My experience as a volunteer during the so-called “refugee crisis”
It all began at the end of 2014 as a friend, who was the student representative in that year, and I decided to collect and donate sanitary products, toys, and other useful things for the people who have just arrived here in Tauberbischofsheim, Germany. They all fled from different Arabic countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, hence they had suffered from war, exploitation, or repression, whether from the government or religious extremists. But back to the beginning.
As my friends Miriam, Jos, and I went through all the classes at our school we asked the kids to give something back. We explained to them that most of the issues in that area were and still are caused by European governments and way of living. We emphasized that most of them are not as privileged as we are in Germany. As we went further and asked them to donate shampoo, used toys for the kids, maybe tea or coffee, the reactions were distressing. Some children in the age between 10-12, (I can’t really blame them as they were young), started laughing and asked why anybody would wish for shampoo as a Christmas gift. Reactions of older ones made me just angry as they exclaimed in a defying manner that they won’t get anything from us. They really thought that they are funny, which still confuses me today, 6 years later.
Anyways, a couple of days before Christmas we put all the stuff together and went to the place where the refugees were quartering. It actually was quite shocking to see where the families had to live. It was the 3rd floor of an old building, which seemed to fall apart. There was literally no privacy at all. If I remember correctly, there were maybe 5-6 families pinched on one floor with one bathroom and kitchen. The whole living conditions had an immense impact on me. We were all pretty shy, never have we met people from who fled from war and it seemed to me that they were also excited.
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Since this was soon 5 years ago, I don’t really remember the details, but I’ll give my best to picture it as I have it memorized. Our school (publicity is always good, right) made a big thing out of the donation and invited the local newspaper to join us and as we handed the gifts to the children, he was taking pictures of us. What a sinking feeling! It still bothers me because I didn’t want him to join us. I guess the principal geared towards the media. Indeed, it feels good if you get rewarded or people show recognition towards us, but it felt like we’re doing this for publicity only. The children, as they were pretty shy, said thank you and went straight back to their parents. When we were finished, we walked back to the cars, but I met a friend from school, whom I know since 2010. Nico and his girlfriend told Miriam and me that they plan to visit the children once per week and soon we had a conversation on WhatsApp and discussed how we should approach and what we should do. That’s how it all had started and lasted until 2017.
At the beginning, it was Leonie, Nico, Miriam and I visited them once per week for two hours. We played board games, sometimes studied with them some German. It was a bit awkward for both sides at the beginning since we didn’t know each other. It took us some weeks to get along. As soon as they trusted us, they always were hyped for Friday! We all really had a great time. Surprisingly, the parents made us tea and tried talking to us. They really showed interested in communicating with us, which felt great.
There’s a couple of things I want to talk about. First of all, obviously, about the children and how they behaved towards us and how I, personally viewed them. I’d like to go on, on how those two years have changed my life and thinking in the most possible way and thirdly we have to talk about the conditions they lived under and how Karl Marx’s famous words „Es ist nicht das Bewusstsein der Menschen, das ihr Sein, sondern umgekehrt ihr gesellschaftliches Sein, das ihr Bewusstsein bestimmt.“ (Marx 9) or in English “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” unfortunately, fits so well. Furthermore, I will explain why they already have a disadvantage compared to others.
The children were between 2 and 14 years old when we first met them. As I already said they were pretty shy at first but after two weeks they started trusting us. The majority of them were female and the boys were often older. As we were two women and two men it happened that the boys played with Nico and me and the girls with Leonie and Miriam, they were more popular than Nico and I were. I don’t really know why the children liked them better, but it didn’t bother me at all. I normally arrived first and they always asked me when Leonie and Miriam will arrive. Nico and I made jokes about it, but I really think the children fell in love with them. It was so cute how they literally discussed who’s allowed to sit next to them.
The first couple of weeks we focused on language. We played games that were meant to train language skills and it really payed off! A couple of months later we were able to have conversations with them without any difficulties. We all were so proud, at least I was, how fast they developed. The upcoming summer they were integrated to kindergarten and school which boosted their language skill tremendously. It’s easier for children to learn new languages and it fascinated me, how quickly they learned in general.
The main reason for me to work with them was to integrate them into society and it really worked well. They didn’t stay just in their group, but they also made German, Turkish, and Russian friends. At this moment I realized it was totally worth it. That’s what modern society is all about. There is no homogeneous society and to make sure people of different cultures come along, it must be ensured that we learn from each other and try to understand other cultures.
In summer 2017 we won around 1500 EUR. We spent a lot of money on equipment for activities outside, like footballs (Americans would call it soccer, which is blasphemy), scoops, and ropes. They loved it and it was a hard time keeping up with them in summer. It seemed they won’t feel any exhaustion even if the sun was burning mercilessly. But there was a lot of money left and so we decided to go to the zoo. As always, Leonie organized the whole excursion. Even though there was no strict hierarchy it was Leoni who was the “head” of our group. She was the person who held everything together and I still admire her for the efforts she put in our weekly meetings. As everything had been organized, we went to the zoo with a rented bus. The 30 minutes on the bus already have been exhausting, since most of the children never been to a zoo before in their life. It was a warm day in summer, and this was one of the reasons why the atmosphere was kind of special for all of us. I think we all had realized how far we have actually become as we arrived. It was such a wonderful experience. The kids were all hyped and astonished by some of the animals and it makes one happy if you see people you care about are happy. They really deserved it, if you keep in mind what they went through. I can’t imagine how those little children cope with the hardships they went through not so long ago. That brings me to a story that still haunts me today and even though I couldn’t know what was happening, I still feel ashamed. One Friday afternoon a kid, I don’t know his name and age anymore, but he was pretty young, stood in the hallway (face towards the wall) and I thought he was dancing. It looked quite awkward and I joined him because I thought he’s just randomly dancing. As he saw me, he immediately run away, and I asked someone what’ going on. I was told later on that he has epilepsy due to the bombing years ago. That hit me hard and I feel uncomfortable typing that right now.
The kids taught me a lot and I respect them so much. I once asked them how it was to flee from home. One girl told me that they walked only by night, had to walk over dead bodies and other horrible stuff. We have to keep in mind that we are the privileged and we shouldn’t close our eyes from all that suffer around the world.
A couple of weeks I had practical training at a school, and I met some girls who were part of that group and it was such a wonderful feeling seeing them again. It makes me so proud seeing them fully integrated (they play football) with good grades and friends from all the different cultures that live here. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to help them years ago because they surely still help me today from time to time.
I’ve already given some insights of the feelings and experiences I made during my time with them. As they really helped improving myself and the way I viewed things, I think it’s essential to share them with other people. Undoubtedly, and by far the most influential impact had the fact that I got to know “refugees” from Muslim countries. As a survey, launched by Bertelsmann-Stiftung, 64% (Welt) see Islam as a thread and a lot of people don’t see Islam as a religion but as an ideology. Being skeptical about religion is nothing to be ashamed but the tendencies are obvious. Only 1/3 think that Islam is a gain for German “Culture”(Welt). I could go forever but a lot of surveys unquestionably show that Islam is more often seen in a negative way than in a positive way. As an Atheist, I share anti-religious views, but it seems to me that most of these people, who have a negative attitude towards Islam, not only dislike the religion but also have a negative view about Muslims. At the same time, you can’t escape media which often divides us. It’s often “we” versus “them” and you can’t resist building prejudice within your mind. But those two years have made a significant on my attitude towards refugees and Muslims. I talked with them about religion, especially about Judaism and it took a load off my mind as they had told me that they don’t care about someone’s religion. We all tried our best to teach the children our values, such as standing up against racism, homophobia, transphobia, and anti-Semitism and it was worth it. The children have shown me that it’s not like the media or conservative politicians tell us. Not to forget, they taught me to appreciate the little things! They didn’t have much when they arrived here, were happy about everything we gave them, even things that seemed so ordinary to us. They’ve taught me working on myself and being humble, which is pretty hard for me. They gained my deepest respect, I, undoubtedly, think that especially the girls that I worked with, will archive their goals. Just some weeks ago, their teacher told me how good they are doing. What astonishes me the most though, is that after all that they’ve been through in their life they never showed any sign of giving up or breaking down. They live their lives optimistic and I think we can all learn from them. I’ve never actually thanked them for what they, unintentionally, did for me. I hadn’t realized it during that time how much they shaped me, but surely, I do now.
Earlier, I said that I we also have to discuss the conditions they lived under and the way government makes it , practically, impossible for grown-ups and their children to have the same opportunity as Germans do. I decided to emphasize on that on another text. It would take too long and would also destroy the mood of this text.
Claudia Ehrenstein., Karsten Kammholz. „Europa hat Afrika ausgebeutet“. Welt. Axel Springer SE. 26.04.2015. Web. 8 Apr. 2020.
„Große Mehrheit der Deutschen stimmt Seehofers Islam-Aussage zu“. Welt. Axel Springer SE. 19.03.2015. Web. 9 Apr. 2020.
Karl Marx. „Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie“.1859. Stuttgart: Verlag von J.H.W. Dietz Nachf. G.m.b.H., 1921. Print.
Student of English and History at JM University Würburg