My name is Cristina Serrano Mesa and I am from Granada (Spain). I have been living in Berlin for almost 4 years and a half and I am studying Business Administration at HWR Berlin since 2016.
I wanted to volunteer but never dared to go and try alone, but then I saw the Service Learning Course at the HWR and decided to enrol. We had weekly discussions about the situation of refugees or laws for asylum around the world as well as about our experiences as volunteers in different centres for refugees in Berlin. Our teacher, Cynthia Tilden-Machleidt, showed us the webpage “volunteer-planner”, where you can sign in to go as volunteer to different places and different areas.
I have volunteered since October 2017 at the GUK Heerstr. 16 in Berlin. For my first day I registered on the website to work in the kindergarten, but when I got there, nobody knew I was coming. I was received by one of the coordinators there, who gave me some papers to read and to sign, explained me everything about the GUK and gave me a tour in the facilities.
When I arrived at the Kindergarten, there were only the 2 workers there playing cards and drinking coffee and no kids. They told me that the kids usually come later and that there are not so many kids. After a while, kids started to show up, at the end there were 12 kids. At that time it was holidays and kids didn’t have to go to school, that is why there were more than usual, one of the workers told me. “Sometimes there are only 3 kids, sometimes there are 20”. I continued going every week for a couple of months, normally in the morning, since the kindergarten is only open until 1pm, so the parents can go to German course or take care of different things (Job Center appointments, going to the doctor…)
There were different things that caught my attention working in the kindergarten.
One of the employees complained about the parents. She said they do not take care properly of their kids. For example, all of the them have to wear socks and a jacket in winter, but some of them don’t and come to the kindergarten with shorts and summer clothes. It was also really shocking for her, that at the beginning, no parent showed up to see, where and with who they were sending their kids. She also said, most of them do not brush their teeth, because the parents do not do it either. They are trying that the kids bring their toothbrush with them, so they can all together brush their teeth in the kindergarten, but all the kids and parents forget it every day.
I think we need to understand, that they come from a very different culture and that they may be also going through a very tough time or have a trauma. I also think it is not our place to judge, but to try to explain to them what is better for the kids in a kindly way.
After a couple of times, where few kids showed up and we were 3 adults in there, I had the feeling I was wasting my time and doing nothing useful, so I decided to talk to the volunteer-coordinator to see, if there was any other area in the centre where I could help. She told me then about the computer room, and how they had 4 computers that were not being used because there was nobody to take care of the room. So, I decided with Jin, another student in the Service Learning course, to go once a week for a couple of hours not only to supervise the computer room but also to help the residents of the centre with the computers. We help them to find an apartment, a job or just to fill forms. We also teach them how to work with Windows Office package or to send emails.
Here we also got the chance to meet some very interesting people, like Karim (fictional name*). Karim comes from Afghanistan, is 25 years old and has already been living in Germany for 18 months. He goes 4 times/week to German Course and wants to take the B1 exam in March, even though I think he could already take the B2 exam, since his German skills are really good. He used to work as water-supply technician in his country, but he never got any kind of certificate and only finished school there. Here in Germany he needs a certificate to work, so he is going to do a vocational training (he already got a training position and it starts in September 2018) to be able to have a proper job in Germany. He also needs to take the driving license theory test, since his Afghan driving license is not completely valid in Germany.
He told me how frustrating his first 7 months in Germany were. He used to live in a sports hall with another 200 people and no privacy. He also said, the worst was, that he didn’t have anything to do, sitting everyday alone for hours. Since his paperwork wasn’t done, he couldn’t start to learn German or try to find a job. His goal right now is to improve his German skills and find an apartment where he can live alone, to have the feeling of a true home. Later he wants to do the vocational training and have his own car. He smiles when he talks about his dreams. He is really motivated and learns very fast. The first time he came to me, he had no idea how to use a computer or to send an email. Now he can look for apartments and send all the required documents on his own. I am very proud of him and think he will get very far.
There are many like Karim, people who are running away from horrible situations and just want to have a normal live, with a job and a place to live where they can be safe. We all should ask ourselves, what can we do to make it easier for them. The German society is the one part that is really gaining something, with people wanting to work and contribute to society.
Cristina Serrano Mesa
* I have used a fictional name to respect his privacy.