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My name is Talia Cohen, and I am a volunteer with ISS helping to develop the Network. I also work as a social worker at a refugee home in the southwest corner of Germany, close to the Black Forest. We have approximately 100 refugees from various cultural backgrounds. At the moment, the majority are arriving from Ukraine.
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, we have been at full capacity. The refugees, or "guests" (as many locals refer to them) are seeking a safe place for themselves and their families. There seems to be an immediate concern from the residents to integrate, learn the language, receive medical attention and enrol their children in school. This is where I come in, as one of the social workers at the camp; to connect the residents to services they need and guide them with any questions they may have.
There are a few challenges along the way such as bureaucracy, language barriers, shortage of housing and overloaded existing social structures. These are of course challenges that affect not only the clients, but also the social workers. There is only so much we can do to speed up basic processes such as receiving welfare benefits, school enrolment, accessing timely doctor's appointments or mental health services. There is of course the obvious aspect of the job, the stress, which is necessary to manage. Proper stress management is absolutely essential when working with traumatized individuals, and this is a daily challenge which we are all working on mastering.
Luckily, we have an amazing group of people who form an "integration network" in town. It's an absolute luxury that most towns or cities do not have. This particular group organizes events, donations and connects individuals with local volunteers who can guide them on a more personal level. This includes anything from accompanying the residents to appointments, inviting them to activities, or providing transportation. Their efforts assist us, social workers, as we often do not have the time for the "fine-tuning", or detailed oriented approach. We mostly work in a frenzy as we have to cater to the masses. The volunteers are able to adopt a family or individual and often provide them with a lifelong connection even after they leave the refugee home.
The experience at the home has been extraordinary and has allowed for a first hand perspective into the effects of conflicts in the world and a connection to resilient individuals who are seeking refuge for themselves and their children.
Talia Cohen, 17/05/2022