March 2012: Schewa van Uden has her hands full. In her and Antje Burs’ office in the building of the “regional workplace for the support of children and youths from immigrant families” (RAA) in Ruhrort, she is checking the school marks in the first year of the Aletta Haniel Programme. The year 10 pupils of Aletta Haniel Comprehensive School are soon to complete their school education. “In three months, we will see how successful our work was,” she says. Suddenly, there is a knock on the door. Van Uden looks at her watch in bewilderment. “I actually don’t expect anyone else today.” While she is still saying that, the door flies open and 13 youths step into the office. Very loudly and in a highly disorderly manner, they congratulate van Uden on her birthday, which is today. Still surprised but visibly proud, she accepts the congratulations. The congratulators are almost already part of her “family”. They are the year ten pupils of the Aletta Haniel Comprehensive School – the first generation to take part in the Aletta Haniel Programme.
Coordination and cooperation
One of these congratulators in March was 16-year-old Dilara. At the time, the German-born Turk was completing a one-year internship at the Duisburg branch of the logistics company DPD – every Tuesday, she helped out there in the commercial area. “I’ve always liked organising and definitely wanted to work in an office,” Dilara tells us, looking back. “Ms van Uden then suggested to me that I become an office administrator and that I start at DPD.” The logistics company is part of the pool of Duisburg companies that cooperate with the Aletta Haniel Programme. For this, van Uden and her colleague Antje Burs had to do a lot of “canvassing”. “At the beginning, our programme was still completely unknown and it was not easy to convince companies to take on weak pupils,” remembers van Uden. Today, the companies have recognised the advantage of the Aletta Haniel Programme for themselves: in the one-year internship, they can test the pupils before the apprenticeship and work them in. Furthermore, in van Uden and her colleague Burs they have direct contacts if something should go wrong.
Goal always in sight
Once or twice during her internship at DPD, even Dilara was close to throwing in the towel. And that even though everything was going well: her superiors and work colleagues were enthused by her. Dilara herself liked the work – but sometimes, she just did not feel like it: “I wanted to spend time with my friends instead.” In numerous conversations, van Uden reminded the 16-year old why she wants to become an office administrator and re-motivated her again and again – that paid off, because she was invited to attend an interview with DPD. “The interview went brilliantly. After finishing school, Dilara began her office administrator trainee programme there,” says a visibly proud van Uden.
Just like Dilara, three other “Aletta pupils” have also begun a vocational trainee programme straight after finishing school. However, participation in the Aletta Haniel Programme has paid off for the others as well. They have gained their school-leaving certificate and have also acquired a large amount of “soft skills”. For example, in a two-day manners course the pupils learned how to behave when having a meal with their boss and what clothes they should wear in what situations. The Aletta Haniel Programme has also allowed them to develop new, close friendships. All agree that they should keep in touch after the school has finished as well – especially with their mentor, Schewa van Uden.
About the project coordinators
“Something with people”
Antje Burs was born in the city of Detmold, in eastern North Rhine-Westphalia. After finishing school, in 1999 she decided to do a Voluntary Year of Social Service – in a home for mentally disabled youths. At the time, it was already important to her to make a difference and provide help. At the end of the 12 months, it was clear to Burs that she definitely wanted to do “something with people”. In 2000, she went to the speech and language therapy school in Münster. Afterwards, she first worked for two years as a speech and language therapist at a large specialist practice for phoniatrics and paediatric audiology. However, the work did not really satisfy her. “The work with the patients was great. However, I was increasingly interested in the background to health and social services. I wanted to occupy myself with scientific theories, to organise as well as write concepts, while keeping an eye on the business aspect.” In 2005, she resigned from her permanent full-time position in order to study social management in Mönchengladbach. During her four-year course of study, Burs continued to work as a speech and language therapist at the same time. That changed when she completed her studies. In 2009, she began working for the City of Krefeld as a coordinator of the project “Zusatzjob U25”. In this role, Burs was responsible for obtaining job opportunities for adults under 25 years of age with a poor school education or a criminal past, with the aim of – ideally – integrating them into well-paid jobs. “At the time, we managed to get a 21-year old with a drugs past a job in a nursing home. Without this programme, he probably would have had no chance,” says Burs, proudly. Since April 2010, she has been one of two project coordinators of the Aletta Haniel Programme. Regarding her work in this pilot project, Burs says that it allows her to combine the educational and coordinating tasks in optimal fashion. “It is exactly what I have always wanted.”
“Role model for migrant children”
Schewa van Uden was born in Northern Iraq in 1980. At the age of 15, she came to Germany with her family. At that time, she could not speak a word of German. However, so that she could also complete school in Germany, her parents saw to it that she learned the language. For this purpose, she attended special German courses at her school and at the adult education college. Van Uden worked hard; she was in no doubt that she wanted to take on the school-leaving examinations (Abitur) and study later on. She succeeded: in 2001, she did the Abitur. She then went to Essen to study business administration. At the same time, from 2002 she worked as an intercultural consultant in work with parents at preschool and primary level for the RAA in Duisburg. Very quickly, she realised that she found the work there more fun than what she was learning in her course. She wanted to support and motivate people who had experienced what she had experienced. For this reason, after her basic studies, van Uden switched to social sciences. At the same time, she remained at RAA and also trained further to be a conflict manageress and a mediator. After her course, the social scientist first worked as a project coordinator at the integration agency of the German Red Cross. Then, in 2010, she received an offer to become a project coordinator in the Aletta Haniel Programme. She accepted the offer without hesitation.
Van Uden describes what exactly she likes about this work in this way: “I really enjoy taking on new challenges and putting new ideas into effect in projects. My biography makes me a role model for the migrant children and I encourage them that you can achieve anything you want. Only, of course, if you are willing to do something for it and also receive the right support.”