Thousands of hands to help, thousands of volunteers in Berlin are spending their free time to support the newcomers. And there is still thousands of things to be done! And you can also help. A loud and fancy sports car is burning rubber in front of the a waiting of refugees at the registration offices in Berlin. A typical car and a sound of Turkish show-off in the middle of Kreuzberg. But why the hell this show off here – in front of refugees, homeless, hopeless people? – comes to my mind. And you know what? The driver stops, opens his trunk and… gets our a huge pot of hot soup for the people waiting in the cold night. And the plastic plates and starts to share it.
Every time I come to the offices with few hundreds of the sleeping bags, I think I have brought so much. And then, in few minutes they are gone, and I feel that it’s nothing.
Every time I still have some toy in my car, I think: oh, it’s nothing. And then, when I go back to give this soft teddy to some little, frozen kid – I have a feeling that I brought so much.
My life is a bit crazy in last months. So is Berlin. Some companies give their workers a day off. A week or every few weeks. That they have time and can help. The translators – translate useful phrases, the printing houses – print little dictionaries, the bike workshops – organise repairing bikes workshops. Cafes – offer the refugees coffee for free or with a discount, cinemas – put a little glass, where people can share some money for a next ticket for a refugee. There are few hundred places for donations: for clothes, food, toys. Many people, just normal Berliners, spend a few hours a week “doing shifts”. You can do it in almost every shelter, in almost every district of Berlin. It can be cooking, giving away the food, sorting clothes, playing with kids, translating important issues and papers. People teach the refugees German or English. Officially or not, in smaller or bigger groups. People go with the refugees to help them doing the official things: registering, getting place to sleep or getting a doctor’s appointment. People start to organise workshops: for kids, for integration, psychological, drums, football – whatever they can. Or give a place to stay. Or rent a place to stay. Or try to employ a refugee. There are so many things “to do something”, if one truly wants.
But I know that it’s not so easy to find out all those things. Since our sleeping bags campaign still grows every day and I am into the topic – there are also many people asking me the “what to do?” question. Let me give you some ideas!
6 Things Everyone Can Do
1. Donate – it’s not about money
Still, unfortunately, everything is needed here in Berlin. Just imagine 50,000 of newcomers, with just one pair of jeans and one t-shirt. And then check your wardrobe. And multiply with 50,000. And think about the showers gels, diapers for the kids, sanitary pads… backpacks to carry anything, warm hats and gloves, winter boots. Everything.
There is a long list of things which are needed, updated every day by the volunteer organisations helping in the Berlin refugee shelters. If you are from Berlin, you can easily check what could you bring where and at what time. For those who do not – just send me a package to »Anna Alboth, Damerowstr. 66, 13187 Berlin«. I’m already a good friend with the postman. He is here every day. I love those little packages with kids’ toys and hand written letters “from John age 4 to other Johns”, “please give it to whom needs it”. Thanks a lot for your trust! Until I can help you to help, I will not stop ;)
Somebody lately wrote in his letter, which came together with a big box of things: “I know that it’s just a little drop in the sea, but if I can help even one person, and others would help also just one person – we could have this sea!”. So simple, hmm?
2. Give a Place to Stay
The registered refugees usually get the voucher to stay somewhere (if there is no space in the shelters) – in a hostel or motel. But those not always take them (because of different reasons – for example the fact that they will be paid for it only in 1,5 year!), so there is many many people without any place to stay.
You can offer your room, for free or rent it in a legal way. Check those pages: www.fluechtlinge-willkommen.de and place4refugees.de. There are also few “emergency” facebook groups – where you could help hosting for a night or for a short time somebody in a real need (like a family with small kids, who is going only on the next day somewhere). In this topic I would love you to read the little story of a big heart Dirk, who has hosted already 24 people in his flat.
And if you have no chance to host anyone – you can also try to arrange places. Or use your car sometimes to help bringing the people in need from offices, to a place they can sleep. They not only have no money (for a metro ticket or taxi) but also have no idea about such a big city as Berlin. A mother with 3 kids would never cross the whole city, even if she would have an address of a place she can sleep at. So they will sleep on the street.
3. Help With Translations
There is soooo much about a good communication right now. People coming speak very different languages, on very different level. There is this amazing project “Refugee Phrasebook”, on which many people worked in last months. The results are amazing!
4. Make a Shift
On this page – volunteer-planner.org – you can register and even on the next day go for 3 hours to help in one of the shelters. All the tasks are mentioned there, the organisation and experience of help is also getting better and better. You can play with kids, spend time with women, help in the kitchen, sort the clothes, etc etc. I know already quite some people, who came to Berlin for some days: did some touristic stuff and spend a day or two helping. Thanks to it, they also could have “their experience”, face to face, and make their own opinion, not based by any media. I guess this is important, for everyone. So – if there is anybody willing to come to Berlin for shifts like this – I’m giving you a couch in our kitchen ;)
In the most busy place: at the registration offices, the hero of this year is organisation Moabit Hilft. Nothing would happen without those hundreds volunteers (between 30 and 100, every day, since months!!), making shifts nights and days. Normal people from the neighbourhood Moabit, not employed, not paid. And even without the support of the government, they just couldn’t stop, because they knew that they are doing the right thing.
Also a lot of refugees itself make the shifts: many of them know many languages, are very useful with translations. They have time and will. Actually my best friends between the volunteers, are the refugees.
5. Teach German
You can do it just on your own. You can offer it to any of the refugees – spending one hour a week, drinking coffee and… talking! There are a lot of German courses right now, but it’s just so difficult to make it work. For example “our” Akil – he had a place on the course for the beginners. But he was the only beginner without knowledge of Latin alphabet. After few days, the group was already so advanced, that he had no chance to get anything. Now our Mila is teaching him the most: letter after letter, writing, reading, and once again!
6. Spend Time…
Actually I think this one is the most important of ALL. Just being there for the people. Smiling, giving a hug. Being interested. Talking. And… listening. Showing the city, chatting about the kids. You don’t need money for it, you don’t need any experience!
On the picture starting this post: there is the best friend of Hanna, together with a Pakistani refugee. Every few days, after the kindergarten and school, I take my girls with me to spend time with the people. You have no idea how happy are the people to play with kids. How much they are missing their own! And how much they are missing just a normal, simple joy. – Thank you for brining you kids to us! – I hear. Well, thanks for taking care about them ;)
There are many ways of organising this “normal time”. There are picnics, meetings in the cafe or gatherings. Here is a good page to get inspired for your own ideas, what do people “give back”: givesomethingbacktoberlin.com.
And there is, of course, many other things “to do something”: you can donate money (by organisations you trust), you can read as much as you can, from as many sources as you can – to stay well informed, you can discuss with the people, you can fight the hate speech, you can work on the IT solutions: for registration, mapping, million of ideas (for example on the RefugeeHackathon!), you can make a German course on your own, you can try to influence the politicians, you can organise demonstrations, collect signatures, etc. But for me – the most simple and the most difficult at the same time – contact with the people works the best. Just face to face, hand in hand.
And since we have so many of newcomers right now in Berlin – we have a chance and a honour to do it. And this… makes me happy.
Our first book is out!
We have published our first book (for now just in Polish:) about our Central America Trip.
See, read and order here »