Making friends from around the world
“Culturingua helps increase intercultural understanding, promote economic empowerment, and helps people better understand others from different cultural backgrounds—both their neighbors and people from the other side of the world,” Culturingua co-founder Nadia Mavrakis says about the organization she started in 2018 with COO, Nader Mehdawi.
Nadia is participating in the 2021 – 2022 SVPSA Fellowship and the organization is sponsored by SVPSA to utilize a skilled volunteer portal, Catchafire.
“Networking with peers and building relationships with people we can trust is just awesome,” Nadia said of the Fellowship. “Everyone has a different niche, but we’re all working together for the betterment of society. SVP’s partner connections are invaluable because every partner has their own network and resources – and we get to learn from all of them.”
Culturingua works to celebrate the people and heritage of the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia with a focus on two main program areas, education, and community development.
Culturingua’s virtual exchange program, known as the Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey, connects high school students in San Antonio with peers in the Middle East and North Africa and creates opportunities to build bonds of friendship, share cultures, and work together to create social enterprise solutions to address one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The entries are judged by a geographically diverse panel and local winners are given the opportunity to present during San Antonio Entrepreneurship Week each June.
“These are the types of experiences that people have in college or later in life, so it’s great to have it at this age and to realize how vast the world really is,” Nadia said. “This helps them prepare for an increasingly globalized world and to enter the workforce prepared to collaborate with international peers and colleagues.”
The Virtual Exchange also makes the world seem a bit smaller too, Nadia says, by showing students how much they have in common with others. Students bond over a shared love of anime or music – common threads of humanity. The Virtual Exchange program was developed through a partnership with San Antonio Independent School District and is funded by the Stevens Initiative, a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Aspen Institute, and the San Antonio Area Foundation.
Culturingua also provides enrichment language and culture programs that allow SAISD students in grades 3 – 9 to explore countries of the Arab world more deeply by pretending to visit while learning Arabic functional vocabulary and exploring current events. This includes an annual summer camp and after school enrichment programs that incorporate cooking, cuisine, art, and clothing. Qatar Foundation International sponsors this program (the only summer Arabic program they fund in Texas) as does H-E-B.
Another important focus is empowering San Antonio residents living in the Medical Center neighborhood, most of whom are underserved immigrants and refugees from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Culturingua partners with other organizations including Methodist Healthcare Ministries, to address the needs of this community and the conditions needed to live healthy, successful lives here in San Antonio. Culturingua’s programs are designed to assist with integration, interpretation, and to give immigrant families a base of support as they navigate unfamiliar places. Recent work included Covid vaccination promotion and a partnership with the City and County for census outreach.
“Since late September 2021, approximately 2,000 Afghan refugees moved to San Antonio, and around half are children. We work with local agencies to empower families with the tools they need to sustain their families,” Nadia said.
One such Afghan support program is the San Antonio Community of Welcome for Afghans program, in partnership with Interfaith San Antonio Alliance and the City of San Antonio. The program pairs congregations, organizations, universities, and local employers with new Afghan families to support the integration and feeling of belonging of new Afghans and foster creation of friendships between new Afghans and existing San Antonio residents.
If you’d like to get involved, attend Culturingua’s upcoming Community Day for the San Antonio Community of Welcome for Afghans. The event will be held on Saturday, March 26, from 10am to 2pm at Raymond Russell Park and will feature food, COVID vaccines and health screenings by UT Health, a farmers market provided by the San Antonio Food Bank and other activities.