Some things take time before they catch on. Innovationsforum Jugend global, an interactive online service for professionalising and advancing international youth work, members of the international youth work community can raise subjects which they believe could contribute to the development of their field of work. The three topics that attract the most online votes are discussed annually at the Jugend Global workshop, and finally two are chosen and further developed into products in brainstorming workshops. Apparently, word has gotten out that this process indeed yield good products, as this year’s meeting certainly could not complain about a lack of interest, even less about a lack of openness to discussion.
The topics favoured by the online voters were international youth work activities for (unaccompanied) adolescent refugees, interfaith dialogue in international youth work programmes, and intercultural theoretical approaches and their practical relevance – all of them quite challenging!
There is a specific background to the interfaith dialogue debate, namely the Religion Toolbox, which has been highly successful since it was first offered in 2009. Since then, the approach taken by international youth work has become more diversity-conscious, and this will be reflected in a new edition of the Toolbox. Rabeya Müller, Islamic Studies scholar, religious educator and co-author of the Toolbox, provided some professional input on this topic.
Offerings for young refugees discussed
The refugee issue was probably the main concern for participants. However, the focus isn’t necessary on the refugees who have arrived in Germany over the past few months. Subjecting them to yet another “transnational mobility experience” so soon after arriving here is something no one will likely seriously consider. The discussion focused instead on the – often unaccompanied – adolescent refugees who have already spent some time in Germany and are either officially recognised as refugees or have exceptional leave to remain. One round-table discussion explored how international youth work activities could be extended to them.
Just how few opportunities are in reach is something Mariyam Beglaryan experienced first-hand when she herself came to Bremen as a refugee. Even the simplest information was nowhere to be found. “We received no details when we arrived,” she lamented. The information necessary for visits to the authorities or the doctor could only be painstakingly obtained from other refugees. For Mariyam, this was the motive to develop a refugee guidebook for Bremen.
“There must be equal opportunity for participation among all refugees,” insisted Hetav Tek, Deputy Chairman of the German Federal Youth Council. Low-threshold activities would have to be made available to them, with sports and art particularly well-suited in this case. Tanja Reisser of the youth chapter of AWO Württemberg has some experience in this area. She had previously attempted to offer young refugees an art work camp and admitted that “it didn’t work because we were doing something for the refugees, but not with them.” She learned from this and now shares her experiences with others.
Alica Levenhagen of the Schenefeld youth and communication centre would like to reach out to more young refugees. “The structures aren’t there, so there’s no dialogue,” she criticised. The local culture centre now operates a Welcome Centre that also provides the information that Mariyam Beglaryan so sorely needed upon her arrival. It is also a first step towards putting locals and refugees in touch with one another.
Peter Herrmann has bemoaned the absence of such structures for years. Herrmann worked for many years for the Federal Association for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees and was instrumental in establishing the organisation. His voice betrays his fury over decades of failure. “Immigrant community organisations must finally get sufficient funding, and we need a network that brings together the many initiatives and structures that exist, for example through coordinators in each German federal state,” he charged.
“What is necessary, and what is possible?” inquired IJAB facilitator Kerstin Giebel of the roundtable participants. Mariyam Beglaryan’s primary desire is relief, for herself and others. “The fact that children learn German so quickly is their biggest problem, because then they must accompany their parents to every administrative appointment, even when they should be in school,” she said. Hetav Tek could only agree. “This is the kind of relief they need before they even accept the services extended to them. And sometimes children must simply be allowed to be children!” he claimed. Alica Levenhagen warned about overburdening people and encouraging false expectations. “The asylum process takes so long and is so stressful that the last thing young refugees are thinking about is participating in an international youth work programme,” she explained. “So what kind of action would actually be possible?” Kerstin Giebel asked a second time. “Anything, really,” concluded Hetav Tek, “as long as we communicate with this target group as equals!”
How much theory is required for practical success?
Julia Motta, who has been involved in education and counselling in an international context for many years, addressed the diverse theoretical intercultural approaches in her presentation. A true jungle of jargon has grown in recent years. “Intercultural learning” is the best-known term, which most of those involved in international youth work view as an important part of their field. Now, though, you also hear the terms “transcultural” or “global learning”, “lines of difference”, or “postcolonial approaches”. The various approaches are not always easy to differentiate. Use of the term “diversity-centred education” has become more widespread in recent years. Its popularity is mainly due to the fact that many people are wondering these days whether we are not also characterised by factors other than our culture – by gender identity, for example, or by differences in social affiliation and education.
How much theory is required, and how many of the above terms must be understood in order to do educational work with young people? For Julia Motta, attitude is the more important aspect here. Her concern is to shift the focus away from nationally and culturally constructed differences. “Everyone’s experienced ‘international evenings’ during youth exchanges, and how long we have been saying that they should really be abolished?” Motta observed. Indeed we are all familiar with these evenings. The Germans bring sauerkraut and beer, the Russians bring vodka, the Italians bring pasta, and each group sings folk songs they haven’t sung since kindergarten, reinforcing all the stereotypes we are trying so hard to overcome.
The ideas contributed by the experts were discussed in plenary and small groups, and finally two topics to be discussed in further development workshops were chosen by vote. Unsurprisingly given the theme, working with refugees attracted the most votes, followed by intercultural theoretical approaches. Some initial product ideas also emerged. Exchanges between experts could reveal what experiences have already been gathered in the educational work with refugees that other countries have already undertaken. Participants could also envision offering a training scheme or peer programme. Finally, they felt a need to delve more deeply into the topic of intercultural theoretical approaches, to identify the contradictions involved in international exchange, and to perhaps even begin to talk about and address the seemingly unsolvable among them.
The development workshops are scheduled to take place this year. Participants who were unable to attend the seminar in Braunschweig are also welcome. The results are sure to be exciting!