Twenty-three sets of eyes look attentively to the front of the class. They’re watching three men sitting on tables in front of the 7th grade class at the Waldorf school in Frankfurt (Oder). Sami from Afghanistan and Nazir from Syria – two refugee men – and Thomas Klähn from the initiative Vielfalt statt Einfalt e.V., “Diversity instead of Bigotry”, patiently answer all questions. People learn about the fate of people like these two men on an almost daily basis through newspapers and magazines. What children and youths perceive is often overlooked. But it's precisely they who should be given liberal and democratic values, and to show them a realistic picture of refugees. “Children aren't yet as strongly influenced by prejudices; they're open and curious and have the ability to influence the world views of their parents”, says Klähn.
One of the many projects started by Vielfalt statt Einfalt e.V. is the school project “50 Million Refugees – 50 Million Fates”, which began in May 2015. Classes from the 4th grade up, with whom Thomas Klähn leads a general discussion about flight and migration, are able to participate. The same day students are given the opportunity to get to know refugees personally and to ask them questions. “There is a lot of interest, and there isn't always enough time in class sessions”, says Klähn proudly.
Today students are piling up questions upon questions. Especially ones related to religion, since this visit is taking place during religion class. It’s inconceivable to the kids that Muslims have to wash themselves before every prayer – or five times a day. “And what did you do on your trip?”, one boy asks. Nazir smiles and says, “there were rivers. But prayer was more of a rest and an opportunity for self-reflection”. Fleeing – a deep topic that many of the youths are still weighing in their heads. One student asks what kind of transportation they used, to which he receives responses that couldn't be more different from each other: Nazir, who was able to “travel comfortably”, fled for a considerable sum by plane. Sami, the “wanderer”, could only take the train once he reached Austria.
The Waldorf students find themselves in a surreal situation – just two weeks ago they began sharing their classroom with an Afghan boy who’d fled to Germany on his own. Because of this, they've been making a lot of effort to integrate him into the community, without getting too close to him. Because he isn't in class today, the students are asking very concrete questions, such as how they can help him. “Give him time!” is the most important advice Sami, Nazir, and Klähn could give them.
Giving them time . . . Ralf Unglaube would also like to give that to the young refugees he oversees. He’s the headmaster of a primary school in the Frankfurt district of Neuberesinchen, and implemented the first “preparation course” at his school at the beginning of February. The course is taken by ten Syrians, four Afghans, and a Czech, all between the ages of 7 and 13. For now the plan is for them to take German language courses together for three hours a day over the next half year. Added to this is the option of a course in mathematics or, in certain cases, fine arts. According to the Brandenburg Ministry of Education, there were roughly 4,000 refugee children in February state-wide who were required to attend school, but there weren't enough school personnel.
Headmaster Ralf Unglaube is a vanguard of integration in schools. His long-term goal is to transition refugee students into regular classes: “The problem is that we have to find a compromise between their ages and their levels of knowledge”, says Unglaube. “But in the school yard they're already beginning to make contact with other students. There’s a curiosity on both sides – as adults we can't meddle with that”.