Flüchtlingshilfe Wald, e.V
When I was in Germany over the summer of 2016, I had the opportunity to meet with members of a volunteer refugee aid organization based in Wald, Germany. There are several towns called Wald in Germany; this one is barely a village. It sits not far from the shores of the Altmühlsee, a small man-made lake in Middle Franconia, and is under the administration of Gunzenhausen. Despite Wald’s size, it is home to an impressive refugee aid organization. In late June, I attended an information session at the Catholic Church in Gunzenhausen. German aid organizers updated Germans and refugees (with the help of a translator) on new regulations and new developments in the organization’s aid efforts.
Founded in March of 2015, the Flüchtlingshilfe Wald, e.V (Refugee Aid Wald, registered group) has been providing a variety of services to refugees coming into Germany. Part of this work is promoting cultural understanding between refugees and native Germans. Germany is a modern, secular, Western society with Christian roots. The world from which Syrian refugees come is one highly different from that of the Germans. To begin to bridge the cultural gaps, one must first break down the language barrier.
This language barrier is nothing insignificant. Of the refugees I saw in that room, most of them raised their hands when asked if anyone did not know “our” (Latin) letters. Frau Veronika Ortega has done a significant amount of work in the area of teaching German as a foreign language. Ortega also has a deep understanding of the significance language has. Her recent book Mehr als Wörter (More than Words) provides a guide for “language mediators in refugee aid.” In fact, her book does not even begin with instructions for teaching language. Rather, Part One encompasses intercultural competence. She proposes an adaptation of Freud’s iceberg model, with culture as the subject. According to Ortega, the superficial aspects of culture—manners, language, dress, art, and cuisine, for example—are related to larger, more important factors such as the relationship between humans and the world, the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, and beliefs. The goal is not to simply teach refugees to speak German, but to “make integrated living in democratic Germany a possibility.”
When I interviewed Frau Ortega, I asked about the types of refugee aid that organizations like Flüchtlingshilfe Wald provide. Given her expertise, Ortega is heavily involved with the Flüchtlingshilfe Wald organization in coordinating language and integration courses for refugees. Aid organizations go far beyond language courses, however. Other services Flüchtlingshilfe Wald provide include providing bicycles as means of transportation, equipping children with school supplies, and supplying winter clothing.
Perhaps the most daunting task migrants face is that of navigating the complicated German bureaucracy. This is something that even Germans cite as difficult for themselves. For someone with little understanding of the German language or culture, this would be nearly impossible. For this reason, Flüchtlingshilfe Wald has also been helping refugees with the difficult processes of finding housing, gaining official asylum status, and getting access to healthcare.
From my interview with Herr Günther Göllner, I learned about some of these processes. Migrants who are approved for entry into Germany receive a “blue pass.” These approved migrants gain all of the same rights and duties as a German citizen have. Families receive aid money; however, the amount of money decreases when migrants do not fulfill their new duties. These duties include taking integration courses, sending children to public school, and working. The short-term goals are self-sufficiency and integration.