Strengthening empowerment and resilience for refugees in southern spain  

Paloma, V., Morena, I. de la, Sladkova, J., & López‐Torres, C. (2020). A peer support and peer mentoring approach to enhancing resilience and empowerment among refugees settled in southern Spain. Journal of Community Psychology, n/a(n/a), 1-14.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • As of 2018, Spain received more applications for asylum than ever before, making it an important route into the EU through the Mediterranean 
  • Many refugees experienced consequential disruptions within their family networks and communities that made it more likely for them to feel powerless, upon arrival
  • This study examines refugees’ experiences of empowerment and resilience by following 10 adult refugees that were participating in a 15-week intervention in southern Spain
    • The intervention consisted of two phases: training refugees to be mentors, followed by the newly trained mentors facilitating peer-support groups in their native languages
    • The researchers examined written evaluations and mentors’ narratives throughout the entire intervention
  • Findings indicate that resilience in refugees rose over the course of the first phase of the intervention and remained steady in the second half 
  • Results also show that mentor empowerment increased  throughout the intervention and surged during the second phase
  • This study highlights the importance of implementing peer support and peer mentoring approaches to strengthen empowerment and resilience

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This study aims to analyze the processes of resilience and empowerment experienced by refugees in southern Spain during their participation in a community‐based intervention. Intervention design covered two phases over 15 weeks: (a) accompanying a group of 10 settled refugees to become mentors, making use of a peer‐support‐group format; and (b) holding four cultural peer‐support groups made up of newly arrived refugees led by the previously trained settled refugees, following a peer‐mentoring format. We analyzed the mentors’ narratives and written evaluations produced over the course of the intervention program. Mentor resilience increased during the first program phase and remained high and stable during the second phase. Mentor empowerment steadily increased throughout the duration of the program, and was fueled when participants became mentors to newly arrived refugees during the second phase. This study highlights how a peer‐support and peer‐mentoring approach is useful for enhancing the resilience and empowerment of refugees in receiving societies.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The results highlight the usefulness of a peer‐support and peer‐mentoring approach to enhancing resilience and empowerment by refugee mentors in the receiving society. Specifically, the mentors’ resilience increased over time, and they were empowered to utilize their inner strength toward developing new support systems, taking specific actions to improve their community’s situation, and training to help newly arrived refugees in southern Spain. To our knowledge, this is the first study that sequentially combines peer‐support and peer‐mentoring formats into the same intervention design to explore the benefits that these types of community‐based programs have on the positive and active development of refugees in host settings.

The results suggest the need to gear interventions toward building refugees’ inner strength—that is, promoting the resilience process—as a preliminary step to “looking outwards” and taking action. In fact, for our participants to successfully take on the role of mentors, an initial phase was required, whereby, they were given the opportunity to improve their resilient strategies to alleviate the suffering presented initially, before moving onto promoting a process of empowerment over the course of the sessions. In any event, our experience suggests that, to some extent, both processes—resilience and empowerment—interacted throughout the program in a mutually supportive dynamic. In the words of Brodsky and Cattaneo (2013): “empowerment builds on resilience to provide the bridge that connects individual power to social power, changing the world around the individual and local community. Those external changes have profound psychological impact, building resources that may in turn shore up resilience, in the case of future adversity” (p. 344).

We found this intervention to be successful at activating four protective processes that respond to the main challenges faced by refugees upon arriving in the host society and which enhance their resilience and empowerment: the elaboration of “migratory mourning,” enjoying close peer‐support relationships, acquiring knowledge of the receiving context, and playing a meaningful role as mentors.


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