Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC): UC supports the arrival of five Afghan families to Santiago

Sakina Hassani (25) and Masouma Mouhamadi (25) – students of art and sculpture at the University of Kabul – show from their cell phones the images of one of three murals that they painted in the building of the Afghan National Television, in commemoration of the 100 years since his country gained independence from the British. But with the return of the Taliban regime on August 15, its murals were immediately covered in gray paint. “They are against art and artists,” says Sakina. The threat message was clear to both of them.

Sakina and Masouma, along with 16 other people, including seven children, decided to leave Afghanistan and take refuge in Santiago, after a long journey of almost a month and 16 thousand kilometers, with stops in Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and France. They arrived on September 22 and since then, the university —through the Faculties of Medicine, Letters, Social Sciences, the Deputy Vice-Rector for International Affairs, Pastoral Affairs and the UC Christus Health Network— decided to deploy its team of academics, professionals and student volunteers to coordinate efforts to support their insertion and reception in Chilean society .

“The university, which has strongly started its UC Intercultural Program , has found it very important to join the work of institutions, civil organizations and the State to help welcome these people who live in a complex situation and with limited resources to settle in Chile “, says professor of the School of Psychology, the Faculty of Social Sciences UC , Roberto Gonzalez , who also leads the Intercultural Program. “UC can help build a more realistic support of direct refugee support services,” he adds.

In this way, the university is participating through multiple initiatives . One of the most important is the intensive teaching of our language for three months , in charge of the UC Spanish Program of the Faculty of Letters .

“The language is the main vehicle for the immersion of any non-native speaker,” says its director, Professor Gloria Toledo, who organized a reception for families with her team last Wednesday. There, they gave them their Spanish manuals and organized them into courses: one for mothers and fathers, another for children and a third section for young people without children. “The course will begin this October 25 and will have a frequency of three times a week, in addition to tutorials by undergraduate students of courses related to the teaching of Spanish as a Foreign Language (ELE). This project has sensitized our students, who in 2018 also collaborated in teaching Spanish to Haitian migrants ”, he says.

Psychosocial support and more
For its part, the Faculty of Social Sciences is developing a “psychosocial support system”, which goes from the accompaniment of families in their first days until the moment when Afghan families can settle more definitively in a house. “Today, these families are living in two Jesuit residences, in the Padre Hurtado commune and in the Toesca neighborhood, but they are temporary measures. We are collaborating in the search for financing to find a more definitive settlement ”, points out Professor González.

And once they are installed in a more permanent home, the objective of this psychosocial support network is also to work with their future neighbors, with future schools and with future family health centers that will serve them .

“As a School of Social Work and as a faculty we can contribute with actions in the short, medium and long term in the process of insertion in our society. We can accompany them, show them how our country works, what the Social Protection Network is and how they could be linked and inserted into that network. From the academy, we have a very important role as agents of change ”, says the ETSUC professor, Olaya Grau.

“The basic right to migration and the well-being of foreign communities in our country are two strong lines of study and research in our Faculty, in which we can actively support” -Mariane Krause, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences


Likewise, the Faculty of Medicine is providing support to ensure medical control and vaccination of children and adults. For its part, Pastoral UC is organizing activities for the little ones, along with holding a Christmas celebration in December. And the Vice-Rector’s Office for International Affairs has included them in the Welcome and Accompaniment Program that all international students receive.

Opportunity for cultural exchange

Afghan children at the San Joaquin campus last Wednesday, October 13. Photo: César Cortés.
Fawad Rasa (25), engineer and geologist, is part of this group of new migrants. Among his wishes is to be able to do a master’s degree and start a life in Chile with his wife and children from scratch. And he already has plans to organize an event to promote Afghan culture, at the end of his Spanish studies at UC, aimed at our entire university community. “We would love to show you the diverse cultures that exist in Afghanistan, the artistic work of Sakina and Masouma and the work of the young Afghan mountaineers movement – in which his wife participates – as well as tell them why we had to leave our country,” he says .

It should be noted that all of them are linked to the Anglo-Afghan sports foundation Ascend Athletics , whose mission has been to work with young Afghan women to empower their leadership through mountaineering.

“The university, which has strongly started its UC Intercultural Program, has found it very important to join the work of institutions, civil organizations and the State to help welcome these people who live in a complex situation and with limited resources to settle in Chile ”-Roberto González, academic School of Psychology


“The basic right to migration and the well-being of foreign communities in our country are two strong lines of study and research in our Faculty, in which we can actively support. But also, I firmly believe that this will be an opportunity for reciprocal exchange, to build bridges and generate links by learning from different cultures, experiences, values ​​and languages ​​”, says the dean of UC Social, Mariane Krause.

At the moment, Professor Roberto González points out, a group of volunteers led by UC Sebastián Villarreal, a lawyer, is being articulated in order to provide relevant networks, aid and contacts that support insertion in Chile. The idea is to be able to put together a work table with the different actors that are added.

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