can continue in classrooms and homes, particularly for those who lack resources. With this in mind, the caravan travels to every part of the country, making an effort to reach remote, diverse places. This includes mountainous areas where ethnic minorities known as the hill tribes make up the majority of the population, as well as the western border where students are sometimes of Myanmar origin. Occasionally the caravan visits the southern provinces where most of the population is Muslim and some speak the southern Yawi dialect. Sometimes the caravan even visits neighboring countries; for example, it made two recent trips to Laos PDR.

At present, there are two caravans. One travels to urban areas, providing learning services in partnership with the local communities such as local universities, local municipalities, or schools. It serves an average of 10,000 people (mostly students from various schools in the city and nearby provinces) over a four-day period. A smaller, quick-moving operation travels deeper into remote and rural areas, working with local schools to organize a full day of educational programming for an average of 500 students from three or four schools. The caravan usually recruits local students as “volunteer facilitators” during each event, so it also creates a great opportunity to get young students involved in communicating science, sometimes in the areas’ local languages. All programs in both caravans are offered free of charge, funded by the Thai government with additional support from various public and private sectors. The caravan often gains support from and collaborates with other science agencies, including the Institute for Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology, the National Astronomical Research Institute, and the National Science and Technology Development Agencies. This brings together a rich variety of learning experiences for people nationwide.

Science has no boundaries, and it is our goal to make sure the future generations and the current regional populations, no matter where they are, have equal opportunities to enjoy, appreciate, and be inspired by science. Our aim is to motivate people to continue science learning as part of their lifelong development. This is an important and worthy role for science centers and museums that contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ganigar Chen, director of the Office of Public Awareness of Science, National Science Museum Thailand, Pathumthani

Universeum in Gothenburg, Sweden, welcomes more than 550,000 visitors each year. Our mission so far has been to inspire children and young people to take an interest in natural science, technology, and math. Now we are adding to our mission and taking aim for the year 2030 with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. as a clear framework. We do this in order to contribute even more strongly to ecological, social, and economic sustainability.

Sweden predicts a long-term shortage of teachers and engineers. We truly need to seize the potential in every young person—and adult. Language barriers, social background, lack of role models, or other challenges need to be overcome through a systematic, holistic approach at school, at home, and in free time.

We believe Universeum can make a true difference. Our project Young Power will target neighborhoods with high populations of first- and second-generation immigrants, where income and education levels are generally low and language barriers exist. We aim to increase the number of children from these areas that graduate from school with the courses they need to apply to higher education.

Over three years, we will work at one school with all staff, 800 students ages 5 to 16, their parents, and their siblings. Specific parental programs in natural science and technology, a “scientific youth club” for teenagers, and digital tools for all ages are examples of the new approach. The content and learning processes will be customized to each target group.

To enable more children to fulfill their dreams and succeed in school, you need qualified teachers, committed parents, and inspiring learning environments. With the project Young Power, we hope to find a long-term, sustainable educational model that can be implemented throughout Sweden.

We are convinced that all children with the right support and knowledge can become crucial change agents and valuable resources in our common goal to create a sustainable and competitive Sweden and a rich life for everyone.

The project is supported by SEK 10 million (USD 1,095,764) from the Wallenberg Foundation, as well as contributions from the Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg. Researchers will follow the project and evaluate its impact over time.

Anders Ryttarson Törneholm, communicator, and Carina Halvord, CEO, Universeum, Gothenburg, Sweden

It is a rainy morning in Palo Alto, California, and I am a little bit concerned that families will not show up for the citizen science program at the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo. After the entomologist, Armando Del Valle, and I unload the car with all our tools for the program, we start walking toward the staff entrance of the museum. Much to our surprise, 10 families have already arrived. The museum is not even open, and the program will not start for an hour. The families are waving at us and smiling because they are ready to have fun with science.

For a moment I reflect and think that this is not an accident, rather the consequence of the bond I have created with this community. I have known these families for six months already. I built a relationship with them through my role as adjunct faculty at Foothill College’s Family Engagement Institute, facilitating parenting workshops at Fair Oaks Community School. Fair Oaks is a pocket of poverty in Redwood City, California. The majority of the families are immigrants, undocumented, from Latin America, mainly Mexico.

At that time I was working with Cornell University’s Entomology Department adapting their citizen scientist program, the Lost Ladybug Project. We were pilot testing the program with Spanish-speaking groups. It occurred to me to partner with the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo, and with Fair Oaks Community School to deliver the program fully in Spanish. It worked.

During my parenting workshop, we talked about Family Time, a topic in the curriculum that helps parents to think other ways to “do things” with their children that are not watching TV or walking in the mall. For me, it is an opportunity to invite parents to visit the local science centers and children’s museums. This was the perfect way to have their buy-in to come to Palo Alto and experience not only the museum but also a program that they can continue doing at home.

That Saturday morning we had a multigenerational group of 98 participants very engaged and asking great questions. Parents expressed their appreciation of the opportunity to learn something new and of the program’s clear objectives. But foremost, they expressed that they would like to continue looking for the lost ladybug.

Amparo Leyman Pino, education consultant, Palo Alto, California

In its new program Science Without Borders, the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany, offers free, hour-long, multisensory guided tours for refugee groups twice a month. Our tour guides are trained in intercultural communication, and we have chosen topics that can be understood across cultures and without many words. So far, there are tours in three different exhibitions: Astronomy, Paper, and Musical Instruments. We demonstrate various objects, explain them in simple, German language, and hand out accompanying materials with many photos.

The demonstrations are very visual, so the content is easy to understand for people with minimal German language skills. The idea is to give the group many ways to participate, like trying to get a sound out of an alphorn or being part of a small science show.

In our experience, the project has been received very positively by the refugees—and by other visitors as well, who often join the guided tours spontaneously. The program is kindly supported by the Freundes und Förderkreis Deutsches Museum e.V. (Friends and Sponsors of the Museum).

Susanne Schneider, press and public relations, Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany

The goal of Queens 20/20 is to create a network of hyperlocal initiatives anchored in high-needs and highly aspirational communities where first- and second-generation Americans are offered real pathways out of poverty through a pipeline of STEM programs and opportunities. The New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) is launching this work locally in the Corona neighborhood of Queens, where our institution is located.

Corona is often a first stop for newly arrived immigrants. More than two-thirds of residents were born outside the United States (primarily in Mexico, Colombia, or Ecuador, as well as other countries in Central and South America) and more than 90% speak a language other than English. Poverty rates in Corona are higher than in the rest of Queens, with more than 22% of households below the poverty line. Our local school district is one of city’s most crowded districts with 56 schools serving over 60,000 English Language Learners and Title I students.

We are working in partnership with parents, community organizations, and our local school district to advance Corona as a STEM-rich learning ecosystem through a multifaceted program for preK through college students, families, and schools. Queens 20/20 provides professional development, support, and resources for teachers; offers STEM career advice to students; and positions NYSCI as a welcoming community hub for families and schools.

What Geoffrey Canada has done in Harlem to disrupt the cycle of generational poverty for thousands of young people through the Harlem Children’s Zone, Queens 20/20 has the potential to do across the United States to support diverse and aspirational youth from high-needs immigrant communities in pursuing STEM degrees and careers. Investing where there is both need and aspiration is a powerful strategy that can be used across the United States to create economic opportunity for immigrant children and diversify the STEM workforce for generations to come.

Andrés Henríquez, vice president of STEM learning in communities, New York Hall of Science, Queens

The Discovery Centre has worked with community organizations to offer free preorganized group visits for new immigrants to Nova Scotia. Over a seven-week period at the start of 2016, close to 200 participants, within a wide age demographic (toddlers to seniors) visited the center.

We scheduled visit times (usually in the afternoons) for when most visitors to the exhibit galleries would be either science center members or the participating groups. We believe that less stimulation helped create a comfortable environment for the new visitors to explore freely.

Consideration was given to any potential language barriers within the daily offered programs. We also had volunteers who speak Arabic or Kurdish available during scheduled visits. Also, we chose science programming for its visual appeal and awe-inspiring moments that transcend language barriers. Exhibits such as the Bubble Room, the Arch Bridge, and Lindsay Building Centre (which houses thousands of Legos for free play) were favorites with visiting families.

Steve Thurbide, manager of science education, Discovery Centre, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Between 2014 and 2015, Parque Explora in Medellin, Colombia, along with the municipal office for youth, developed the project Expanded Territory, dedicated to strengthening the capacities of young people in some neighborhoods of Medellin. This is the letter (translated from Spanish) that John Restrepo, mentor of social cartography and leader of a youth group called MCJ (Youth Cultural Movement), wrote to the Expanded Territory team at the end of the project. MCJ is dedicated, among other things, to the defense of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community in their neighborhood and to victims of the internal armed conflict in Colombia.

“Many small people, in small places, doing small things can change the world.”
—Eduardo Galeano

Meeting with others is not just a way to interact and to build collaboratively. In our context, it is certain that by bringing knowledge together with dreams and emotions, we will discover the most effective way of transforming the realities that beset us.

We, young men and women in District 8, have gone through projects, institutions, organizations, and individual initiatives in search of becoming agents of change in our territory—proposing new ways to plan and live within our communities, using our own vital energy and creative ability to break the stereotypes and boundaries imposed on our bodies and minds.

Expanded Territory (2014–15) was a wonderful experience that thanks to a great team has become one of the most significant processes for youth development in District 8. It has brought knowledge to young people that used to be out of their reach and localized it in their own territories to help them realize their dreams.

The MCJ (Youth Cultural Movement) extends its thanks to the Expanded Territory team for contributing significantly to the consolidation of a collective dream and for facilitating dialogue that gives us the beloved responsibility of creating new opportunities for the young people of our city.

Finally, as a leader of social cartography, I want to personally recognize the Expanded Territory team. My personal experience goes beyond my happiness to have had the opportunity to be part of a team, an institution, and a project that brought me economic support and strengthened my leadership.

In 2014 I came to this process with a personal goal and some wounds that war left me because of my temporary departure from the territory and the inability to exercise my social and community practices. Today after two years I find it difficult to estimate how much the Expanded Territory experience has given me but I am certain that it allowed me to rebuild my life and my dreams.

Today I’m beginning to regain what I lost because of the war. Today, I’m able to dream again. I have security. I am starting to get back my identity and recognition in my community and my city.

A smile, a nod, a laugh, a hug to all my colleagues, friends, allies, partners, and the beloved team of Expanded Territory; accompanied by best wishes and hope to continue to build together,

Scroll to Top