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The Importance of Mentoring Programmes in the Face of War - Part I

Experience of everyday school life with refugee children shows that mentoring programmes like that run by Visioneers e.V, are an important tool for children and adults alike.

"Come quick" calls one of my students. It is break time, 10 minutes for the students to blow off steam. I leave my desk and go to the door, where I hear hectic shouting in Arabic and German. A fight has broken out between two German and two Syrian children. I do not see faces, only whirling hands and feet. With the help of Syrian and German classmates I break it up. What remains are frightened faces, a sense of unease and the question, how did this happen?

The invisible Wall

Refugee children have been attending our school for over a year. They start out in German language classes and are then slowly integrated into the native classes, initially on an hour by hour basis. Being able to write, read, speak and above all understand the German language is key to succesful integration. New refugee children are constantly arriving and others moving away, but the majority stay. Over the course of the first year the German children observed and eventually got to know the refugee children. So far there had been no tensions or conflicts, but now the mood was changing. Hurtful words were exchanged even before the incident at break time, both inside and outside of school. Words that hurt, words against family members, words which aroused anger in many of the Arabic pupils, not just those at whom the insults were directed. In the hall at break time the insults culminated in violence. The faces of the pupils involved read war; hurt and anger were reflected in their eyes.

Tackling prejudices and fear of the unknown, and challenging ignorance with open dialogue, are tasks not just for schools in the aftermath of such incidents. Rather they are the responsibility of German society as a whole. What do we know of an individual refugee's story when we never ask them about it, when all refugees are branded with the same misconceived stereotypes? Who thinks to ask the people sitting next to them on the train or standing by them in the shop, about their individual story? An invisible curtain of fear of the unknown distorts our perception of refugees.

In order to counteract these prejudices, we need your help. Read on for further examples of conflicts and possible ways to deal with them.

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