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"I’m proud of the department I work in"

80 members of the Geography Department are offering courses for refugees staying in the nearby sports centre. An interview with Mohsen Makki

Figure: Mohamed Ali Mohamed

At the beginning of the year, the sports centre in the Merlitzstraße in Adlershof was converted into refugee accommodation for 350 people. Since then, around 80 students, academics and other staff members from the Geography Department have been helping out as volunteers.

Dr Makki, the Geography Department got involved very quickly and extensively, how did that come about?

As the refugees were moving into the accommodation I was asked by a student if I could help by going into the shelter to translate for people. So I did that. Then, together with my colleagues Dagmar Wörister, Sylvana Jahre, Barbara Richter, Sebastian Schlüter, Mohammed Ali Mohammed and  Robert Kitzmann, I started an appeal in the department. The response was huge. Just now I’m very proud of the department I work in.

What tasks do the volunteer helpers carry out?

We held meetings with groups of refugees from the home to find out what needs they have. Two aims emerged from this. On the one hand, we want to make it easier for the refugees to gain access to German society, by offering courses that teach language but also give people a broad knowledge of Berlin. On the other hand, we want to assist people who would like to study.

How many participants are in the courses, and what is their educational background?

There are 80 refugees participating in the courses. Their educational background is very heterogeneous; some are illiterate, others have completed secondary school or have university degrees. Most of the participants are men. But we also offer a course for women, run by women. There is also child care available during class time.

What happens in the courses?

At the beginning of the session, my colleague Dr Mohamed Ali Mohamed and I give information about Berlin in Arabic and Farsi. Our students then give language lessons, with pairs of students teaching groups of four. We also want to produce a compendium of 300 tips to help all refugees find their feet in Berlin.

What support are you planning for those interested in university study?

We’re working closely with the Academic Affairs department at the university. It’s important for us to let those who are interested know how and where they can get information quickly, to avoid any delays in their academic career. If they do get a place at the HU, we’d like to keep supporting them and help them out with everyday challenges if needed. So far, eight people have expressed an interest in studying.

Dr Mohsen Makki is a research associate in the Geography Department (research group: geomorphology / soil geography / Quaternary research), and came to Germany as a refugee from Iran himself.

Anyone wishing to help can contact him:

Donations of pens, refill pads and schoolbags for the children in the shelter (numbering around 100) will be gratefully received.

The interview was conducted by Ljiljana Nikolic.

Drop-in hours for refugees are bi-weekly on Thursday between 10 and 12 a.m. on Campus Adlershof, Campus Office (next dates: March 17, March 31, April 14, April 28)

Additional information