Pitt Rivers Museum launches new project to take on 25 local refugees as tour guides

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Image Credit: Geni

Twenty-five refugees living in Oxford have been taken on as tour guides by Pitt Rivers Museum and the Museum of the History of Science in a new project to forge cultural links between the Museum and the local community.

The majority of the new tour guides came from Syria, however among the 25 there are also individuals from Iraq, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Egypt and Pakistan. One of the tour guides was an assistant professor of archaeology at Damascus University before seeking asylum in the UK.

As tour guides these 25 will be a valuable asset to the museums which hope to offer native language in-person tours for tourists and locals wanting to visit the two sites. 

The project is funded and run by Multaka-Oxford, which is itself a project run by the Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund. It aims to offer well-rounded and insightful volunteer opportunities with the goal of bringing people together. The word Multaka is Arabic for ‘meeting point’ and symbolises the goals of the project.

Rachel Harrison, volunteer and engagement coordinator at Multaka-Oxford, said:“Each guide will give a personalised tour based on objects they choose from the Islamic astronomical instruments at the Museum of the History of Science and Middle Eastern textiles at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

“We hope this will also help improve [the public’s] knowledge of the Islamic world’s contributions to science and culture, which are overlooked in British education.”

The first tours run by these new guides will happen on Friday November 16 and will be conducted in Arabic with an English translator present. 

One Syrian volunteer who is part of the programme commented: “Without Multaka, I wouldn’t ever see these objects and get knowledge about them.

“Here at the museum we see we share a human history and culture.

“Today I heard one woman say she is from Hungary and that how she sees that we are similar with clothes and traditions. The museum is really a meeting point for culture.”

The guides working on this project have been taken on as volunteers, as opposed to employees in similar projects in cities like Berlin, due to UK labour laws disqualifying them from paid work. 

Despite this the project coordinators stress that the focus is on promoting and facilitating integration and developing skills which will later help the individuals to find paid employment.