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Regaining me, gaining you: mentoring connections for newcomer integration

An integration mentoring program for refugee youth in Berlin to improve personal wellbeing, peer support and engagement with German society

Photo of Mike Niconchuk
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Relationships and networks of tens of thousands of refugees in Berlin before they fled home are shattered. Rebuilding new relationships and identities in a new place is a significant challenge to wellbeing and integration. Mental health consequences of dislocation, such as depression and suicide, have increased. This project will adapt lessons from 15 years of peer mentoring with youth in schools, prisons and refugee camps in Jordan and Syria to accompany the most at-risk young refugees in Pankow and Neukölln - guiding them to clear paths for resilience, access to services, and cross-cultural relationships. Mentors will be “near neighbors,” those who speak the mother tongue of a youth and also have insider knowledge of how to negotiate integration challenges. Young refugees (16-22) will be paired with older, German-speaking refugees (25-30) who face similar struggles, and have been trained by Questscope and key German partners in youth development, social work skills, and psychosocial support. Weekly mentor-youth activities will be guided by a pre-relationship questionnaire that focuses on mental health, social supports, future aspirations, and sense of “integration” (under development with German university partners). Questscope mentors will be connected to a wider network of professional, educational and cultural opportunities in the city through our NGO and municipal partners. The mentoring approach in Germany is rooted in the idea that building bridges to German society starts first with rebuilding personal wellbeing that has been damaged by migration, loss and grief, and coping with daily stress. The program will increase essential, stable support relationships for at-risk youth refugees, enhanced by mentors familiar with where youth are coming from and also engaged with civil society organizations and opportunities to increase awareness of integration and empowerment possibilities and expand access to options for personal and social growth.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Mentored youth (mentees) are young refugees (16-22 yo) in Berlin, specifically Pankow and Neukölln. Their negative coping strategies include drug use, depression, anxiety and suicidal options - all on the increase. Access to mental health is complicated by limited supply, language barriers and daunting stigma. Trained peers from their community are necessary to help them reach a level of wellbeing to be able to build bridges to to wider German social connections. The mentors are older refugees (25+) from Berlin. These mentors also came as refugees, and have faced the challenges of mentee youth. They have successfully navigated the complexities of the integration system in Germany, and will serve as key “guides” for those most at-risk from their own countries. The skills acquired in the training and their relationships with the mentees will also make them uniquely positioned to build bridges to German society at large, having navigated both worlds.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Mentoring relations among youth for peer support and social belonging – the most critical factors for psychological resilience – generate substantial, verified positive effects in improving mental health/wellbeing, immune function and cardiovascular health as well as preventing violent or anti-social behaviors. Current emphasis on language acquisition and economic participation will not be adequate to bring refugees and German youth together, integrating them across language and cultural spaces. There are few organizations in Europe dedicated to rebuild support networks within, for and by refugee and migrant communities. This program is designed to bridge this gap by restoring healthy social networks with community mentors connected to German institutions and opportunities to engage with German youth.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.
  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Questscope has been a direct service provider in Jordan and Syria for 25 years, with specific expertise in youth development, social inclusion, and youth in conflict with the law. For more than a year Questscope has been developing a network of refugee volunteers in Germany and in May 2018 formalized German registration to promote the development, integration, and participation of at risk migrant youth.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Many of our friends in MENA risked their lives getting to Europe. The least we can do is go with them: to walk with them as they rebuild relationships, stability, and figure out entirely new systems. Our volunteer put it best: “Upon arriving, I needed time and someone to be with me – I was ripped out of my life. I needed to understand what happened to me, and what could happen next.” We do this project to build systems of support as youth figure out what happened and how to navigate next steps.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

In 2017, Questscope reconnected with young refugees in Berlin who had previously been in our programs in Jordan and Syria. As we strengthened those connections, we began building partnerships with German orgs, including Deutsche Kinder und-Jugendstiftung, Refugio, and Jugendamt in Pankow municipality. A team of young refugees came together with specific interest in giving back, in putting together refugee-led efforts to help others recently arrived. A year ago, we trained 25 individuals to conduct the first refugee-led research in Berlin. They interviewed 500 people over 5 days, analyzed responses and came up with two key recommendations: that media needed to tell a better and different story about refugees, and refugees have roles in changing that story; and the the refugee community needs “bridges” (jusoor, in Arabic) to services, German civil society, and specific opportunities.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Questscope is a member of Migration Hub Network (MHN), a collective of multiple agencies working for sustainable inclusion of migrant populations in Germany. Through networking events and strategic support, MHN connects our team to relevant partners and provides additional professional development and funding opportunities. We also have a partnership with tDeutsche Kinder und-Jugendstiftung (DKJS), who have accompanied our relationship with municipal offices, provide pro-bono legal and strategic guidance, and assist us in adapting our methodologies to adapt to German cultural and policy environments. We will work closely with MHN and DKJS, with migration units in Pankow and Neukölln, and administrative staff of refugee temporary shelters in Berlin connected to our municipal partners. Most critically, this project will be led by young refugees. Their insights and expertise are the foundation for this design.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Newcomers carry rich experiences. Many worked in the social sector, as therapists, social workers, teachers, or as volunteers in service organizations. Their internal resources traveled with them as they migrated, yet they have limited opportunities to exercise those skills and give back. They are ready, willing, and eager to assist younger youth from their communities. Furthermore, Berlin’s civil society is seeking leadership and initiative within the refugee community.

Geographic Focus

Berlin, Germany, with a specific focus on the communities of Neukölln and Pankow.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

We will implement this project over a 24 month period.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Leah Gage

Mike! Thank you for your work on this project. I really appreciate your approach. I recently worked with a Community based organization in San Diego that supports minority groups and had a coaching program that we were helping develop and evaluate. As Martha mentioned, I would also love to know the neuroscience foundations behind the relational aspect of your work and how this is beneficial.
I love the aspect of recognizing the skills the youth are coming with and supporting them in being able to be their own resources. I also appreciate the recognition of access to mental health being complicated by limited supply, language barriers and stigma. I love the internal resource building aspect. I wonder if in your research you engage with the tensions of the limits of traditional mental health support in lack of understanding cultural background.

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