Nexes Interculturals – Critical Thinking and Youth Participation: Creating Links

Year of production: 2023

Nexes Interculturals is a wonderfully diverse non-profit organisation that operates in the heart of Barcelona and enhances the media literacy of young people with the aim of fostering sustainable social transformation and boosting active participation. They work locally and transnationally and are promoting democracy, human rights and the fight against any kind of discrimination. How does Nexes connect all these topics and activities? Why do they prioritise developing the critical thinking of young people? Read on to learn more and become inspired!
I met with Davide Tonon, the CEO of Nexes, who has expanded his reach into different fields during his twenty years of work in the youth field. Davide’s approach on Media and Information Literacy (MIL) is primarily through the concept of intercultural learning. Together with Maria Couto Escudero, who has a degree in pedagogy, they run Nexes with dedication. The name of the organisation means “links”, and this shows in all levels of their work.

Human rights at the core of the work

They explained to me that one of the most important aspects of “linking” is connecting human rights and media literacy , which is done through various activities and practical participation to raise the critical thinking of young people. Maria says that critical thinking is the core of their activity, in order that young people can incorporate this when receiving incoming information. This is how they tell narratives about migration and intercultural conflicts, as they approach these issues from different angles and through different media. For example, they have been using both photo and video projects aimed at young people and, lately, they have also added game design into the mix of methods.

Davide says that 70 different languages are spoken in Raval, a region of Barcelona where Nexes coordinates special tours to improve cultural understanding: “It’s like having a little world together. So, what do you do with that? You can crash or you can try to make something interesting. That’s basically the intercultural learning approach that we promote.”

With Migrantour, the migrants who have moved to Barcelona introduce visitors of Barcelona to the places that are important to them, such as a language school, a community garden built in memory of those killed by the police during the conflict, a design shop opened by migrants from Africa and many more similar initiatives. This is an opportunity to see the city through the eyes of migrants and notice stories that are not being promoted in mainstream tourism trips.

Warm welcome in a community garden with a tragic story

I also had the chance to take one of these tours led by young migrants. We, with a group of people, were taken to the Raval neighbourhood in Barcelona, which at first glance seemed like an ordinary street covered in beautiful murals. But then we were told that it had a different significance. In 2013, a local man had died on this spot due to police violence. As the crime has not yet been solved, a community garden was created in his memory to raise awareness of social inequality.

At first glance, it seemed incomprehensible that there could be a garden on this narrow street. However, we were soon led to a little paradise which opened out for us in the heart of Barcelona, a rich and lush place with plants, a rest area and a children’s playground – all full of life and local people spending time together. The cosy community garden called Plaza a Juan Andres Benitez, assembled from self-made decorations, felt like a little oasis in Raval, which is often said to be one of the most dangerous areas in the entire city. Rumours that had not left us untouched.

On entering the garden, we were warmly welcomed by people with friendly faces who asked us to take a seat at a large table in the middle of the square. An older Colombian man standing at the end of the table told us how he had to flee his home because it was no longer safe to be there. He shared stories of living in Barcelona, community work and how Colombia always remains in his heart. As a thank you for being his guests, he offered us delicious home-made arepas, grilled corn cakes and a sweet drink from Columbia’s kitchen.

Our group on the Media and Information Literacy Study Visit truly enjoyed this gloomy evening in Raval, sharing space with locals, who were probably looking at us with as curious eyes as we did at them. Children were playing around us, and one little girl approached to ask for a drink. We gladly handed it to her. Soon, another local, a little black and white dog came by asking us to give it a ball which was in a supermarket trolley near the table. We felt at ease, safe and welcome, and we experienced intercultural learning in action. Perfectly in line with the initiatives and values espoused by Nexes. In this way, in their modest environment, we are greeted by people who openly give us an insight into their daily lives.

After the refreshing snack, we were invited to visit a shop run by people who risked their lives to come to Europe through the African deserts. Hearing their stories gave us much food for thought but it was also inspiring. Seeing how they have fought for their rights to start a legitimate business and sell their own clothes and handicrafts; it is proof of how giving space and opportunities to marginalised groups can benefit both the locals and the migrants.

The participants in our group all agreed that this kind of experience increases empathy, helps to see another side of culture and opens narratives that are not dominant in the media. This, in turn, is part of Nexes’s long-standing mission. As Maria says, they work every day to put their small piece of the puzzle into the big picture of global justice.

How good of a manipulator are you?

In addition to bringing hidden narratives to the fore, one of Nexes’s areas of activity in their own words is game-based learning. Nexes sees games as tools for social transformation. Topics such as gender issues, solidarity economy and interculturality are dealt with through various educational games.

For example, there is a game named “Posem-nos les ulleres”, where the participants need to place themselves in the shoes of different people, which allows us to reflect on the privileges and discriminations they face in different situations. They have developed a witty game named “ Social Inclusion out of the Box”, which deals with the problem of social exclusion in society. In the game directed at young people, the monsters of social exclusion have invaded the Earth. The players need to become superheroes who build magic bridges capable of transforming the monsters into acts of inclusion.

They also introduced me to one of their most important games “The Manipulator”, which aims to raise an understanding of critical thinking among young people. It is a card game in which the players must work together to learn about so-called “ fake news” (though a more accurate term in MIL is misinformation and disinformation). Each player or team will have a stereotypical family role: the retired grandfather who believes all the news he hears while shopping, the teenager always connected to social networks, the typical brother-in-law who spreads every news he receives through the thousand WhatsApp groups he has joined, etc. The players in their roles need to find out which news items are false. They learn that misinformation and disinformation can be about gender, migration, environment or also, for example, about current topics like Covid-19.

Maria believes that through these games, which offer a common learning space, they can give young people different perspectives. She finds it to be really important to bring media and information literacy to educational activities in our society, especially for young people. “The next generation is our base and it’s important to know the message that we want to spread about the media and society. This is the narrative we are creating for today and for the future.”


Photo of Piret Jaaks
Piret Jaaks

Piret works as a freelance writer, journalist and public relations professional. She holds a PhD in Performing Arts and strives to weave ethnographic perspectives into all of her writing about people in our diverse world. Having worked for quite a while in the international civic movement World Cleanup Day, which focuses on promoting waste clean-ups around the globe, Piret knows well that the dark side of life must be talked about without embellishing it.  That’s why she believes that in today's fragmented world it is very important that all people have Media and Information Literacy skills in order to make the right decisions on important life issues.