Arriving – Stories of Many

Reflections on an Exhibition

by Valida Rolin

Find out how unheard stories of arrival are represented by Migration Hub Heidelberg, a local NGO working in the field of flight and migration, in the exhibition “Arriving: Stories of Many”. Valida discusses the importance of having space for different people’s voices and how this space was facilitated by Migration Hub Heidelberg and the road to_ festival.

I’m Valida Mendonca, a masters student at Heidelberg University. I got involved in the road to_ festival in the context of a transcultural studies seminar on post-migration. Due to my interest for the topic of migration and being a volunteer in the Migration Hub Heidelberg team, I chose Migration Hub’s exhibition as a project to study the correlation between the road to_ festival and the NGO.

What is the exhibition about?

What does arrival mean to me? When was the last time I felt like I had “arrived” somewhere? Which stories, thoughts, objects and smells do I associate with my arrival? These were some of the leading questions  of the exhibition “Arriving: Stories of Many”. As a part of the third road to_ festival themed “Stories of Many” it took place at Mehrgenerationenhaus Heidelberg from 4th – 6th June 2019. 

A pre-workshop for planning the exhibition was conducted by members of Migration Hub at the Mehrgenerationenhaus on May 18th. One of the things I learned there, was that stories of arrival do not necessarily have to be stories of migration but rather a new arrival to one’s life: arrival to a new city, the beginning of a new relationship or the diagnosis of a disease. According to a member of Migration Hub, the exhibition’s idea was chosen to be as inclusive as possible to everyone such as partner NGOs or the general public. Everyone involved should get a chance to share their own perspective.

On 5th June 2019, the exhibition was opened with an active listening practice intending to make people listen to each other genuinely, remaining neutral and unbiased, feeling and listening with all senses to understand the person, maintaining eye contact. This is what one of the participants reported after the practice: “It was challenging. I felt I knew the stranger for a long time, just because I was not putting up my stories and biases while she was talking and I could feel space and conversation”.

The exhibits for the exhibition were collected from 15 individuals: each of them expressed their story of arrival through an object and an accompanying written story next to the exhibits. The exhibits included a city map of London, a praying mat, a music CD, memory photos, a bicycle, fragrance spray, spaghetti, a vitamin D tablet, a musical video of a night spent in Indonesia, grains and spices, a colourful pillow, a folder file, a short film of Hackney (London), a book titled “Deutsch für profis” and a winter cap.

Decoloniality in The stories of many festival

The exhibition “Arriving: Stories of Many”, the active listening workshop and other events of the festival “Stories of Many” created a space for different people unrestricted by particular ideologies, methods or performances. They had an opportunity to be heard, hear and perform and that way overcome normativity. These events, including other festival events relate to a concept of decoloniality by Walter D. Mignolo and Catherine E. Walsh. Decoloniality is recognizing and undoing things which were once under structures that control life, thoughts, and ideologies. It also means to be willing to take on and be responsible for different radical perspectives. Some of the events which I took part in within the “stories of many” festival, such as a parkour from “Tante Inge”, created spaces to understand the needs and difficulties of aged people. Unheard-voices of common people of Heidelberg was captured by a photo booth called “Humans of Heidelberg”; the movie “Human (2015)” by Yann Arthus Bertrand, gave us an outlook of humans and their stories across the world. I can group all these events to another aspect of Decoloniality which is a relational way of seeing the world, i.e. relations between “privilege” and “oppressed” (Walter and Walsch 2018).

Space of a network for a better tomorrow

Humanity has always sustained itself due to networks, from forming bands and tribes to today’s social organisations and virtual networks. Networks are successful because humans with groups have succeeded in survival through social cooperation and communication (Dijk, 2012). Migration Hub Heidelberg is such a network providing mentorship, space and a point of connection for various actors in the field of migration, asylum and refugees in Heidelberg. Migration Hub Heidberg is a partner organisation of the road to_ festival. The end goal of the road to_ festival is the creation of a social incubator called Begeisterhaus: to have a community space of learning, participation and to develop social potential by working together. Being involved in the road to_ festival as a seminar student and being a member of Migration Hub Heidelberg, I was curious to know how Migration Hub Heidelberg as one of the network initiatives will position itself within the Begeisterhaus. After discussing this issue with Johanna, another member of Migration Hub Heidelberg, we agreed that both these initiatives work with local initiatives, provide space for networking, facilitate the work of initiatives by offering knowledge and cooperation if and where required. Johanna said “Both Begeisterhaus and Migration Hub Heidelberg are not just physical spaces for our networks but also mental spaces to bring out the potential and skills”.

Thus, I had a productive and festive experience throughout the seminar which helped me to become part of the NGO outside of the class, too.


  • Dijk, J. van. (2012). The network society. London: SAGE.
  • Mignolo, W., & Walsh, C. E. (2018). On decoloniality: concepts, analytics, praxis. Durham: Duke University Press.