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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
19 14

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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

19 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Leah Gage
Team

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.

Photo of Martha
Team

I would love to know more about the neuroscience foundations behind the relational aspect of your work. In a very different geographic and social context(rural United States) we are also learning that building relationships across social divides to establish belonging and connection is a critical foundation to our work.

Photo of Angi Yoder Maina
Team

Martha you asked exactly the same question I wanted to ask. Just pinning myself here so that I get a ping when Hans answers you. Angi.

Photo of Mike Niconchuk
Team

Dear Martha, Dear Angi,

I'm sorry for the delay! I really appreciate your question and the opportunity to talk a bit more about how neuroscience plays a role. The first two caveats are that 1) neuroscience can be incredibly deterministic, and it's a fine line integrating valuable science while respecting the limits of what it cannot/does not answer in terms of human cooperation and behavior, and 2) it is a constant iteration and reiteration bringing science in a meaningful way into programming.

First of all, my specific field of study is social neuroendocrinology, in other words how hormonal processes affect social behavior and in particular, social bonding. I also study the flipside--how social bonding and affiliation have biological impacts and cognitive impacts. Affiliation is one of humans' greatest needs. Everything from our immune system to our social cognitive systems (think "empathy") are linked to how, and with whom, we affiliate. There are specific hormones in the body linked to things like social trust and social reward. In short--we were designed to belong. The evidence of that is also clear when you study those who lack social belonging. Social isolation (even the mere perception of it) knocks as much as 10 years off your life. It damages cardiovascular health. It exacerbates risks for mental illness and indeed can cause (I say that loosely) depression and anxiety.

In contrast to that, we see that even small aspects of social affiliation like affectionate touch has immune benefits but also can affect professional performance. In a small example, basketball teams who touch each other more in a friendly way on and off court score more points (http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2010-22093-017).

The effect of bonding on social cognitive (intergroup and interpersonal) psychology is even more stark. There is a whole body of literature that shows how truly, much of the antipathy and intergroup conflict we see may be less a function of "hate" that an intense protection of the in-group, and perceived threats to that group (be it White, Evangelical, Christian, Hispanic, whatever) Two papers here for that (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550617693064; http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2015-28934-001). Perceptions of in-group bonding and belonging affect neural processing of other groups.

So, designing with this data in mind is complicated. How we form and cultivate bonds within programs, how and when we do intergroup contact, and the content of "awareness-raising" conversations can all be informed by this type of research, and indeed, the effects of these types of programs can be measured with an intergroup neuroscience lens.

Questscope (the implementer of this project) is working closely with Beyond Conflict (www.beyondconflictint.org) on the the neuroscience components of this project.

I hope this was helpful!

Photo of Martha
Team

Mike,
Thank you so much for taking the time for this response. Super helpful. I also appreciate your caveats. There is such a delicate balance when incorporating neuroscience into programming. In the child welfare field, I observed both the overly deterministic, children who experienced trauma in the early years are irreversibly broken, we should just warehouse them, to the overly simplified, brain plasticity means that we don't have to take into consideration past experience. It is so important that we use the science responsibly and hold above everything else the dignity of every unique individual and human experience. This gets even trickier when we start considering epi-genetics.
I love your statement, "we were designed to belong." I our projects we incorporate simple relational practices every time we meet. We share food together. We practice listening to and telling our stories. People feel awkward at first. But, when we evaluate the meeting after, these are exactly the things that people enjoy the most and want to do more. I am just getting my head wrapped around the science behind it. But I see incredible results from very simple practices.
Thanks for the links!
-Martha

Photo of Angi Yoder Maina
Team

Hi Mike Niconchuk 

Super helpful and very interesting. Thanks for the articles and the research links. I am always looking for more information about social bonding and relationship building.

The community social healing program we have developed in East Africa works to build safety, create connection and relationship, and then provides space for healing and transformation in protracted conflict environments. We are trying to use the advancements in trauma-informed approaches and neuroscience, and new theories and research in relationship, connection and resilience. We work with community facilitators to lead and hold important community and social spaces and what we have found is people have found a new sense of agency and energy to get involved in making their own lives and the lives of their communities better. Kumekucha: It's a New Dawn  The new community that is being build is designed to support "our belonging." And the work is transforming the communities. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqoyugRefWU We are researching and trying to explain what we see happening and our Research Director will be in Berlin in late fall this year and it might be of interest for the two of you to meet when she is there.

Thanks again for the explanation and all the links you have shared.

Angi.

Photo of Mike Niconchuk
Team

Dear Angi, I would love to meet your research director. In my lab we're putting together some new "wish lists" for studies we want to do in the coming two years, including lots of studies on social belonging, and the role of oxytocin in both stress-buffering and intergroup cooperation. I hope we can find ways to collaborate. My email is mike@questscope.org

Photo of Angi Yoder Maina
Team

Very cool. I will put you both in touch tomorrow. We would be very interested in type of research.

Angi.

Photo of Martha
Team

Hi Angi and Mike,
Thank you for the resources and ideas. I am not sure what is going to happen to this platform after in the next few hours. But, i would love to continue the conversation. My email is martha@hardwickagriculture.org
-Martha

Photo of Belkys Lopez
Team

Hi Mike, I'll reach out to you via email. I want to hear more about your research wish list. Also want to learn more about the refugee-led research. More of this is needed. It's a brilliant idea and it makes so much sense.

Photo of Elina
Team

Hi Hans,

Interesting project. I worked with refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK and experienced some of the elements you mention in your proposal. I like the "within" focus that you propose, strenghtening the refugee and migrants communities themselves to serve as support networks.

We want to work on a similar scope in the Dominican Republic, repairing bridges between Dominicans of Haitian descent and other collectives of the Dominican society, be developing new narratives on the multi-culturalism of "Dominican-ness"; or the national identity. I would love to have your comments about it: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/bridgebuilder2/ideas/promoting-a-democratic-dialogue-on-nationality-rights-and-discrimination-regarding-dominicans-of-haitian-descent-in-the-dominican-republic

Looking forward to your imputs and best of luck with your proposal!

Elina.-

Photo of Mike Niconchuk
Team

Dear Elina,

Thanks so much for your comment and encouragement. I just took a look at your proposal--it looks great, and what you're doing is so important. There is such racism and colorism throughout Latin America. I've seen it in Guatemala (where my family is from). I am not as familiar with what is happening the DR, but I know the citizenship laws and descent laws have been devastating and a real set back for issues of race in the country. I salute what you and your team are doing. I think that beyond human rights education, there needs to be some broader dialogue about race. As a neuroscientist, I've found that there are some non-threatening and non-shaming ways to have the discussion around race without making people feel defensive. I'm actually working on getting some of those training materials into Spanish at the moment. I'd be happy to share them when theyre done.

Photo of Elina
Team

Hi Mike!

Thank you for your imputs. I have updated my proposal and strenghtened the dialogue part. Indeed, engaging in open and democratic conversations about the -dictatorial- origins of our current national identity, race and Afro heritage is a fundamental step to achieve inclusion and acceptance. Any comments are still welcome. Please do keep in touch if you manage to translate those docs in Spanish, perhaps I could be of any help. Best of luck!

Elina.-

Photo of Angi Yoder Maina
Team

Hi Mike Niconchuk 

I worked in with refugee communities in Berlin in the late 90s from the former Yugoslavia, primarily Bosnia and the majority who were survivors of massacres and other atrocities. At the time the refugees were give the "Duldung" (or tolerated illegal stay / temporary suspension of deportation) and each had to be certified as traumatisert or “traumatized” every six months by the State or they risked being returned to Bosnia. Has this changed? It was triggering and disrupted the refugees and their families ability to heal and begin to make connections to where they were at the time.

Is the project only connecting new refugees to the "longer term" refugees from Jordan and Syria only or is there link to some of the older refugee communities in Berlin, like the Bosnians, who I believe would a lot to teach new arrivals if the are connected.

All the best,

Angi.

Photo of Mike Niconchuk
Team

Hi Angi! Great to hear from you again.

Working in Berlin, and in Germany broadly, can be difficult. While Berlin is very cosmopolitan, and proudly so, there are quite recent legacies that have left noticeable traces on public consciousness, journalism and media, and politics. Far-right populism is growing, as you know. It is a volatile time.

There is no longer a mental health "litmus test" as you're describing, thankfully. Given the volume of people that came to Germany so quickly, the government attempted to have a "country of origin" policy, where countries like Syria and Iraq were deemed as sort of blanket "unsafe," and as such, the asylum claims for those asylum-seekers were processed more rapidly with almost a 100% approval rate for either 1 or 3 year temporary asylum. Thankfully, no one had to prove their trauma or inability to return beyond the standard paragraph needed in the asylum application. Applicants from places like Afghanistan and Iran are a different story though--as those countries were not labeled as "dangerous" per se, and thus criteria for approval or dismissal of their cases was more complicated (and potentially arbitrary). However, even *rejected* asylum cases cannot be force-deported, so essentially there are now thousands of people in limbo. This has led some to grave acts of self-harm: http://www.dw.com/en/iranian-man-sets-himself-on-fire-in-german-government-building-after-being-denied-asylum/a-43981726

The project is intended to case a wide net bringing refugees together in the medium and long-term, but starting within the Arabic-speaking community and among "new newcomers." The first step is not even between "longer term" and "new refugees." It it new-on-new. Essentially, we are developing a cadre of 30 young mentors (aged 23-35) who have come to Germany as refugees within the past 4 years (in the large wave of migration recently). Those mentors we have are really well connected to other German organizations, professional opportunities, language and legal resources, and other youth service organizations. They are new, but they are being trained to be "connectors" for young mentees who don't have strong relational supports or bridges to opportunities. For vulnerable youth, finding and taking opportunities in Germany can be facilitated by having someone who speaks your language, and intimately knows your challenges to accompany you. As Yara said in the video (above)..."I want to be from the problem, but part of the solution."

The next steps would be to bring in older migrant communities, including non-Arabic speaking. For now, especially as we look to the context of fragile psychologies and low relational supports, we have to do the initial "construction" in Arabic, then expanding from there.

Photo of Angi Yoder Maina
Team

Mike Niconchuk 

Ahhh Berlin and Germany... it is a complicated place. However, it sounds like you are doing exciting and much needed work.

Angi.

Photo of Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk
Team

Dear Mike,

You may be interested in my https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/bridgebuilder2/ideas/inclusion-sourcing-and-universal-basic-employment contribution, especially in the rural revitalization part in which I like to offer refugee to refugee mental health mentoring services via Internet also see www.a1216.refival.org.

Hans van Nieuwkerk

Photo of Mike Niconchuk
Team

Dear Hans,

Very cool. I read your submission, but I want to invest more time reading through the Universal Basic Employment documents that you linked to the submission. My most basic question is, though, in addition to internet-based services, what other types of services (particularly social, volunteer-type) services would qualify under the UBE model? Perhaps the supplementary documents answer that, and I'll definitely start reading.

Are you based anywhere near Berlin. It would be great to find a time and place to meet in person and discuss ideas further! Many thanks for your comment.

Photo of Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk
Team

Dear Mike,

There is a split between my refugee/rural revitalization oriented approach named Inclusion Sourcing and UBE, which addresses the more general lack of solidarity in our current society.

Inclusion Sourcing is entirely Internet based (although it theoretically can also include non-internet based freely relocatable jobs). UBE is much more general and proposes to value all human contributions to society in order to create a basic income and to prevent structural virtual life escape options without social contribution in future (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/08/virtual-reality-religion-robots-sapiens-book).

I think the three attached documents will answer most of your questions, however there is another document which describes the 12 pillars of Inclusion Sourcing with some more practical examples.... you can find it at www.a1216.refival.org.

I am based in Budapest but if I come to Berlin I will contact you... do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.

Hans van Nieuwkerk