Change Stories

2020

18 June

A Syrian father alone in Fürstenwalde: support for parents and school in km2 of Education

Like many refugees from Syria, Ahmed Al-Ameri (name changed) arrived in Germany in 2015, initially accompanied only by his eldest son Tariq (name changed). The mother and
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18/06/2020

A Syrian father alone in Fürstenwalde: support for parents and school in km2 of Education

Like many refugees from Syria, Ahmed Al-Ameri (name changed) arrived in Germany in 2015, initially accompanied only by his eldest son Tariq (name changed). The mother and four other siblings remained in a refugee camp in Turkey, hoping to join them later under less onerous conditions. Assisted by km2 of Education Fürstenwalde, Ahmed Al-Ameri gradually learns how to participate proactively in the education of his children and to support them effectively at school and at home.
Having arrived in Fürstenwalde, a medium-sized town in the easternmost part of Brandenburg, Ahmed Al-Ameri suddenly saw himself solely responsible for household and upbringing – entirely contrary to the traditional Syrian role distribution.

In the school, the problem of the refugee children who had arrived alone with their overburdened fathers became swiftly apparent: many of them had difficulties in the lessons, exhibited behavioral disturbances, were malnourished or even showed traces of abuse. While initially support options were developed only for the children, it was soon clear that any approach had to include the parents, especially the fathers.

Tariq, ten years old back then, gave particular cause for concern: very early on – tall for his age and overweight – he terrorized the younger primary school children, whom he threatened, blackmailed and robbed. His father Ahmed, in his early forties, was hardly less abrasive. Though right from the start he was keen to utilize the Arabic-speaking counseling options of the Pedagogic Workshop at km2 of Education, this was mainly in order to complain vociferously at any time of the day or night. Basically, he felt unfairly treated when problems were raised by the school. He seemed to drink a lot and to bring up his son in an extremely authoritarian manner, not least with physical violence. He resolutely refused to talk to the female staff of the Pedagogic Workshop and the primary school.

In km2 of Education Fürstenwalde, which was launched in 2015, the focus has right from the start been on educational partnerships with the parents, and advanced training for the teaching staff. A native-language parents’ café was set up for Arabic- and Russian-speaking families – the two largest migrant groupings in the region –, a German-language linguistic café and additional information provision on subjects selected by the parents themselves: on children’s rights, social media or drug prevention. At need, the Pedagogic Workshop also brokers psychological family assistance, as in the case of the Al-Ameris. Nationwide, the km2 of Education Fürstenwalde is one out of twelve program locations in all, at which in socially disadvantaged urban districts public- and private-sector institutions work together in networks on a long-term basis, so as to provide all children and young people with good educational opportunities.

A long path to achieving an education partnership

When in 2018 the mother Al-Ameri finally arrived in Germany with the siblings, the pedagogic staff began to hope that everything would improve. But Tariq’s mother, traumatized by her experiences and overburdened by the new modalities of living in Germany, soon fell into depression. Tariq ceased to respect his mother; the years of separation had left their traces.

In the case of Ahmed Al-Almeri, however, clearly perceptible, though tentative, changes gradually began to emerge. He regularly attended the counseling and advanced-training events for parents organized by the Pedagogic Workshop. He established a relationship of mutual trust with the staff, is now a frequent visitor and contacts them for all school-related and other questions. Communication with him has become much more constructive and receptive, and is no longer aggression-charged as it was at the beginning. Al-Ameri is meanwhile talking to the female staff as well. In the 2019/20 school year, in continuation of the field-proven parent work the Rucksack language-learning program was introduced at the two schools of the km2 of Education; it communicates to the parents in peer groups the curriculum of their children in their native language, so that they can support them to better effect in the learning process. Ahmed Al-Ameri is participating and is proud to play such an active role in the school.

His development goes hand in hand with that of many teachers at the school, who were initially reluctant to take on board the experiential worlds of the refugee pupils, in particular, but thanks to the numerous support and advanced training options organized by km2 of Education in recent years have radically changed their attitudes, thus enabling close educational partnerships to be created between parents and the school.

For Tariq, his father’s new commitment to the school has come too late, fear the staff responsible. He may have to be transferred to a school for children with special needs, and in his leisure time roams the streets with a gang of hooligans. But in the case of the four younger siblings of the Al-Ameri family – the last of them just starting school – the father’s altered behavior is bearing fruit: they are coping better with the school environment, are well-behaved, and smoothly integrated into the class community.

Acid test in the coronavirus crisis

When in March 2020 the schools were locked down due to the coronavirus pandemic, this was once again cause for major concern among the relevant staff: will it still be possible to reach the Al-Ameri family? How will the cramped living conditions affect family life?

But thanks to the meanwhile solid relationship with the father, contact was maintained even during the crisis. Twice a week, parent mentors of the Pedagogic Workshop phoned the family and brought them learning and play materials in person. All written communications from the school were translated into Arabic. The school equipped every child with individualized material packages to suit his/her learning progress. Because like the Al-Almeris, many families in this socially disadvantaged district do not possess the technical equipment for digital learning at home.

When the school re-opened its gates for the first time after the Easter holidays, the teachers breathed a sigh of relief: all children of the Al-Ameri family had appeared. And the teachers hardly believed their eyes: Ahmed Al-Ameri came in person and even chatted with the teaching staff. This would have been inconceivable in 2015.


The Freudenberg Foundation initiated the km2 of Education Fürstenwalde in conjunction with the RAA (Regional Center for Education, Integration and Democracy) Brandenburg, the Association for Youth Welfare and Social Work (JuSeV), the F.C. Flick Foundation and the town council of Fürstenwalde/Spree. Financing is provided by the Freudenberg Foundation, the F.C. Flick Foundation and the town council of Fürstenwalde.