Photo by Annamarie Olsson
In recent weeks, media stations from around the world have started calling our attention towards something that has been happening for years. It is not just this summer that refugees have been taking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean and claiming asylum in the European Union, many arriving here in Berlin. However, increased numbers and greater media attention has meant that the countless shocking images and sad stories have found their way into the public domain. And since the beginning of this summer, our newsfeeds have been flooded by public outcry.
For somebody who has volunteered for refugee charities for a while now, I was both bemused and heartened by the frustration and anger I witnessed in people’s Facebook statuses and Twitter posts about the crisis. The Facebook page that I manage with some other volunteers has seen its support more than double since May. Along with this increased interest, the page has been the recipient of many messages from people inquiring about how they may help, what skills they need or how to get involved. But the answer remains always the same: for all the goodwill that people write on social media, real help starts offline.
The fact is, petitions may be honourable, liking impassioned Facebook statuses may be supportive, and selecting “Going” on an event may boost its numbers. But politicians rarely acknowledge online petitions, supporting people’s views in person is always a stronger response and actually attending an event is how you can really contribute to its impact.
However, the sudden surge in online interest has brought with it a surge of offline opportunities as well. Some are informal, one-time events and some are on-going strategies for aid. But all these organisations and initiatives have two things in common: they offer real, tangible support to refugees and they grow through the contributions of enthusiastic and committed volunteers.
Help refugees find work
Established by Communication Design students from HTW, workeer puts refugees in contact with potential employers. Almost 700 job seekers are registered to the site, hoping to find work in Berlin and other cities in Germany. If you have work to offer refugees, the registration is simple and there are options ranging from temporary and hourly work to fixed, long-term contracts. The registered job seekers are often multilingual and highly skilled; so looking for new employees from this website is really a win-win situation.
Give Something Back To Berlin
Click on Give Something Back To Berlin and browse through their eclectic mix of opportunities for social engagement. The site, developed in order to engage new Berliners with communities, has generated a strong volunteer base. Many organisations looking for new helpers use this site to publicise their projects. Currently, the opportunities listed on the site range from helping at a kids' day out at Tempelhofer Feld to being a mentor for refugees attending Wings University – an initiative that offers students education regardless of their immigration status. Or support the refugees by supporting the Give Something Back To Berlin crowdfunding campaign, making it easier for the organisation to coordinate the massive influx of volunteers at this very moment.
If it couldn’t be clearer enough, supporting community projects need not be a chore. Soliparties, which are held across the city on a regular basis, raise money for refugee organisations through the cost of entrance. Whether its support for individual refugees or for a project, going to a soliparty is a great way to donate money and meet new people in the process. You can find soliparties publicised through Facebook pages such as Refugee Support Berlin.
Offer your time at refugee accommodation
Upon arriving in Berlin, refugees are sent to places as far and wide as Spandau and Wilmersdorf in order to be housed in large and sometimes makeshift buildings. There are fixed groups of volunteers that help out at these places, but they’re also often looking for new people. Because there has been a real upsurge in volunteer interest, the coordinators at each of these locations are keen for people to first sign up before showing up. A lot of the groups use Google Forms so potential volunteers can list the help they can provide as well as their contact details. The forms for Jahn-Sporthalle and Moabit Hilft (at LaGeSo) are an easy way to register your interest.
Buy nice furniture
CUCULA is both a workshop and an educational program. Their pilot project produces and sells unique design objects, focussing mainly on furniture manufacturing. CUCULA is a collaboration between designers, teachers and refugees who collaborate to build attractive and individual products. The proceeds from the sale of the furniture goes towards the refugees’ education and living costs. The CUCULA education programme that operates in tandem to the workshop offers refugees German classes and legal advice. So you can decorate your flat and feel like a do-gooder at the same time.
These are just five examples, a tiny portion of the number of opportunities on offer. And while a social media presence should not be the endpoint of your engagement, Facebook is an excellent resource for events and new initiatives. Check out the Facebook pages for Give Something Back To Berlin, Refugee Support Berlin, How To Get Up On Your Feet and Sharehaus for more ideas.
But after that, shut your laptop and get involved!