An experiment to encourage spontaneous creativity for making a living as a migrant
A short brief of what we have been working on so far is this.
With the many organizations already working with refugees in Berlin, we still felt a need for an approach from a different angle and also with a different focus:
Most projects for refugees are designed to specifically help the arriving families, children and the single travelling women; but the majority of refugees is barely taken care of in the same manner: the young men. It is an illogical equation: The young male refugees are often regarded as healthy and fit, able to work and therefore are not treated as a priority in terms of care. However; of what use could these benefits be if there is nothing to do? In Germany, refugees are not allowed to pick proper work for the first three months of their stay. After that period, a working permit is needed to apply for a job. The permit, however, is only granted if the person is no longer living in a refugee camp. Needless to say, the said three months often pass without anything really happening and three months slowly turn into six months and into a year - during which there is nothing to do.
We are currently working at the Internationales Congress Centrum (ICC) in Berlin- a former congress center that has recently been turned into a refugee camp. Even with the circumstances being unfavourable, the atmosphere at the ICC is quite the opposite: The interaction between the refugees and the staff and security is remarkably free and friendly. Volunteers playing with children; refugees and security joking around and everybody is eating at the same table. There is no hint of the provider/receiver-dilemma that you would witness in other establishments. We’ve been warmly welcomed by the people and the relationships have gradually grown more personal since our first visit.
The place is led by the Malteser; we were shown around the place by one of their very nice volunteers. She then introduced us to a room of eight Syrians, four of which were ready to help us in our project and provided us with insights.
Besides stories over everyday rituals like tea and Syrian home traditions, we were shown the little gimmicks to improve the bare rooms where they are living in at the moment: How they pulled out screws and nails from the walls to make clothing hooks; how you make a wall-mounted phone holder with just duct tape and a piece of wood; where to store the food; they showed us how they hack the beds to create more privacy and how to shield the light falling onto the upper beds with merely pieces of wood and a blanket to a point where one could create an entire ceiling with just white cloth.
We learnt quickly that the ideas of how to use the space could never occur to someone who has never been in that exact position:
It was evident that they know best about the needs and necessities in their very situation and environment.
With the creative potential, the only problem lies in the lack of tools and materials. To see what would happen if material were available, we made a little experiment where we brought basics like duct tape, cable ties, string and durable cardboard and looked what they would think of building intuitively. Despite scepticism in the beginning, it was beautiful to witness the moment when everyone in the room joined to figure out the best construction for a wall-mounted shelf, built with mortise and tenon joints. The fact the project was dealt with in such a manner, shows the willingness to engage these kinds of challenges with seriousness and a certain claim to quality and that it is not only about practicality and pure function, for such a shelf could have been easily assembled withjust tape and cardboard. It was fun for us to join the working process and thinking with them about the construction and making, but more importantly, it was fun for them to be challenged in making something useful and to make that beautifully. Mohammed, who came up with the idea of using joinery, later joked saying he would love to make such shelves for the whole camp - and we hoped, it was not merely a joke, but a mentality that we could continue to work with. In fact, we left all the spare materials in their rooms and by our next visit they had built another two shelves and a small storage for clothes under one of the beds.
Work in progress: Building a shelf
Image above: One of the shelves that Mohammed made after we left.
Mohammed’s mentality is exactly what we we’re looking for.
The question is if more people in the camp would share the same enthusiasm. Ideally, a craftsman could be found to take the role of a tutor to guide the others into the basics of building. On our last visit in the camp we learnt that the the camp’s organizers are taking help of one of the refugees who used to be a tailor. He now has his working space (a table with a sewing machine) at the intern clothes depot and helps fixing the garments before they’re given out.
We feel the answer to our problem lies in establishing and expanding that very concept in other camps as well - to involve people in the daily happenings and motivate them to do what they can do best. We will research the willingness amongst the refugees to join such a program as soon as soon as Ramadan is over.
Our plan to help people improving their living situation by building their own furniture is a first step in that direction. We are working on a solution that doesn´t require proffessional skills or tools, but motivates people and gives them the feeling of doing something useful for them and the community. To establish this first step we are going to launch a fundraising campaign on StartNext in the next weeks and we are happy about any kind of support! If you have suggestions or similiar/different experiences: please share! So we can make this happen, as good as possible
The production of this article was supported by Op3n Fellowships - an ongoing program for community contributors during May - November 2016.