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Intercultural library work in Hamm: “The library helped me to integrate”

The Syrian, Mohammed Bakr, has lived in Hamm since 2015. Since then he has been actively using the library's range of intercultural services – first for language learning, now for his professional training. He has even organised a group for refugees to practice speaking German together.

My name is Mohammed Bakr, but my friends just call me Mo. I am 29 years old and I come from the north of Syria, from the town of Kobane. There was a big library in Kobane, which I actually did not go to often. It was not until later, when I was studying mechanical engineering in Aleppo that I used the library as a place to study and research.

I have lived in Hamm / Westphalia since 2015 and I started going to the library right from the start to learn the language. They have everything for learning German: teaching materials, programs, computers and books.

In the summer of 2015, we organised a summer party in collaboration with Hamm’s refugee aid agency (Flüchtlingshilfe Hamm e.V.). There I met the then head of the library. Together we hit upon the idea of providing refugees with an opportunity to speak German. “Meet & Talk” brings refugees and the people of Hamm together and gets them talking. He offered us meeting rooms free of charge, which are centrally located for everyone and are easily accessible. By attending the “Meet & Talk” sessions, I was able to begin a nine-month internship in the library in March 2016. I prepared and supervised the group meetings and translated flyers into Arabic and Kurdish.

My tasks also included sorting Arabic books into the appropriate categories, organising a reading corner in a refugee hostel and interpreting for Arab or Kurdish clients. I have offered these clients a tour of the library so they can get to know the lay-out of the building and where to find what they are looking for.

The internship in the library helped a lot with my integration in German society. By coming into daily contact with Germans, my language improved quickly. I supported my colleagues in their various work processes and found out more about German culture. I was often able to borrow books and dictionaries.

My favourite place is on the second floor, there are seats and the atmosphere is quiet. I really enjoy being there. The Reading Café is very cosy, as you can have a coffee while reading.

This year, I began a training course at Hamm’s city college to become an IT specialist. I still use the library for my course research. I meet there with my course colleagues to study with them. In the meantime, I have now started to take out textbooks and novels in German. And, just as before, I still supervise the “Meet & Talk” group. We meet informally twice a week in the library over coffee and biscuits, discuss topics such as Easter customs or Christmas, play “Taboo” or “Ludo”. Every now and then we go out for the day to the zoo, the museum or the carnival parade.

For me, intercultural library work means above all access to information: via the Internet, books, CDs, etc. Joining a library is an ideal thing to do, especially if you are trying to learn the German language. I have, however, also been to a Kurdish evening at the library, with music and readings. There was also a cultural night with a Harry Potter theme that was pretty cool. I'm very happy with the library, what it has to offer, and the fact that it is such a nice place with such nice people.

Since about 2007, the municipal libraries of Hamm have intensified their range of intercultural services. Among other things, the media collection in the field of languages has been supplemented, their multilingual orientation has been expanded and event activities extended to different target groups.

The article was originally published here and was republished with permission from Goethe-Institut.

Author: Mohammed Bakr was born in the Syrian city of Kobane in 1988. Since 2015 he has lived in Hamm. He completed an internship at the library, founded the group “Meet & Talk” and in 2017 started a traineeship to become an IT specialist in systems integration at Hamm’s city college.

Text: Goethe-Institut, Mohammed Bakr

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.

May 2018

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