Monday, April 11, 2016

Ministering to Refugees in Germany


PEOPLE ON THE MOVE - FOR THE TIME BEING LIVING TUTZING 

The Missionary Benedictine Sisters Serving Refugees in Germany

By Sr. Fabiana Wessiepe, OSB


In her report Sr. Fabiana Wessiepe both shares her experience of the encounters with asylum seekers in Tutzing and writes about her giving German language lessons. She is not the only one teaching, but also Sr. Magda Eberhard, Sr. Georgia Otto and Sr. Walburga Volkhausen (who is living in ‘House Benedict’, getting down to the Motherhouse for the classes held at the parlor there) 


Mission Opportunities at our doorstep: 

The large wave of refugees in Germany reached Tutzing in autumn 2015. Whereas in former times there were just smaller groups of people seeking refuge and asylum, it was necessary in September to pitch tents in the southern park of Tutzing. In addition to a so called family tent (which hosts 48 persons in total – men, women and children), there is as well an allmale tent with 80 residents.

Together with the arrival of so many refugees in Tutzing the circle of supporters grew simultaneously and constantly. It is very kind and helpful that the municipality is working closely together with the two major churches. As a matter of course Rev. Peter Brummer from the catholic parish provides the premises and facilities of the parish center “Roncalli House” for meetings and events. Also language courses take place there as far as possible, but the capacity is far from sufficient.

Thus since October 2015 our convent has been looking for a possibility to get involved to a larger extent. For quite some time we had already put available the house Birgitta for underage unaccompanied refugee girls and we have also spoken up for them together with their supervising tutors: The girls are professionally supervised by the staff of the association "Help from person to person". Sr. Corona Betz and Sr. Magdalena Geigle are the contact persons from our part. Now a small group of elderly sisters spoke up for giving German language classes for the newcomers.

Where do the refugees come from? 

Currently there are mainly young men from Afghanistan and Pakistan and some African countries, which come to us. This choice is based on the fact that we teach beginners who are either illiterate or do not know the Latin alphabet. For those who already master one of the European languages things are much easier and they may go to advanced German language courses. Women and children are housed in the family tent, where they are taught together there because the children are either in a day care center or at school.

All refugees who have come to us so far are Muslims, but they are tolerant to the Christian faith. They accept us, our beliefs and the Christian symbols, feasts and celebrations. Again and again we experience in the classroom that details of their experience come up such as incidents with the Shariah, terrorist threats or killings of family members. They also express their great concerns about their countries, because they recognize themselves that the youth 6 is quitting home and only the elderly remain.

What can we offer to them? 

Provide attention - a place where they can come and openly share their concerns somewhat. Then of course it is about the acquisition of the German language and this is a very difficult undertaking. For a start we may not assume anything and we have to start by learning the ABC as in the first grade (class 1), seeing the young men arduously painting their characters. Those who have already visited school in their home country are familiar with the Persian font that rather resembles the Arabic. There you start books and notebooks on the last page and write from right to left. So there is a need of relearning also in this regard. For us teachers, it means that also we on our part do not understand neither their language nor their font and we have to explain every word by means of images and signs. 

Particularly difficult are the much-prevalent German umlauts (mutated vowels) or words that are similar to a letter but have very different meanings such as Uhr / Ohr (clock/ear); Hase / Hose (rabbit/pants) and so on. This has led already to curious confusion. Occasionally they have picked up some English at home or on their way out. This facilitates communication a little. Particularly the refugees from African countries have a slight advantage due to this fact. During the language classes we get to convey time and again some of our values such as when talking about Christmas and New Year wishes.

Cultural Differences: For the men it is not a matter of course that women self-confidently give lessons, greet them with a handshake and look at them in the meantime.

Difficulties that show up: 

  • Poor Class Attendance: 
    • The refugees complain much that it is quite noisy in the big lodging in the evening and that they only sleep poorly in a room with so many people. Also the different mentality still might be important: They still have to get used to German thoroughness and punctuality.
  •  Composition of the group:
    • A homogeneous group with participants from the same cultural background and with similar educational background is desirable. This is not the case
    •  Participants come at different times during the course of study 
    • And the participants themselves have to learn to live and study together with other nationalities. 
  •  German calendar is not a simple task. 
    • Solar Calendar
    • New Year
    • Participant Age calculation (When birthday is known) 
    • Muslim feasts and special times such as Ramadan are concerned, they follow the lunar calendar, which again has a very different count.  

Despite all these difficulties, we are pleased that that we can have a small share in the international understanding and we appreciate the confidence and friendliness which our students are granting us.

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