“Not Just Statistics”

Kurt Willi Dietel, 59, has been a social worker with the Von Bodelschwingsche Bethel Foundation since 1998, a diaconal facility that watches over unaccompanied, underage refugees (UUR) in Bielefeld. In the group “WG Lebanon”, Willi Dietel watches over 23 young refugees between the ages of 15 and 18, one of whom is Majd from Syria. Willi Dietel is like a father figure to Majd, who calls him “Baba Willi”. In an interview, the social worker, who has a son of his own, talks about his work with the group. 

Mr. Dietel, you're like a father figure to Majd, and he calls you “Baba Willi”. Can you replace Majd’s family?

No, that I can't do. I like Majd, but I can't replace his father, and I wish that his parents could be here in Germany, which might actually work out in his case. Of course, I’m honoured that Majd calls me ‘Baba Willi’. Sometimes he gets jealous when other others also say “Baba Willi” to me. Majd and the other kids I watch over are very important to me. I don't just want to pass them off to somebody else, but rather approach their situation with a sense of responsibility and duty; they aren't just statistics.

Majd’s native language is Arabic, yours is German. How do you communicate with each other? 

Majd speaks a little German already, and I tell him every day that he should keep learning the language, which is exactly what he’s doing. He also speaks English, so we can communicate when there are certain misunderstandings. Other than that we work with interpreters and translators here at Bethel.

In which ways can you support Majd?

Well, for one, that I’m there for him, that I take time for him, that I'm aware of his needs. I then speak to institutions and officials on his behalf and convey his interests and needs. He matters a lot to me, just like all the other children and youths that I take care of. In the group I have five youths that I'm responsible for. Majd is one of them.

What do you wish for Majd?

That he can lead a life where he feels comfortable and safe, that he’s in a place where he can take responsibility for his own life, that he can say what he wants – he’s a free thinker, after all – and that he can get a good start in Germany. I wish for him what I wish for everyone.

What’s something you think Majd is particularly good at?

Majd likes to play badminton and he’s good at programming and communicating. Aside from that he’s very patient and never rude, even when he doesn't like something. He has a very fine-tuned sense for people, is a very refined person, and is a very honest guy.

What kind of difficulties arise on a daily basis in “WG Lebanon”?

There are a total of 23 guys from different countries in the group. There were a few cultural differences. For example, when it comes to using the toilet. There are these “German” norms, and I have to make sure to accept their needs and the ways they've been used to doing things. For example, instead of using toilet paper they use a type of watering pot to rinse themselves. Generally, I serve as a mediator, even between the different religious groups. It’s my daily bread, so to speak, but we’re on a very good course: thanks to consistent dialogue and discussions, we’re able to resolve conflicts and support mutual respect and tolerance.

You can read here how Jurt Willi Dietl supports the young Syrian Majd in Germany and why Majd calls him “Baba Willi”.

Mohammed Swed, Hazm Mater and Claudia Hammermüller
33, 15 and 26 years old, Damascus and Dresden
. . . could understand each other without having a common language.