Berlin was on our way to Poland, when we came back from South East Asia. We decided to stop for a day or two to see what’s going on from the changemaking point of view. We entered Social Impact Lab, a co-working space, hoping to find somebody interesting. It was quite empty. We looked a little bit around, noticing a sticker on a wardrobe: a hearth with the name Wefugees inside. Anna looked at it and said: I go to toilet, find out how we can interview this one. She didn’t expect much, it was just to underline that this initiative look interesting. Five minutes later, when she came back to the main room, Andrea was already speaking with Wefugees’ team… Those few people working that day in the space happened to be exactly the one we were looking for.
Cornelia Roeper, founder: The name Wefugees comes from “we are all refugees” or ”welcome refugees”. It’s about being together, doesn’t matter where we are from. We had big problem with many thousands refugees coming at the same time to Germany, we were completely overwhelmed. Especially in Berlin, there was one place where all refugees had to register. It was extremely cold, and they had to wait days and weeks… it was terrible. I wanted to do something. We started to talk with a lot of people, volunteers and refugees, we invited them for a dinner or a coffee to listen to their stories. It was hard. We also discussed what they need, what is their biggest challenge. And one of them was always: I have so many questions, who should I ask?
There are help desks which provide information to refugees but first of all, they have a lot of job answering always the same questions, and secondly, to some of the questions they don’t really know what to say.
Cornelia: Most of refugees have exactly the same questions: how do I get a flat, how does my asylum procedure work, how can I find a job. Volunteers as well as help desks answer those questions over and over again. At the same time for a lot of important issues they have no answer. Where is nearest kindergarten? What can I do with my kids? Which places are available but not expensive. Your neighbor can answer very easily, but if you go to help desks they often have no idea. We started an online community which provides information. There are few hundreds of people asking questions every day.
Some of the answers come from other refugees who already found out the necessary information. A lot come from local people, who may not have time to volunteer in a camp, but they can answer a couple of questions. And they do.
Cornelia: At the moment it is going quite well, we are growing constantly. We are planning offline community events. We started online and it’s nice but I think people need to meet in person. There are so many people who matched by speaking on the online platform. Things like “I can go with you to check flats” etc. There are a lot of people answering hundreds of questions. And those who ask want to meet and say: it’s amazing what you are doing. That’s something refugees ask for, they want to meet people, practice German, get to know others.
Surprisingly, although Wefugees implemented tools against hate speech, but so far it was never the case. People want to help, share, do whatever is possible to contribute a bit in what is really needed. One of Wefugees’ strongest points is the constant dialogue with refugees, asking them what they need, what could be improved. Wefugees team is international. All together helps them to answer real needs and not problems they suppose refugees have, as it happens in many other projects.
Peter Zweigler, member of the team: What we do is talking with refugees and not to create something which will help from our perspective. They are also coming here, giving feedback.
Cornela: Talking with people can also save you a lot of time and energy. When we started we thought about creating website in different languages, but then we talked a lot with refugees and they told us, that usually they have one person within a group of 10-20 people who is responsible for giving them information. And that person is speaking English. So we decided to just stay with an English community, like that we have bigger chance to reach more people.
And they are reaching more and more, already operating in the whole country. They provide information to refugees but above all give the feeling that they are welcomed here. You are welcome.
More about Wefugees: www.wefugees.de