#MissionResponsible: Evgenia Gavrilova on ‘Cross Borders’
Name: Evgenia Gavrilova
Lives in: Germersheim, Germany
Country of origin: Russia
Period in Germany: has been in Germersheim since the winter semester 2013 (as at August 2015)
Educational institution: Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Faculty of Translation Studies, Linguistics and Cultural Studies in Germersheim
Students on Mainz University’s Germersheim campus launched the ‘Cross Borders’ initiative, which provides refugees with free language courses to make their arrival in Germany easier.
Evgenia Gavrilova, who is from Russia, has been studying conference interpreting at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germersheim since the winter semester 2013. She is one of the volunteers working for the ‘Cross Borders’ student initiative, which in recognition of this commitment was awarded third place in the #MissionResponsible competition. We talked to her about the goals of the initiative, her personal motivation and her plans for the future.
Ms Gavrilova, ‘Cross Borders’ is one of the three prizewinners in the #MissionResponsible competition. And this is not the first award that you have received for your work. Many congratulations!
Evgenia Gavrilova: Thank you! You’re right, it’s not the first award. We’ve also won the ‘HelferHerzen’ (helping hearts) and ‘Menschen der Region’ (people from the region) prizes. But winning the #MissionResponsible award is a particular honour because the competition covers such a large geographical area. We were all thrilled when we got the news, and we’re now looking forward to buying lots of board games, audio books and textbooks with the prize money to make our German lessons more efficient and enjoyable.
What are the goals of ‘Cross Borders’ – and what are you doing to achieve them?
Evgenia Gavrilova: Our goal is very simple: we want to make things easier for refugees when they arrive in Germany; through networking and teaching them language skills we aim to give them better prospects and improve integration. We offer a range of services, from German classes and leisure activities to accompanying them to appointments with authorities. The initiative also integrates refugees into student life and gives them an overview of the local support services.
At the beginning, we didn’t have a very polished concept. Everything happened spontaneously and it was a bit chaotic from time to time – every lesson new people joined the class, mainly young men, but also couples, sometimes even with children. There was no chance of following a structured teaching programme. But that’s now changed and we have a clear concept broken down into different levels.
Several generations of pupils have since taken part in ‘Cross Borders’. We’re still in contact with a lot of them, and so we know that the German skills we teach them help them to find their feet and feel more at home in Germany. When they enrol in certified language courses at a later stage, they can go straight in at a higher level.
Do you receive support for your work?
Evgenia Gavrilova: For a long time, the funding for ‘Cross Borders’ came from bake sales. But the project has slowly started to gain more support. The faculty recently bought a large batch of books for our pupils, and the town played a big role in helping us carry out our fundraising run. The society Freundeskreis FTSK Germersheim e.V. has also provided support. And once we’re a registered society – which should happen soon – we’ll be able to accept donations.
‘As though refugees were just one big mass – with no names, no personality’
What motivated you to get involved in ‘Cross Borders’?
Evgenia Gavrilova: At the beginning of 2014, refugees didn’t feature anywhere near as much in the media as they do now, but there were still regular news reports about crowded boats heading for Lampedusa and people attempting again and again to climb over barbed wire fences that were several metres high to reach Melilla. I thought that the reporting was often really impersonal, as though refugees were just one big mass – with no names, no personality. They were just presented as statistics: how many were there today, how many have arrived overall, how many have drowned...
I wanted to go there and get to know the refugees for myself. Since then, this project has become a big part of my life in Germersheim – I’m friends with lots of our pupils and I enjoy meeting them every week and seeing that they’ve been looking forward to the lesson. Above all, I’m fascinated by their courage and zest for life in spite of everything they’ve been through. I always learn something new from them.
What does the future hold for ‘Cross Borders’? Is it a model that could also work elsewhere?
Evgenia Gavrilova: Everyone taking part in ‘Cross Borders’ obviously hopes that the initiative will one day be able to thrive on its own, independent of the students running it, who come and go. It’s worked really well so far, but every semester we still need to attract new students to replace those who have left. Many aren’t sure whether voluntary work and studying can be combined so easily, as budding translators and interpreters in our faculty have a heavy workload.
I believe, however, that the more people willing to devote a little bit of time and energy to this important cause, the easier it’ll be for all of us to manage the project. This model therefore could and should be replicated in as many places as possible. It doesn’t always have to be associated with a university.
‘Interpreters are there to facilitate understanding’
And what are you planning to do next – both career-wise and on a personal level?
Evgenia Gavrilova: My plans involve working as a conference interpreter once I’ve finished my degree. Preferably for a ministry or an international organisation. I would really like to use my interpreting skills to encourage cooperation between Russia and Germany.
As you know, interpreters are there to facilitate understanding. I’m really concerned about the widening gulf between Russia and Europe. But I’m hoping that, in spite of everything, reason will win out in this conflict in the end. All that people need at the end of the day is a peaceful life and opportunities for self-development, and that’s the same anywhere in the world.