TALKING ABOUT STEREOTYPES, TAB WATER AND SPARKLES.
By Anne Ruth Schussler (Non-participant & journalist from Germany)
One by one the youngsters enter the kitchen of their spacious accommodation in Weissensee, in the North-East of Berlin. Some of them enthusiastically start telling about a street-art tour they just returned from. Others take a minute to retreat and relax in their rooms. There’s a good atmosphere.
A participant says: “There was a great vibe as of the very first moment. We all felt comfortable and connected right away.”This connection is special, because this is not just any other group of people. It consists out of twenty-four youngsters from six different countries. The participants switch on and off between German, Arabic, Dutch, English, French, Moroccan and Turkish – and that all in the same room.
All these different backgrounds sometimes result in comical situations. Jihane, Soumaya and Zaynab, three Dutch girls with a Moroccan background, describe that at the first day, one of the project leaders asked where the Moroccan girls where. Jihane, Soumaya and Zaynab immediately responded fiercely: “Why did he call us Moroccans?” Soumaya explains: “In the Netherlands, when people say ‘Moroccan,’ it sometimes has a negative implication.”
But what the girls didn’t know was that there were actually participants from Marocco attending the program, and that with ‘Maroccans’ the staff actually just meant Moroccans. “It was a funny situation, but it also showed how sensitive we are when we think people are stereotyping us, Zaynab adds.
The objective of the program is offering the participants the possibility to transform. “We want to discover in what way we can be better leaders in our own community and how we can make changes,” Soumaya explains, “and meeting all these different people of my own age makes me aware of my possibilities and limitations.” Jihane adds: “I came to Berlin with several ideas about changing things in my community. I always felt shortened in my creative skills. But now that I’m here, I see how other people of my age find ways to express their voices.”
The Dutch girls seemed especially impressed by the stories of the Egyptian participants. Nahla, is one of them. Earlier in the program everyone was asked what they would want to change in their own community. Nahla had a clear goal: “I want to help people in their basic needs, like tab water and food. In Europe this might seem very normal, but in Egypt lots of people still live without it.”
For Nahla this the first time abroad. Everything is very different, but one thing here caught her eye: “Today we went on a streetart tour. We saw many graffiti paintings. This reminded me of Egypt. During the Arab Spring there were many artists who protested against the regime by making graffiti paintings.” But unfortunately, unlike Berlin, many of these forms of creative activism, have already been removed. “After the revolution, many walls were painted white again.” Nahla explains.
Cenk, a Turkish participant, loves exactly that about Berlin: “This city here gives everyone the opportunity to express themselves, also when it’s in a critical way.” For Cenk this too is his first time abroad. “At first I was already so happy to just go abroad. But now I can tell I’m changing. I’m already transforming into a more open minded person.”
The interaction with some female participants who wear headscarfs, was for example eye-opening for Cenk: “Here I see how these girls have strong opinions and big ideas. It’s very impressing.” Therefore to Cenk, this trip with all these different nationalities, religions, cultures and backgrounds has already been very inspiring: “I have learned that you can change whatever you want, you just need the sparkle to do it!”