Innovative Program in Malta Illuminates Refugee Experience

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Malta Program
Thursday, June 13th

The country of Malta is a flashpoint in the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and, as such, it offers an ideal opportunity to explore issues of migration, refugees, and resettlement policy. Dr. Tim Raphael, Professor of Arts, Culture, and Media at Rutgers University–Newark and Director of the Center for Migration and the Global City, was awarded two grants from Rutgers Global to embark on an innovative and multi-dimensional project in Malta. 

With the goal of documenting displacement through digital media, Dr. Raphael wanted to provide refugees and at-risk youth in Malta with the tools and training to tell their own unique stories. He proposed partnering with Spark 15, the world’s first youth-led refugee NGO, on the project. 

Spark 15 formed following a UNHCR consultation meeting in October 2015, and its members are comprised of young people ranging in age from16 to 28 hailing from many different countries, including Eritrea, Lebanon, Somalia and Libya. Dr. Raphael noted, “I first met the members of Spark 15 in Malta on a trip led by Rutgers University–Newark Graduate School Director Kyle Farmbry in 2017. They spoke with me about their intention to create a media wing of Spark 15 so they could share their stories and represent themselves and their lives in Malta.” Spark 15’s co-founder and president Hourie Tafech is currently studying in the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers University–Newark.

Dr. Raphael also wanted to engage Rutgers students to become involved in this project, and worked with his colleague Dr. Mayte Green-Mercado, Assistant Professor of Islamic History at Rutgers University–Newark, to propose adding a new component to the Rutgers study abroad program in Malta: the Malta international internship. This week-long, interdisciplinary, three-credit internship program would partner Rutgers students studying abroad in Malta with members of Spark 15 for the project. 

A key component to this project was photography—truly providing a lens into the refugee experience—so Dr. Raphael and his partners, filmmaker Julie Winokur and photo-journalist Ed Kashi, worked with the National Geographic Photo Camp, which provided cameras, workshops, and in-the-field training. Additional partners included Talking Eyes Media and Newest Americans, who are working on a documentary film about Spark 15, and the Integra Foundation, a refugee advocacy organization in Malta.

This innovative project has now come together, as a group of five students—four from Rutgers–Newark and one exchange student from China who is studying at Rutgers–New Brunswick—traveled to Malta in late May to participate in the international internship program. One participant, Ashley Mendoza, was awarded the prestigious Gilman Scholarship specifically to participate in the Malta program. 

The student interns worked with National Geographic and Newest Americans staff, served as group leaders for the refugee photo teams, and were responsible for behind the scenes documentary photography of the process. In this capacity, they interacted with Spark 15 members and other refugee youth participants in the camp. 

Dr. Raphael shared: “As part of the internship, each student is conducting research about the young refugees they worked with during the program, and will be completing a multimedia project when they return from Malta. They will also take a two-week intensive course on Maltese history and culture with Dr. Green-Mercado, and Associate Professor of History Gary Farney.”

There are plans to feature the final Photo Camp video in the Newest Americans digital magazine later this year. 

As for future plans, Dr. Raphael shared that he hopes to continue to provide training and resources to Spark 15, and to establish an ongoing relationship between Spark 15 and Rutgers students through continuing opportunities for internships and study in Malta.

A recent article appeared on Lovin’ Malta about the project, featuring photos from the project. Read the article here.

Malta Program