How does it operate?
In its promotion of the scheme, the municipality particularly encouraged young people, schoolchildren and students to help their peers with learning German or with schoolwork in general. Interested parties have to fill out a questionnaire to provide their personal data, along with their occupation, hobbies, foreign language skills and the amount of time they expect to be able to invest. Following individual meetings between the city’s coordinator and potential mentors, social workers help to match the volunteers with suitable mentees. The initial meetings take place in neutral locations such as cafés.
What is the outcome?
By the end of 2016, approximately 50 interested people had come forward to become mentors. A meeting in Rottenburg’s town hall in December of 2016 was the starting point for a network of mentorships and professional support for the volunteers. The city committed to supporting the scheme on a permanent basis. The then mayor Volker Bednarz announced the city would work to secure interest in the mentorship scheme for the future. This would be Rottenburg’s way, Bednarz went on, of resisting “those who are igniting anti-refugee sentiment in the country”. The project is still running.
Who initiated the project? How?
When the number of refugee arrivals rose sharply in the summer of 2015, the city of Rottenburg launched its own mentoring project. At that time, there were about 30 full-time social workers responsible for almost 600 refugees. In terms of weekly working hours, this amounted to little more than 1.5 hours of support per person per week. Faced with this situation, the city’s “refugee coordinator” set about looking for citizens interested in helping newly arrived refugees on an individual level, in addition to the various group activities already on offer.