Arriving in Leipzig: Mentorship program for refugees
The mentorship program „Ankommen in Leipzig. Paten für Geflüchtete“ connects volunteers and refugees and thereby enriches the lives of both.
Angelica and Mimi are friends. They didn’t meet at university, through friends or hobbies they shared – instead, they were assigned to each other by the Johanniter Akademie Mitteldeutschland as part of its program “Ankommen in Leipzig. Paten für Geflüchtete” (“Arriving in Leipzig. Mentors for refugees”). That program connects volunteers like Mimi, who is in her early twenties and goes to university in Leipzig, and refugees like Angelica, a dentist in her early thirties who came from Venezuela to Leipzig a year ago.
The program “Ankommen in Leipzig. Paten für Geflüchtete” is sponsored by the city administration of Leipzig since its founding in 2014 and is managed by the Johanniter-Akademie since 2017. Apart from the program, the Johanniter-Akademie also organizes language mediation and other events, like a trip to Berlin in November to visit the German Bundestag. “We connect the refugees and volunteers with each other and give them a push to integrate them in society and make arriving here a bit easier,” Sara Scheibe-Thakeb, integration agent and manager of the volunteer work at the Johanniter-Akademie explains. Her colleague Florian Tobis names the low-threshold contact as an important part of their work. Both the refugees and the volunteers can directly apply at the Johanniter-Academy. Based on questionnaires and conversations, the team decides which volunteers start a mentorship with which refugees. According to Tobis, the main factor are the wishes of the people themselves, for example with which age group and gender they want to be connected and if it would be alright for them to be paired with a family with children. Shared hobbies, language skills and regional distances also play a role. 1.200 mentorships have already been arranged, although it is impossible to say how many of those pairs are still in contact, as Tobis and Scheibe-Thakeb explain. The mentorships last for different periods of time, and actual friendships like that between Mimi and Angelica are rare.
There are barely any formal requirements for the mentorships: Volunteers have to be at least 18 years old and have an empty criminal record certificate. Apart from that, it’s important to be open to meeting new people and to have the time to meet regularly with your new partner. However, there are no strict rules on how often you need to meet, explains Sara Scheibe-Thakeb.
There are many ways to fill the time together: city tours, cooking, learning German – support with doctor appointments and administrative procedures are important as well. German bureaucracy makes many things harder for the refugees, Tobis and Scheibe-Thakeb explain. Many people get letters they can’t understand because of the complicated and confusing ways they’re written. Having a native German speaker by their side can help. Those native speakers can learn about new languages and cultures through their volunteer work, meet new people and even gain a new friend. That was one of the main reasons why Mimi applied at the Johanniter-Akademie. “I wanted to meet new people and do volunteer work. So I did a bit of research and thereby found out about the program.” Angelica, on the other hand, initially participated in other programs by the Johanniter-Akademie, like a German course. That was how she first heard about the program.
There is a lot of interest in the program on both sides, Tobis explains – but much more among the refugees than among the volunteers, because the program is talked about a lot in shared accommodations and the refugees’ social bubbles. In comparison, there aren’t as many volunteers, which is why the program is constantly looking for new mentors. “There’s a big imbalance”, Tobis says. “We’re noticing that the discourse has shifted in recent years. There are a lot of crises.” As examples, he names the climate crisis and the Covid pandemic, which took attention away from the refugees. Another problem is the growing negative attitude against refugees. Both lead to people either losing interest in voluntary work for refugees or even openly rejecting it.
Contrary to that development, there has been a lot of political support for the program. “We are in regular contact with the department for migration and integration, we meet four times a year”, Scheibe-Thakeb describes. “Of course you can always do more,” Tobis adds, referring especially to financial support, “but we don’t want to complain. Sometimes, you should just appreciate what you have.”
The program is constantly looking for new volunteers. Anyone who is interested in helping refugees to arrive in Leipzig, learn something new about other cultures and languages and maybe even find a new friend, can contact the Johanniter Akademie for further information.
This article has also been published in German: Kontaktvermittlung für soziales Engagement (luhze.de)
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