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Turning the Tables on SINGA

by Katharina Fabian, March 2, 2016

Oft berichten wir über soziale Projekte und die Menschen, die dahinter stehen. In unserer Reihe "Turning the Tables" befragen wir regelmäßig nicht diejenigen, die diese Projekte ins Leben gerufen haben, sondern unterhalten uns mit den Menschen, für die sie gemacht sind. Wie wirkt ein Projekt? Wie wird es aufgenommen? Wieviel Energie steckt dahinter? Dieses Mal sprechen wir mit Luisa, Sima und Aktham von SINGA Deutschland und Foday von SINGA France.

SINGA bringt Menschen zusammen und bietet einen Rahmen für die Verwirklichung gemeinsam gestalteter Projekte und Aktivitäten. Menschen mit und ohne Fluchterfahrung entwickeln gemeinsam Programme, die es ermöglichen, individuelle Talente und Kompetenzen zu fördern und so zu einer inklusiveren Gesellschaft beizutragen. Zu den aktuellen Programmen von SINGA Deutschland zählen ein berufliches Mentoringprogramm, Sprachaustausch-Programme und verschiedene soziale und kulturelle Veranstaltungen.
 

Bild: Singa in Action

Foday, you were born in Sierra Leone and came to France in 2011. Can you please tell us a little bit about you and your story?

I am Foday Mahmoud Janneh and I’m from Sierra Leone. I got my primary and secondary education in Sierra Leone, as well as my university degree, which I did in correspondence with the ACCA (The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) / Oxford Brooks University. I also have another degree in Business Management and Administration. I came to France because of political reasons in the end of 2011. In 2012 I got my refugee status. It was actually not a good moment for me, it was very difficult. I didn’t speak French, didn’t have friends, no family. I didn’t have a place to sleep, I was going from left to right. Every day I called 115 (an urgency phone number where asylum seekers can be referred to sleeping places on a day-to-day basis). Finally, France Terre d’Asile gave me hotel rooms for one week or two weeks. And eventually I could stay in a CADA (Reception Center for Asylum Seekers) until I got my papers. My social assistant was a very nice person. I was totally lost. Especially when I had to realize that my education is worthless in France. Up until now it’s very difficult for me. If I want to work in accounting in France, I have to start all over.

Bild: Luisa von SINGA Deutschland und Foday von SINGA France

Foday, when and how did you get in touch with SINGA?

I came across SINGA via my social assistant. She told me about the free French classes. My main objective was to learn French. That was the only solution that could help me fit into this society. Nathanael, Alice, Guillaume (the founders of SINGA France) are very nice, they are so welcoming. We started becoming friends. After the classes, sometimes they asked me about my objectives in France. I told them I want to work in accounting. Nathanael told me: "If you actually want to work in accounting, you have to work hard on your French". That was a challenge. SINGA got an internship for me in Rouen. I worked with Nutriset, an international company, they produce products for malnourished children all over the world. After the internship we made an agreement for one year, during which I also studied accounting at Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers. Unfortunately, it was too difficult and I stopped because of the language. But this whole experience was a very good transit for me towards my integration. I had the opportunity to speak with and meet French people, do some exchange. This didn’t happen before. It’s so hard to get to know people if you don’t speak the language and don’t know your way around! I started having confidence in myself. I actually realized the sense of belonging. I understood that if I put some effort I could really fit into this system. When I came back to Paris, I started volunteering as the treasurer at SINGA. 

What changed for you since you joined the project?

Everything changed! In 2015 I became the president of SINGA. It was one of the most positive things in my life in France. To be elected president of an organization in France! Especially as a refugee. I started to realize what I have become. Talking to people, I understood that I have a very important place in this society. I’ve been in positions of authority in my country before, but in France... The most important moment was when we launched CALM (Comme à la maison — a platform for co-living between refugees and host families). The media attention! We even saw the French president. We gave so many interviews. People were actually interested in me, they actually wanted to know my story. SINGA changed my life. It’s a big transition. Everything changed. Before, I distributed so many CVs in France. I was looking for any job, without success. SINGA makes me feel useful in this society. I now feel that I’m really somebody with potential who can add something to this society. Here, I can use my potential. I appreciate that very much.  In 2015, SINGA hired me as a community manager and finally the stress of not having a job left me. That actually made me breathe. And even greater: I’m working with people that I know, that I like, with whom we started that a long time ago.  Some years ago, I was even afraid to go to the bakery. Now I don’t feel a stranger in France any more.

What would you do differently if you were to manage a project like SINGA?

I don’t think I would do things differently. SINGA does a great job in finding solutions to the problems of refugees. But ... I would probably go political. Make clear propositions to the government. Try to intervene more directly. Maybe even negotiate with them. This would hopefully change the system. 

What are your wishes for the future?

Personally, I actually want to continue my dream of becoming an accountant. But I don’t know if it will be possible in France. This September I would like to try to go back to University. I want to give a second chance to the French accounting system. And for SINGA, I want to see that the program continues to exist and develops not only in Europe, but also in the world. SINGA should be even more appreciated. If actually we developed an international recognition... After the UN, there will be SINGA… (laughs).

Thank you very much, Foday!

And welcome Aktham. Would you also like to tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m Aktham, an activist and doctor from Syria. I’m 28 years old and I have been in Germany for about a year. Now I’m coordinating a project called “Refushi” which is a mobile application that tries to help newcomers with their orientation in a new city. I’m also learning German and looking to continue my speciality as an orthopedist here. In Syria, I was an activist politically and also in medical support, trying to provide help to everyone who was in need. This is why I started my project “Refushi” in Germany, to establish an easily accessible virtual application in Arabic that maps out useful and nearby locations for refugees to get familiar with the local community they are in. For now it is only available in Arabic, but I am hopeful it will be expanded to other languages, especially the mother tongues of other refugee communities.

When and how did you get in touch with SINGA?

The first time I met SINGA was through my friend Aysu who is a member of CIN (Cultural Innovators Network). She invited me to see her project at the ChangemakerXchange conference in Berlin in August 2015. There she put me in contact with Guillaume (co-founder of SINGA France) because she thought we could be potential partners for the “Refushi” application. After meeting him, we spoke again on skype to discuss a possible cooperation and he told me that SINGA was starting in Germany. A few weeks later, I met with Sima and Luisa who were just beginning to found SINGA Deutschland in Berlin.

Bild: Sima und Aktham von SINGA Deutschland

What do you think will change for you by joining the project?

SINGA put me in contact with some really great people like Sima, Luisa and Vinzenz (founders of SINGA Deutschland) and also gave me the chance to introduce my friends to other people in the growing community. SINGA gives people a space to create and to be innovative. As time goes on, I believe I will become even more active in the community. Thanks to SINGA, I will go to Paris to present “Refushi” at the Techfugees Hackathon they are co-organising in March. I attended the last big Hackathon in Berlin and know that this will be an important opportunity to gain attention and possible partners for the App internationally. I believe that SINGA will also enable me to build a more stable base and growth plan for “Refushi” in Germany because in the long-term the application also requires a strong community user base to add and update information. With time, I hope we will have the opportunity to expand the project into new countries, such as France.

On a more personal level, I will soon participate in SINGA’s Professional Mentoring Program, which will enable me to be in closer contact with a professional from the medical field in Berlin and support me to continue my speciality as an orthopedist here. This program is special because it will also give me the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience from working in hospitals in Syria with a local professional too.

What would you do differently if you were to manage a project like SINGA?

This is a hard question because SINGA Deutschland just started a few months ago and is still in the launching phase. If I were managing a project like this I would focus on building the skills of the people who join the community so they can express their needs and be more able to interact with the community. If you want to present your idea, you have to have the skills to present the idea. If you want to start a project you should have the skills to work in a team. If you want to convince people to join your project, you should have the skills of negotiation. For people who don’t have these skills, they may have ideas but it’s hard for them to present them in a group.

What are your wishes for the future?

I wish to have a job tomorrow. I wish to see my project in international fields. And the last and most important thing, I wish to see my family here in Germany. And also there’s a big wish: I wish to see Syria in Peace again!

Thank you very much, Aktham!

Bild: SINGA in Action

**Dieser Artikel gehört zu unserer Reihe "Turning the Tables", in der wir die Geschichten der Menschen hören wollen, für die soziale Projekte ins Leben gerufen werden. Oft berichten wir dabei über die Projekte ehemaliger Teilnehmer der PEP-Wirkungsschmieden***