They don't talk much. The twin sisters from Afghanistan are silent when given the opportunity, along with the other refugee children in their German lessons, to tell the story of their journey to Germany. Their smooth black hair plays around their brown eyes, whose haunted look alludes to their long journey from Afghanistan. The sisters and their family tried to flee across Pakistan, but they did not get further than the border with Iran. Policemen shot at the girls' feet, whilst their father shouted at them repeatedly to run away as fast as they could. The family had to turn back and return to Afghanistan. They soon made a renewed attempt to escape, this time fleeing on foot across the border to Iran. They stayed in hiding in Iran until it was safe to travel the road to Turkey. There they had another month in hiding before they found space for the whole family on a dinghy destined for Greece. In Greece they continued their journey by various means of transport, and often on foot. They went on to cross Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary and Austria before finally reaching Germany. Although what the sisters really want is to be able to return to their home country, they are glad to have arrived in Germany and to be able to study here. One of the sisters would like to study to become a designer. Another classmate from Syria wants to study architecture so that she can help rebuild her country after the war, and thereby build her own future there. This 14 year old Syrian girl displays physical signs of war, with scarring on her hands. Her little sister, who recently arrived at the school, suffers more visible scars of war: she is missing parts of her fingers.
A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved
Each of the children carries their own story of war and escape. As a teacher who hours with them every day, I already know a few stories, hearing about life in Syria before the war and looking at photos of the student’s homeland. Encouraging the German children to get to know their new classmates is important, especially after the incident at break time. The German students who were involved are visited in their classes. The refugee childrens’ stories are told and a conversation is initiated about the current situation and the students’ own views on it. In addition, the idea of sponsorship is presented. This sponsorship consists of pairing up a German pupil with a refugee child. They get to know each other and exchange ideas, thereby helping each other with everything from learning German to solving maths problems. The aim is to foster a connection between the partners that endures beyond the school gates.
With small steps such as these we can dismantle the invisible façade which separates us from people from other countries. Visioneers e.V. pursues the same goal with its mentoring project, which helps refugees in Berlin integrate into German society. The project facilitates help for refugees in everyday life: learning German, finding somewhere to live, finding a job. The mentors who volunteer their time and help the refugees are supported by Visioneers e.V, with workshops and regular meetings at which they can exchange ideas and ask questions.
Two people from different cultures joining forces to achieve common goals, exerting themselves to move together in the same direction, and enjoying themselves and each others’ company as they do so. Because a problem shared is a problem halved, and everything is made easier with a little help from a friend.