The current Dickinson-in-Bremen students decided to donate money to a refugee organization in Bremen. Read here the accounts of two of them:
After receiving some cash back from their health insurance company, the Dickinson Students in Bremen sought to give back to the community that has hosted them for the last nine months. Their search and hearts led them to the non-profit organization “Fluchtraum,” housed less than twenty minutes by foot from the students’ apartments. Fluchtraum works according to one simple ideal, all people deserve guidance and companionship, and works with the Bremen community to bring guidance and companionship to those who need it the most and are denied it quite often; minor refugees without parents or other guardians. The nonprofit’s main goal is connect those youth refugees with the service and mentors they need, often picking up where the state can no longer provide. They work together with the centers that house the young refugees to connect those refugees in need of help, especially with legal matters where the minors cannot sign for themselves, with a Mentor. The mentor can help the child or teenager with a wide range of issues and will do activities together such as visiting museums and exploring the city. Above all, Fluchtraum strives to help these young people feel like members of the Bremen community, from their mentorship program to getting the kids together for a round of football (soccer) to connecting the refugees with language programs.
“Like all refugees, these minors are searching after protection from war, persecution, forced migration, hunger, natural catastrophes, human rights violations, and violence, or simply are searching for a humane life” states the front page of the Fluchtraum’s website. Around 550 minor refugees without guardianship arrived in Bremen alone and this number is 14 times more than in the year 2010. The centers are over capacity. When we sat down with Fluchtraum to discuss their program and its goals, they told us there are around 800 young refugees currently in Bremen whose parents died, disappeared or are unreachable. The organization simply wants to show these children and teenagers that they are welcome here in Bremen and they are not alone. Fluchtraum would love to grow further in their mission by expanding the artistic and cultural activities offered and by working on training former participants in their program to be mentors. The money donated by the Dickinson students will help these new members of the Bremen community find a new safe home, whether it is here in Bremen or a city somewhere else along the road. We hope that this bit of luck will be the start of a strong relationship between the Fluchtraum and the Dickinson-in-Bremen program.
My fellow Dickinsonians-in-Bremen and I received a pleasant surprise in the mail: our health insurance company had decided we would get extra money. Enclosed in the envelope was a check for 100 Euros! We reported this to our coordinators, Janine and Verena. Was it a trap? Did the money belong to us or to the Dickinson-in-Bremen program, which had set up our health insurance? We came to a compromise. The students who had received the money would come up with an appropriate way to spend it. After much discussion, we put it to a vote. We would donate half the money to a good cause and use half for cultural events. Now how to donate the money to the best cause? We came up with the idea of using the money to help refugees. There even happened to be an organization called Fluchtraum within walking distance from our student apartments. We organized a meeting over email, so we could see exactly what would happen with our money and learn more about Fluchtraum.
I went with two other Dickinsonians-in-Bremen to visit this organization. The administrators we met at Fluchtraum were extremely excited to receive our donation, because they were in the midst of applying for money from the state and unsure if they would be officially funded in the near future. They talked to us about their main mission: pairing immigrants with volunteer guardians or mentors. They said refugees are often young men from Africa between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. A guardian/mentor had many benefits for a refugee. They could help them learn German, show them around Bremen, and/or serve as a legal guardian to sign important documents (for example, for education, housing, or health services), increasing the refugees’ integration into the city.
Where would our money go specifically? Most of the money would be spent on campaigns promoting information and training sessions for future mentors. This organization also provided new shoes for refugees (normally teenage males), who loved soccer (or as it is known in the rest of the world, football). I liked the idea of my money going to fund this specific cause, because it represented a physical object (the shoes) but so much more as well: enabling the refugee to have fun playing a sport after troubled times at home and an extremely long journey to reach Germany (one administrator mentioned that one of her mentees had been away from home for over two years before finding a permanent location to live in Germany). I had the feeling that teenage refugees who come to Germany often do not have the same luxury of being a child and a teenager as I did in America; in many countries, there is no time to “hang out and play sports.” The shoes also represented making friends and connection in the refugee’s new home in Bremen, Germany. I played many pick-up games of soccer in Germany, and is it a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world— everyone in the whole world loves soccer (except silly Americans like me). I saw soccer as an important tool for the integration of refugees in Bremen; giving a refugee Fußball shoes granted them an opportunity to play more comfortably with other refugees or native Germans, allowing them to build connections within the Bremen community.
Unfortunately, this year’s Dickinson-in-Bremen program is drawing to a close. Working together with an organization like Fluchtraum would give future Dickinson students in Bremen the opportunity to be a mentor for a refugee. I believe this to be an important experience, as a Dickinsonian-in-Bremen could help a refugee with English and German (learning German together) and discover German cultural events together (one future goal, mentioned the administrators, involved incorporating more cultural experience in their mentor programs, such as visiting museums, galleries, or concerts with refugees). I recently saw a video online where the speaker challenged the audience members to “engage with someone with whom you have very few shared experiences.” Work as a mentor would accomplish exactly that for Dickinson students during their year abroad. I would definitely be a win-win situation: the refugee would gain a friend and important connection in Bremen and the Dickinson student would also gain a friend and the opportunity to help someone less fortunate than him- or herself. Being a mentor would represent an important step on a Dickinson student’s path to becoming a global citizen.