An arts project for children in Bonn exemplifies the ways in which a number of Germans are marking the International Weeks Against Racism, which run in 2013 from March 11 to 24.
Nesrin has taken on quite a task. She's going to draw two children and two adults on one piece of green paper. It's supposed to be colorful and as realistic as possible - that's important, says the eight-year-old.
She bends down over a little box of colored pencils labeled "skin tones" and pauses for a moment. Light pink, light brown and dark brown are available to choose from.
Nesrin is sitting with a couple of other girls at a large table in an arts and crafts center called the Nähcafe in Bonn. This time, the focus is on children, as well as the languages they speak. That's important to Mechthild Kleine-Salgar, who works in the Bonn-based Center for International Education and Counsel (FIBB). She organizes programs like these regularly. Together with her colleague Mona Kheir El Din, she opens the event by reading a story, first in German and then in Arabic. Then the kids are encouraged to do crafts and create pictures.
"For us, it's about putting multilingualism at the center," says Kleine-Salgar, adding, "Our society is multilingual, and we want to assist children in learning their own family's language well."
Kleine-Salgar believes that doing so forms an important basis for learning German as a second language. But it's not just children with international roots that are welcome at FIBB's programming, she says: "For us, it's also about letting children who only speak German hear how other languages sound."
Kleine-Salgar and her colleagues intend their volunteer association to reduce discrimination and social marginalization - and that's one reason why FIBB is taking part in the International Weeks Against Racism, which are coordinated by the German Intercultural Council. Through March 24, Germany will see more than 1,000 events intended to mobilize people against racism and promote social unity.
Facing disdain from strangers is nothing new for Emine Aswab. The 33-year-old Turk came with her three children to the event in Bonn. Her son Mohammed is just ten weeks old and is sleeping in a little basket. His two sisters sit next to Nesrin at the work table and are chatting in German. Emine Aswab has lived for two decades in Germany, and has worn a headscarf since she was 23.
"Ever since then, I often have to hear discriminatory remarks," she says. "That never happened to me before, and it hurts."
Second languages as assets
Along with German and Turkish, both of her daughters, Marwa and Alia, speak Arabic thanks to their father, who is from Morocco.
"I make a point of trying to teach my children that everyone belongs here, regardless of what their skin color is, which language they speak or if they are in a wheelchair," Emine Aswab explains.
It's this attitude that Mechthild Kleine-Salgar and Mona Kheir El Din hope to promote. As the child of German-Egyptian parents, Mona Kheir El Din grew up speaking two languages.
"It's a treasure when you're able to speak more than one language," she says. "Children can be proud of that."
Meanwhile, Nesrin has finished her picture. A father, mother and two children can be seen, all holding hands. One child has light skin, and the other has dark skin - just like in the story the participants just heard.