Creating a Community Support System for Refugees in Brazil

Maria Alice Cruz (left) and Gilce Azevedo (right).

While working on a project for a class at UniversidadePotiguar (UnP), Gilce Azevedo and Maria Alice Cruz were disturbed by how difficult it is for refugees to integrate with limited resources and support from the local community. To help overcome this in Natal, Brazil, Gilce and Maria Alice started Sem Fronteiras, a project that equips refugees with skills, resources, and support to integrate more easily into Brazilian life.  

Gilce, with a Psychology degree, and Maria Alice, who had studied Accounting, had experienced living in a foreign country. But upon returning to Brazil to study International Relations, they started to better understand the plight refugees in Brazil often faced, such as not having access to the public medical system, difficulty finding jobs because of the language barrier, or problems gathering the necessary legal documents to stay in Brazil. As they learned more, they wanted to help. They started Sem Fronteiras as a project for one of their classes.

Sem Fronteiras has three objectives: 1) help refugees who live in Natal; 2) enable volunteers – students and practitioners – to gain practical experience working in the field; and 3) educate people about the needs and challenges refugees have integrating in the community so that more people can help make their transition easier. The organization provides services in international relations, free medical and dental care through the Integrated Health Center of UnP (CIS UNP), Portuguese language courses, and legal assistance.  

“A great aspect of this project is giving students an opportunity to gain practical experience,” commented Gilce. “Even more importantly, it helps the students and volunteers gain perspective by learning about the challenges others face in everyday life, and it exposes them to incredible cultures outside of Brazil!” 

While the organization has already had a lasting impact on the community, this is only the beginning. Recently, they founded an association comprised of students, refugees, and volunteers from the community. This will allow them to grow and provide additional services for years to come.