Volunteering with Refugees in Bad Kreuznach, Germany – Chris Dobson

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Before doing this project I’d never met someone from Syria and nor had I ever met a refugee, so I didn’t really know what to expect on the first day working at the school. I thought that, given all the trauma they have had to endure, the refugee children would be very quiet and sad. In my group there were three boys from Syria: Omar and his older brother Ahmad, from Damascus, and Moumen from Aleppo. They were aged sixteen to twenty and had come to Germany with their families to escape from the civil war. When I spoke to Ahmad, who was twenty, about his homeland, he told me that Damascus was the most beautiful city in the world. He had wanted to study medicine but he couldn’t because there were bombs falling on his university. He and his family fled Syria because otherwise he would have had to serve in the army, and he told me that he could in no circumstances do this because Islam forbids the killing of another person.

It was very moving to hear the first-hand account of a Syrian refugee. We see pictures of refugees in the newspapers and on the news we see clips of them fleeing through rubble-strewn streets or crammed into boats, but rarely do we get to see them as real human beings just like us. Omar, Ahmad and Moumen had hopes and dreams in Syria that were smashed to pieces by war. Now they are trying to find a new home in Germany, and it was great to be a part of this process of helping them integrate and make friends.

The students at the summer school came from a range of different countries. Some of them have only being learning German for six months but already they can speak it extremely well. However, it is easy for them to forget all their vocabulary over the summer holidays, so the main aim of the summer school was to get them to speak German. The other aim of the summer school was simply for the students to have fun. Bad Kreuznach, the small city where the students lived, has lots of ice-cream shops that we would often visit. On one day we played mini golf, a game that none of the students had ever played before. They found it very enjoyable, especially Ahmad who came first! On another day we went to the cinema and saw the new Star Trek film, dubbed in German. Other activities we did included going to an out-door swimming pool and walking a ‘Bare Foot Path’. On the last day at the school all the groups worked together to paint a big wall-mural. One person wrote the motto of the school, ‘It is normal to be different’, which I think encapsulates the whole spirit of the summer school. The Principal’s Go Abroad Fund helped with paying for activities and transport, and I’m extremely grateful to the principal for providing this help.


Second from the left you can see Moumen; Samatha, in the middle of the photograph, came from Iran; to the right of her are Ahmad and Omar. I am at the end of the photograph on the right. Also in the photograph are other volunteers from Edinburgh and Lagla, second from the right, who came from Africa.

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