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  • Writer's pictureMeghann Ormond

Seeing 'Invisible cities' with Migrantour

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

'The cities of the Migrantour network offer intercultural urban walks, a form of responsible tourism at kilometer zero, which sees as protagonists fellow citizens also coming from distant worlds.' (Migrantour website)

When I first got involved in the Roots Guide project, I was aware of a handful of interactive place-based storytelling intiatives that focused on migration and migrant heritage in the Netherlands and a few other countries (e.g., Rederij Lampedusa and Black Heritage Tours in Amsterdam, etc.). I knew nothing at all about Migrantour, and it was only when I presented the Roots Guide project in Lisbon in December 2018 that I finally -- and thankfully -- came to learn of this interesting initiative.

Migrantour is a network of not-for-profit organisations within the European Union that offers intercultural walking tours in cities mostly - at least for now! - concentrated in Southern Europe. These special tours are developed and led by local residents with migration backgrounds who shed new and important light on the neighbourhoods in which they live, places and communities that are often overlooked by tourists and ignored or avoided by other locals.

Given the remarkably creative, inclusive and respectful ways in which the walking tours are delivered, the Migrantour project offers incredible inspiration for the work I'm undertaking as part of the Roots Guide team. So, it was a great joy and honour to share information about the Roots Guide project at the Migrantour network's final conference from 3-4 December 2019 in Milan.

The incredible, tireless work and dedication of organisations specialising in responsible tourism and social inclusion - like Renovar a Mouraria (Portugal), Viaggi Solidali (Italy), Bastina Voyages (France) and AlterBrussels (Belgium) - was on full display at the conference. They've got a slew of impressive and impactful initiatives. These include assisting French language-learners in Brussels with getting to know their new neighbourhoods and gaining confidence in expressing themselves in French; partnering up with local museums in Torino and Genova; and pairing local guides together with university anthropology students to develop new intercultural tour routes in Paris.

We participated in high-quality storytelling and business development workshops, learning about how to engage our audiences with compelling stories and using fun tools like 'binomio fantastico' to do it. We also heard the results of the University of Bologna's Migrantour impact study which looked at the role of the tours in changing the lives and perspectives of guides, tour participants and local residents.

All participants also joined a Migrantour of Milan, and I had the chance to take the Via Padova tour. With our guide who came to Italy from Peru when she was 10 years old, we visited a Muslim prayer space and its very kind Algerian imam who came to Italy in the 1970s for his university studies; a wall mural of the Peruvian popular saint Sarita Colonia, cherished by many Peruvians living in the neighbourhood; a very multicultural school in Ex Trotter Park, with children representing more than 50 nationalities; a wonderful-smelling coffee roaster with a huge bean grinder; an international supermarket where we could buy the special spiced Peruvian chocolate our guide loved in her hot chocolate at Christmastime; and a centre offering health services for undocumented migrants. The tour opened my eyes to the impact of right-wing politics on religious freedom and on migrants' access to essential services.

The entire experience left me with more desire than ever to develop and deliver the best Roots Guide possible together with our wonderful team of storytelling facilitators, local guides and designers. It also piqued my interest in developing a Migrantour in Utrecht, the city in which I've been living for the last 8 years - and I'm already on my way towards exploring this prospect with a few local not-for-profit organisations. More details to come!

> Check out more about my Migrant Heritage research line

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