The German Federal Volunteer Service offers various opportunities to people of all ages where they can serve society in their spare time. Refugees in Cologne can now sign up for a new program to help people like them.
A young man is sitting in a circle of people, sharing stories in one of the rooms of the Karl Rahner Academy in Cologne. This group of people of all different ages is participating in a volunteer work project.
19-year-old Muthna, who is only known by his first name, left Syria for Germany in 2015. After the civil war in Syria destroyed his secondary school, he had to enrol in the ninth grade in one of Cologne's educational institutions. He was under 17 when he arrived and was therefore assigned a volunteer to help him adjust to life in his new country. The volunteer introduced him to a new project offered by the Federal Volunteer Service, known as "Bundesfreiwilligendiest für Flüchtlinge" in German.
He found the idea of the project very exciting and has been volunteering since September 2016. He chose to teach refugee children and young people between the ages of 9 and 18 a roller skating game he was good at. He would take a bus to a refugee shelter in the city to meet the children everyday.
Muthna has improved his German as a a result of the volunteer work and hopes to become fluent in the language. He has also made many friends, some of them Germans, and has become close to them.
"This work has had a positive effect on my personality and has helped me integrate into German society better. It's also helped me break the barrier of the language and the cultural differences," he told Infomigrants. He gets to know the cultures of the people he works with and they also have fun. He also encourages other refugees to get involved in these types of activities.
Muthna's work contract as a volunteer has been extended for another year and he hopes he can work for even longer.
First step towards a job
28-year-old Muhannad Tolo came to Germany from Syria at the end of 2015 and learned about this project through one of his friends. He had studied translation in Syria and his English proficiency helped him at the beginning of his volunteer work. He did voluntary tech support work for a German organization which helps refugees and his German improved too.
"Traditional language courses are not sufficient enough to meet the demands of everyday life and integration in society, but this is what volunteer work offers me," he told Infomigrants. The work also allowed Mohannad to make friends who are his own age and share the same interests. He hopes to get an opportunity to pursue specialized studies in information technology in the future.
The project was conceived in fall 2016 as a result of funding by the German government to integrate refugees. The Cologne Volunteer Work Office invited city officials and teachers to introduce the project.
Refugees sign a volunteer work contract which can vary between 21 to 40 hours a week. The volunteer receives compensation for his time and effort ranging from 100 to 200 euros a month, as well as health and unemployment insurance, according to Lara Kirsch, who is responsible for the project.
Work in a variety of areas
In Cologne, volunteers can work in various organizations that work in social, cultural, sports and other areas. The volunteer receives a certificate after he finishes his or her service.
The project supports integration in a variety of ways, Kirsch says: "The volunteers learn the language on a regular basis during the work. The volunteer will also learn how about the German workplace, which is different than his or her home country. The work may help their chances of finding a job in the future."
The minimum project participation period is six months and is expected to continue until the beginning of 2019. Those in charge of the project have to assist refugees in their first steps towards finding volunteer work: writing a CV, and finding suitable places in accordance with their skills and potential.
Kirsch advises new migrants to take part in these projects because mutual experiences create mutual understanding and getting to know new people improves integration. Volunteer refugees play an important role in improving understanding between peoples and being a bridge between cultures.
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Source: InfoMigrants 2017