…so now what. Chloë shared helpful tips on how to become involved in Berlin and Joseph at The Needle shares his own experiences interacting with refugees as a volunteer in his four-part blog series. Similar posts and newsletters with close up views and how to help have popped up across regions in Germany including my own, the Rheinland/Ruhrgebiet.
Keen myself to get involved, I’ve identified two local organizations that collect donations and arrange help for arriving refugees in Essen and follow one in Düsseldorf heavily supported by the expat community. Even before this issue became such a burning global one, my husband and I have been compelled by the acts of kindness of others and reflective about what we can do to help. So deep has our reflections with each other been that while we’ve been bouncing back ideas and researching them, we haven’t actually done much. We did look into hosting “a refugee as a roommate,” which unfortunately is not possible in Essen right now due to administrative limitations, and I’ve looked into donating my time to sort clothing donations but have not been able to do so because of my increased work schedule and inadequate childcare. And speaking of childcare, as I have spent the last six months tearing my hair out looking for a new au pair, I often thought that there was a frustrating disconnect between my need to hire and an otherwise competent and qualified refugee’s desire to work. The story of Syrian soccer coach Osama Abdul Mohsen being invited to Spain and offered a coaching job after he and his young son were tripped by a Hungarian camerawoman widened my scope of hope. This is my pie in the sky thinking, mulling in my mind and open to feedback and reflections.
Meanwhile I’ve decided that the first step is to respond to the call for action at my doorstep. My neighborhood non-profit, Werden hilft, is running a dictionary/stuffed animal/winter outerwear drive this weekend. One thing that has been made clear by every organization is a capacity problem. They all have limited to no storage space and cannot accept goods that cannot be used immediately. Flip-flops – no, winter boots – yes. The same of course applies to soiled, stained or ripped items: no, thanks.
So, while this means that I won’t be clearing my basement in one go, I’ve identified other regional organizations that can take other items to help other groups of need, such as house ware for the Dormunder Mitternachtsmission, which helps prostitutes, children in prostitution and victims of human trafficking. One of the way they offer support is by providing a furnished place for them to stay. Nicer women’s clothes that I would consider selling will go to Frauen helfen Frauen which helps women in domestic violence situations. They hold a big used women’s clothing sale twice a year which raises a significant portion of their charitable income but also draws interested and potentially affected people into their quarters. Any clothes or textiles that are ripped or stained or that I feel uncertain about go to H&M where I’ll leave it to them to donate further or recycle.
I’ve also noticed that the refugee organizations that I’m following collect different things at different times. So the one in Düsseldorf is collecting duvet covers and pillow cases, fry pans and dish towels along with a long list of things that do not overlap with any other wish list I’ve seen while Wilkommen in Essen is desperate for strollers, suitcases and rucksacks.
While I’ve been more contemplative about my involvement than I’d like, I’ve realized that it is possible to live in Germany and be unaware of a current refugee influx. But thanks to the initiative of a bunch of other well-organized people, I — just like anyone else – can help now.