Braval, 25 years sowing social cohesion in El Raval of Barcelona

In the neighborhood of El Raval, with 47,000 inhabitants (3% percent of the population of Barcelona), 51 % are immigrants, while in Barcelona they are 22 %, in Catalonia 16 %, and in Spain 13 %. In 25 years, since 1998, the Braval association has been promoting social cohesion, fighting against marginalization and promoting the "social elevator". Braval has had 1,600 participants from 8 to 18 years of age from 30 countries and 10 languages, practicing 9 religions.    

Francisco Otamendi-May 21, 2024-Reading time: 4 minutes
Braval sports Barcelona immigration

A Braval indoor soccer team in Barcelona's El Raval neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Braval.

Braval's 6 indoor soccer teams and 6 basketball teams compete in the Barcelona School Sports Council (CEEB) Sports Games with teams from all the neighborhoods of Barcelona. The president of Braval, the pedagogue Josep Masabeu (Sabadell, 1952), considers that participating in a standardized league "favors accommodation and mutual knowledge between natives and immigrants".

Braval is an initiative for development and human and social promotion of Opus Dei in the neighborhood of El Raval, which for 25 years has been doing more than a grain of sand to facilitate the integration of immigrants into society. Because El Raval is dominated by an impoverished middle class with a high number of families at risk of social exclusion.

And indeed, through the activities and programs The Braval program, which revolves around collective sports, allows young people to get to know each other, understand each other, understand each other, respect each other a little more every day, promote each other, and make friends, as Marc, a young man from the Philippines who arrived in Barcelona at the age of eight with his parents and came to Braval to play soccer, tells us.

Marc and his friends

"Thanks to Braval, I am where I am, finishing my degree in Business Administration and Management," says Marc, who speaks of the friends he has made at Braval, after listening to Josep MasabeuThe affective aspect, which is very difficult to typify, to add and subtract, is what makes this go forward in the end".

Marc, for example, talks about Ramadan: "We have always been curious about how Ramadan is lived, a whole month... I have had Muslim friends who have invited me to be with them for a day, a suffering, without eating, and then, after sunset, the family comes, and they set the whole table with food. It's okay for that guy to invite his friends who are not Muslim." Marc explains that he is Catholic and that his grandparents were Catholic. Generally, in the Philippines, the population is Catholic.

Masabeu reports that currently, there are 250 participants in the activities, 0 absenteeism and dropouts, and a 90 percent school success rate in ESO (at Braval they offer extracurricular activities and educational reinforcement, so they learn about these things).

15,000 hours per year to help others

"We work exclusively with volunteers. In one year, 160 volunteers of different profiles collaborate with Braval, dedicating 15,000 hours a year to helping others. Since the beginning, we have had 1,010 volunteers," says Josep Masabeu, who is proud to have volunteers from the young people who have participated in the programs. They have become volunteers themselves.

Another reason to rejoice is that of the 1,600 participants, 580 children are working with a contract, having completed all the legal and administrative procedures, 220 have completed high school, 310 have completed vocational training, and 27 have finished university studies. "They are citizens committed to the development of our country". 

Braval's influence

Is Braval's influence noticeable over the years? Masabeu does not dodge the answer, nor does he hide his identity. "The neighborhood is problematic, but it is quiet, it has changed for the better, although there are problems, of course. Filipinos, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are the most common nationalities. In another order of things, there has been a lot of cleaning of narco-flats. A problem that we have had for a long time are the buildings that investment funds buy and do not rehabilitate, this is not fixed in two days. Housing is a problem".

"But then, another factor to take into account is that we have kids, volunteers from 9 religions, Catholics, Evangelists, Adventists, Orthodox, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, agnostics..., the average permanence of the kids in Braval's activities is six years".

Respect for beliefs

"We respect all beliefs, but we do not hide our Christian identity. A priest from Santa Maria de Montalegre [church in El Raval, entrusted to Opus Dei in 1967, from whose volunteers Braval's idea came up], one or two days a week, and those who want to talk to him. What's more, the kids talk a lot about religion. Because almost every day is the feast of some religion. What is the feast? What do you celebrate? Why do you eat this and not this? Are you coming to my party? I'll come to yours... These are normal conversations among kids. 

Sometimes, some journalists and politicians say that religion is a factor of confrontation, and so, in order not to cause problems, we have to show that we are all non-denominational. "For these kids, this argument means losing many possibilities of help," adds Masabeu.

"Because let's see. Any person has five legs: family, work, friends, customs and beliefs. These kids have very complicated family situations, in general terms, and those who have arrived by boat, have no real family; work, the percentage of unemployment is very high; their friends are "just as 'quinquis' as they are"; their customs, they cannot live their customs here as they did in their country; what do they have left? Their beliefs. Well, lean on beliefs and you'll see. If belief becomes the only identity factor, we are at the gates of jihadism. We have talked a lot with the Mossos, with the police, etc., about all this". 

Friendly, friendly relationship

Let's look at the La Rambla bombings, he continues. "What happened? Their only reference ended up being a small piece of their religion. At Braval, we have achieved a very affectionate, friendly and friendly relationship. We also have two catechesis groups, which we offer to families when they come every year, and we offer Catholic catechesis, which is what I know, because Braval began in 1998, but was consolidated in 2002, on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of Saint Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei".

Now two boys are being confirmed, and a third is being confirmed and making his First Communion. They are 16 years old, and then a volunteer. "Confirmed on May 31 In Montalegre, the Cardinal [Juan José Omella, Archbishop of Barcelona] is going. All the teams will go there, because they have invited their friends, so everybody will wear the best piercings..., the best suits, but they will go, because they are friends, I come to your party, and you come to my party...".

Reflection on immigration

In addition to the regular activities, Josep Masabeu says that from 2005 to date 129 Conversations on Immigration have taken place, in which "we have brought together 660 experts from various fields and backgrounds in the search for operational guidelines to effectively resolve the difficulties of immigration processes. The knowledge acquired has been published in the book "Keys to success for the social elevator.". Braval, he says, "has become a point of analysis on immigration and social cohesion".

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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