Volunteering for children's right to education in Berlin, European Volunteering Capital 2021
On 1 June, we celebrate all children of the world. And with them, we celebrate all those who care for them, who make their lives safe and secure, and who help them set a great foundation for happy, fulfilling lives.
For many of us in Europe, the right to quality education is a given. Though if we look close enough, that is not a clear-cut reality for all children living in Europe. For some, while the opportunity to receive education exists, the educational infrastructure needs additional support. And that support often comes from volunteers. Petra is one such volunteer, whose story pushed her to make change happen not just for her children, but for others struggling with the same challenges as theirs.
In 2011, Syria broke out into a civil war that completely changed the course of its history. Petra, a long time Syrian resident, was about to be forced to leave the country to ensure she and her family are safe. And while she reached a safe environment on German land, her journey of adapting to life in Germany was just getting started.
Petra settled with her family in Berlin, which today is the European Volunteering Capital 2021. Her children’s education, having been interrupted by the war in Syria, had to be continued in a new educational system. That proved harder than expected. While children of refugees are welcomed into the formal education system, their journey is hardened by language and teaching methods gaps. Waiting for Syrian education to be fully recognised in Germany and for the children to learn the German language was going to create a gap far too wide, jeopardising their chances at a solid education to build their future upon.
‘| thought to myself: if it is this hard for me, a German mother who can speak German, knows the German administrative school system, and can fight her way through it, how can Syrian refugees cope with this?’ Petra
Petra needed to find additional support for her children’s education. But knowing there are so many children of refugees who would struggle with the same issues as her children, she knew she needed to do more. After years of struggling to find solutions for these challenges, she wanted to volunteer her experience and she founded ‘Back on Track’, an organisation whose mission is to give children from Syria access to the German educational system.
To make this happen, Petra provides support both for the children and for their refugee parents, helping them navigate the German school system. And because one of the biggest challenges was the language barrier, ‘Back on Track’ also trains Arabic-language teachers to bridge the education gap between refugees’ native country education and the German education system.
The organisation provided great support for hundreds of children in Berlin on their way to becoming fully immersed in the German life and culture. Petra and her team of volunteers constantly make sure they adapt their support methodology to be of help to as many families as needed. While before the pandemic, children and parents were receiving face-to-face support through ‘Back on Track’, since March 2020 parents and children have transitioned, as many others, to digital sessions. This brought a new set of challenges, including the need to offer digital training to families to support their children’s online education. However, Petra and her team are confident that they will overcome this challenging phase too and keep functioning as an essential support system for refugees and their children.
Petra’s resilience is inspiring. Her volunteering engagement was born from personal and urgent needs to provide her children with quality education. But her belief that all children should be given the same opportunity at getting an education, gave her the motivation to extend this support to all children refugees in Berlin.
The city of Berlin, as European Volunteering Capital 2021, is a great supporter of people like Petra, who volunteer their time, skills and expertise to make other people’s lives better and together create a solid community in their municipality. Their stories and volunteer contributions are shared through the Volunteers of Berlin platform, providing inspiration for many others not just across the city, but across Europe, to make their own contribution as volunteers, to a cause close to their heart.
This year, during the 10th anniversary of the European Year of Volunteering (#EYVplus10), we encourage all citizens to take a step towards supporting their community as volunteers; and we stand with all volunteering supporting organisations who continue their relentless work to create and maintain a solid volunteering infrastructure, while partnering with key stakeholders from the public and private sectors to step up a gear in volunteering support.
*This story was originally published by Berlin, European Volunteering Capital 2021 Project Office, here edited and repurposed for the celebration of International Children’s Day, 1 June.