Interview #5: Mario Freytag with Government Training Program

[Interviewer] Danke schön, thank you.

[Mario] I'm happy to be here.

[Interviewer] I'm also happy.

[Mario] Thank you for your visit.

[Interviewer] Thank you for your hospitality. This morning I heard that the students learned a lot. The students learned about how to repair cars, how to cut hair, and also your history and your story about how the people who come here in an emergency situation have learned too. I see that my role here is to listen to you, to what you want to say. It's important to hear your story, and afterwards I may follow up with some questions. To begin, I would like to hear a bit more about your work.

[Mario] What we do here every day is preparation for integration into our society. The working world and a social system are what we need to live in. Here, we put a lot of emphasis on that; we have a practical, structured training. Every person can work in Germany, with or without a degree; but to live long-term and to have a vision of the future while here in Germany, it is important that they have training to bring back to their country when the war ends in Syria. To do, we have stood up to take these positions. We have different projects that we fill, and we fill these with life; we are very moved in very different ways. For those who have escaped war, for those who might be ready to go back, for those who are unable to go back to their land because of the lack of peace, we move a lot and we want to understand and we try to weigh with real feeling to see what they've experienced.

         We're working to understanding the current politics—to see how we can change the type of right radical movements that are happening here. This is about our work. Along with these assessments, we want to facilitate the path for each person who comes here—those who have refugee status and those who have had psychological problems. Many of our participants who are refugees are fighting with trauma because they left their country. This is a very special kind of trauma, and we want to facilitate their healing—being aware of that trauma when we train them. We are aware of their trauma history. We want to give them skills so that they can be happy; and, sometimes, people aren't ready for that. Sometimes they only experience small pieces of happiness.

         There are cultural differences and there are religious differences. Because we have freedom to practice our religion in Germany, even where we are working, this is a personal issue. They need to differentiate between having a freedom just to practice their religion in private and as a part of their work. For people to walk this path in a happy way, we have to respect that when Ramadan starts, and we will respect that. However, we need to also understand that the employer may have other expectations, and we need to help people learn about the culture here in Germany.


[Interviewer] That sounds somewhat complicated. It sounds as though you're working with the 

entire heart and with the entire person. How do you do this? What are the strengths that you have, and your team has? What is special for you?

[Mario] First of all, one of the strengths is our flexibility; but at the same time, being able to  make clear decisions. Every static system will keep us away from our goal, and we have to try to change that system. We have to work individually and at the same time be aware of the group process. What we have here in our projects are multicultural aspects. We haven't selected certain people or a certain language or a certain country. Here we practice integration because we bring different people from different countries, and we bring them all together, and we work together. So, every group has 12 members and then these 12 members come from at least three or four different countries from the entire world. So, for example, we have two from Ukraine, two from Syria, four from Iraq, and three from the African continent. We build groups together that take responsibility for themselves, and practice what they bring to integrate into the German culture. We have to do this in small steps that they will apply when they are at home. We want to be respectful, we want be honest, we need to be on time, and we have to look out for each other. So, if somebody is missing in the morning, we call them, and the first thing we would do is we would ask the group, what's going on?

[Interviewer] So it has to do with building relationships.

[Mario] Absolutely. That is the grounding foundation of our work. Yes, you can't respect others 

if you don't put relationship first. This is what we practice, and we will not promise anything that we can't deliver. What all of the refugees have in common is that they heard something about what Germany is like, but what they heard in their country is not really what happens here.

[Interviewer] Can you share an example?

[Mario] Yes. For example, we have a lot of different stories from people who came without any practical experience or training and they expect to earn 5,000 euros a month. They think that's going to happen here; and when they finally get here, they are not allowed to work. Refugees who arrive in Germany cannot automatically work. It takes time to gain that status.

         It takes a while before you can even begin to work. They need to learn the language so they can begin to integrate themselves. They have to take an integration course; and when they then hear that they are going to live on 290-some euros instead of 5,000 euros a month they expected, they realize that they can't pay the person who smuggled them into this country. They can't send any money home either. So, this is a huge barrier that we have here.

         What we also have to work with is training. The training is three years long. You will not be earning a lot of money during those three years. You need to have some tolerance to get through those three years—to get the training before you get to really feel like you are able to make it on your own. But that has to do with Germans too. They go through the same process. The advantage that the Germans have here is they have their families. Their parents are here and sometimes the parents can support them as a German person going through training. It's not with everybody, but with most of them. With refugees this doesn't happen. When people come here, they might have had work back there that they've lost.


         Then they come to Germany, and they have to take part in the new training program. To arrive here and to be able to live, they need to be trained. Yes, because many of the trainings that happen in other countries are not the same trainings that Germans get—especially when you're working in the labor market. They have each have certain training. Some of the work takes place actually in offices and in companies, but 20 percent of that is also classwork where you have to sit in a chair at school, and you have to learn a lot about foundations of that type of work. They're confronted with math, physics, chemistry, biology, and dermatology if you're going into cosmetics. We also have sports and business courses so you can work in businesses. And these are things that are not the same worldwide. To be recognized for German certification, you have to have 100 percent compatibility and so we have to do that here. 

[Interviewer] May I ask, when you are out, and you work with that 75 percent during their training, how do you deal with the people who are working in those companies?

[Mario] There's a step before they go there. We work with participants together. We don't work with people alone, and we don't just put a refugee in a company alone. We have groups of refugees going to a company because three or three and a half years is a really long time, especially for young people who are here alone. So, it's important for us that we are open and honest with them; and to be honest, we only will put them in places where we understand that they will be comfortable working in this company for three and a half years. It has to be workable on both sides. The employer has to want and look for a refugee, and the refugees have to work well with the employer. We have to like each other. Only when there is this fit —we check it with people who go out to the companies to see if they will work and if it fits them well—then they go out. It has to work with coworkers and with the boss and with the type of work they're doing. We look as honestly and openly as possible to find a way to work things out. If it doesn't work, then what we do is we move them to another company, or we have to ask and encourage them to try a different professional field. Sometimes we think that a profession is a certain way, but it's really different than we ever thought it was. So, if a person can't imagine what it might be, and doesn't realize they’re going to be cutting a lot of wood or be standing behind running machines, this may not be what they want to do. And not every company does things the same way. Some companies that work with wood, for example, you have to work with cleaning things, you have to work with building roofs. So, to work on a roof, it doesn't mean you're just going do that. You have to do other things too. It's different and everybody has to gather that experience; and once they gather that experience, then they can make a decision. We walk with them as they go through that decision-making process.

[Interviewer] So when I think about this, and I would like to learn to work with wood, first that alone is a lot, and as you said earlier, they come with trauma. How do you deal with that? How do you bring this together?

[Mario] This is not a “normal” school. It's not a normal class. No, it's not. Our classes are always differentiated and separated. We do a lot of theory work. We explain theoretically what we will do practically; but we are also teaching the German language, and we're learning math in another way, and we are also always facilitating them with social workers, with experts. The team that we work with is interdisciplinary. Daily, we have a lot of relationships between the students, the company, and the trainers; and then we need to see if it is working for this person or not? If they are working well together, and we've found a way to train and to educate people, then we bring in another partner as the fourth partner.

         What really works is that it starts much earlier than when the training actually starts—it’s from the beginning of the process. We always stay with them also even after they end; we're always there after they leave. We try to build consistency in our program, so it helps our town and our region, and we also want to help our different projects. We want to add additional projects to support them as well as to work with the government centers, with the offices that work with refugees, and with volunteers. We want to try to bring a sense of connection with all of them so everybody knows where this person comes from, how we have worked with the student, where they are going, and who they can ask about where things all started. So, we are like a secure place and we go out to get support when there are different problems— whether it is registering with the government, filling out forms, or even if it's just trying to change the status of receiving money for their children. So, the teachers and the students can really be present with each other. We take a lot of stress off of the student and at the same time slowly we give that responsibility back. So first we take a lot of the pressure off so they can have the freedom to open themselves up, so they can take some of the pressure and weight off their shoulders; and at the same time, step-by-step, based on their individuality, slower or quicker, we start handing things back to them. So, a very typical example is that we study together about how to do things, do it together, and then ask them to do it themselves. That's how we do it.

[Interviewer] I'm impressed. As I listened, what goes on in my brain is it's step by step-by-step,and there's really a network of support.

[Mario] And that support is available for a person who has a family or not so that they have the time and space to integrate, and that's our purpose, that's our goal. That's our ultimate goal. It doesn't help anyone if you have one and a half million people coming into Germany and we just say “Okay, figure this out”, “Good luck”, “Have fun”. What we do think is that if we support you, then in 10 years you'll be integrated; and if you have a chance to go home, you can. And what's true is we need people who work here; we need people to train in Germany. We need to remember that we want to add more to what we already offer. We don't want to forget the people who were born in Germany or people from Belgium or France or from another county. We want to remember them too. They are cared for here. In spite of that, we want to care for everybody; and we still struggle, however, with having enough field placements for all of those who want training. For example, there may not be enough places to have a field or a practical experience for those who want to become mechanics. So, what we do is we take a small percent of the people who want to be trained here in Germany every year, and we work with them. But it's important because only through this will we be able to become a country that I can feel comfortable in, that I want to live in.

[Interviewer] So what I understand is that with this process, people feel as though they belong and that this is their home also.

[Mario] Common sense is that you're not going to harm anyone where you have a sense of belonging. If I travel somewhere on vacation and I'm just fighting and doing all these things and doing crazy things, nobody knows me. I don't have any neighbors. But here, in this town, I need to live here; and I need to be polite to my neighbors. I think when young people are busy and they have something to do that has a purpose, then they have a positive way of being here for a long time; and then if they go home, they can go and help build their country again. They can bring the skills that they have back to that country.

[Interviewer] This is nice. Would you be willing to share a story from a person or some people that you've walked with through this process?

[Mario] Hmm, that's the question. What type of story?

[Interviewer] Maybe a story that you were touched by.

[Mario] I am very touched when I recall a number of different stories. What many people forget is the personal story—that a person who is raised in German can't even imagine what people have gone through. For example, maybe my great, great grandparents have experienced something similar. That generation which was raised after the Second World War had to rebuild their country. But the experiences of those who are refugees now are unimaginable, and you have to really listen, and let it work in you. And there are many different experiences that a person will become touched by—for example, that their wife couldn't be saved, that a man who comes here cannot fill out the questions because he doesn't understand the language, or they were raped while leaving their country, or they have horrible experiences with smuggler. Many promises were made to these people, and those promises are simply not fulfilled. With every story that people bring with them to us, we never promise them something that we cannot deliver.

[Interviewer] So in other words, you are building trust through your work and being believable.


[Mario] And we can't make mistakes. We are consistent in how we train them. For someone who has had no consistency, we want to provide consistency so they can then trust us 100 percent simply with our verbal promises.

[Interviewer] How do you do that?

[Mario] What we do is we live what we say. We don't learn this. We bring it with us. Either someone has it, and they live their life like this, or they don't. It's so important with our participants, for those people that we work with that we want to integrate. In Germany we have a saying that one hand washes the other and both of them wash their face; and that's how we have to live. That's how we give exactly what we can; we give honesty about what we can't to the participants in a way that they can accept. We really work hard, and we ask them to work just as hard. Naturally, we trust them in advance, and naturally there are times we're disappointed, and we can't forget that. But in spite of all of the disappointments that we've experienced on that process, we can't forget that the next person that comes deserves that trust. We have to give a lot, and we receive a lot of positive in return. We have people from a country that used to belong to Russia. One man came because of religious freedom. He had no opportunities because of his background; he had no chance to do anything. He couldn't take part in any language courses and integration courses; but in the conversation we had before he joined our training, he showed that he had motivation, that he could handle it, and he could do it. I need to be honest; I'm very proud of him. He completed this training and he's now in an internship in a company. He didn't do a language course, he did himself. He's going to be a mechanic. This is a very valued and difficult training, and he chose to do this path. We have a gentleman from the Ukraine where our investment paid for itself. I saw him as a person of worth and value that we could offer every service and we would be successful. Doesn't matter where they come from. We cannot forget that this isn't a job that you get up at 8 o'clock in the morning and you're done at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. This job is not one where you have weekends. Problems come up on the weekends.

[Interviewer] What do you like about this work? I mean, when you think about that.

[Mario] Hmm. This is how to work with people. It's how you work with people and the love of life. And you have to do this. You have this ingrained in you, it’s integrated in you, and this is what moves each of us. This is what keeps us moving forward.

[Interviewer] And what are some of the challenges that you have in this work?


[Mario] The greatest challenge in Germany is the bureaucracy. [Laughing.] It's always the bureaucracy. To have somebody who's sitting behind a desk telling me how to do my work and make decisions for a thousand people out of Afghanistan and a thousand people from Syria, thinking that they know what's right—that doesn't work.

[Interviewer] What would you wish for?

[Mario] When you would leave the countries and their titles behind and you just focus on the individual person—that's what I would wish for. Leave the countries out of it. Then every person would be seen and noticed and valued, and their needs would be recognized—the needs of the person that's sitting in front of you. Then we value that person, and we facilitate the training with this person, and we help to train them. That's what we do with our children. We take them from the crib to the kindergarten to high school to college, and we accompany them on their path as they look for their work. We don't do that for the people that we work with because we don't have the first 16 years of their life. I wish we could be better with working with people like this. It's probably one of the greatest challenges. It was a challenge when people also come, and they want to use our social system. They don't go to the United States where there are no social services. So, they come to Germany because they know that they will receive social services even if they do nothing.

[Interviewer] How do you deal with that?

[Mario] Well, they don't come to us. Those people don't come to us.

[Interviewer] So you work with people who are motivated.

[Mario] Yes, we work with people who are motivated.

[Interviewer] How do you choose the people?

[Mario] Through personal conversations and interviews. Because of the size of our groups, they are relatively small, we can have like a job interview before they come. Sometimes somebody needs to wait for another course to start, another training course. But it gives us time so that we can really decide. We may even have to say: Friend, with your perspective, you may need to go back to your country of origin because we might not be able to help you. You take a look in the future and try to develop a vision for the future. In the past years many things have happened in Schwerin, in Germany, in Europe, and in the whole world. So, from my perspective, it doesn't seem that we will have worldwide peace in the next years.

[Interviewer] So what is your vision for your work and for Schwerin and Germany, in regards to taking care of refugees and for others?

[Mario] My vision and my wish would be that we could better address and deal with the integration process, that we've learned from the last 50 years and from the times before, that we manage this integration process, that we can live with each other culturally and personally, that every person can take a step back. Because religious freedom is here in Germany, that might mean that you cannot take the days off during Ramadan. Sometimes you need to be flexible. So, my wish would be that everybody just takes a step back a bit and take a look at our past, learn from that to see how we can reasonably deal with how to restructure our society. In an optimistic way, it's going to take another 40 years to integrate everybody.

[Interviewer] So if we look 40 years ahead and the integration has happened, what would thatlook like?

[Mario] If I could look in the future and my wishes were met, what would I need to be conscious of? We need to build a path that we do together. It doesn't matter where we're from, we need to move forward together, to walk together. My biggest fear is that we build parallel societies.

[Interviewer] For example?

[Mario] For example, that the people who are Arabic go their way, the Christians go their way, and that the Hindus go their way. So, when I look at Schwerin, there might be a corner of the city that are Germans, the next corner of the city only Russians and the next corner of the city only Syrians, et cetera, et cetera. That would be my biggest fear, that we have parallel societies and we live next to each other. That there is a supermarket for German-speaking people and a supermarket for people to speak Arabic, and we have to buy in different stores. Other stores may have only halal and another store just has pork. I don't know. Or whatever. Why can't we work these out together? That is where we need to be careful. Where everybody is asked about the politics, how things are done in the industries, so that my neighbor and other people who come, we have to find a common path together. We need to live together where all of us can have happiness, and we don't want to go backwards. We don't want to have separation. We need to do things together. But like you said, people are complicated. Some people are very self-centered, even though somebody else might be hurt; and so sometimes people see that the person as the worst animal of all. But if we want to work together....

[Interviewer] What do you imagine that we can do to affect the belief that we are the worst animal in the world? And I'm asking that from my heart. What can we do differently so that that doesn't happen? In spite of using the word integration, what I hear is that you're doing so much so that we can go, that we can travel together. So, do you have other ideas for other areas? Universities or politics?

[Mario] At the end, it's the same. Whether we're at a university or in a training program, in a school or in politics, we don't just think about ourselves. If we don't just think of ourselves, we'll go further. For example, in politics we often have the ability to make decisions that can bring out more voices and assure that we don't harm people. People in politics that have these positions often want to hold on to that position, and so sometimes we need to move away from that type of position and that can happen at a university. Sometimes decisions are made out of a political plot or only what I want or what my neighbor needs, that I get a job simply because I know someone and not because I am capable of doing it or qualified to do it, and that's not the way of integration.

[Interviewer] A last question. Maybe not, but I find this very interesting and thank you so much 

for your time. When you think about our students from the United States, or what would you like to say to them, from your perspective?

[Mario] To those who really want to listen to you and to learn about your work? I would like to tell them to be open, to be curious always, no matter how old you are, no matter where you're from because curiosity is what our children live every day and it is what allows us to learn. Only if we're curious can we experience something new. When we take a look at the things around us, when we can actually do this, then we discover new things. This curiosity and this child-like attitude is how you arrive to a different place, and I will never stop learning. So, Americans, stay open, be curious. Well, I can't make that judgment, and I don't know if Americans are open or if they could stay open. My single perspective is just from over here. I've never been there. I think, and I need to be open about this, in a land where people can carry weapons, but they can't drink alcohol in the streets, that's misplaced. For me, everybody should be able to have the chance to drink three beers too many but not to walk on the streets with a weapon. But for them to be allowed to have a weapon but not be allowed to drink or to have a third beer or wine or a good French wine, that doesn't make sense to me. I can't make a judgment if Americans are open or closed. I can only wish that, and this is not dependent on the United States or France or Canada or Australia or wherever, that we all stay curious. Stay curious. Stay curious about the person who's next to you. Let's ask more questions.

[Interviewer] Can I ask another question? What are you curious about?


[Mario] I am curious about what we can create, what we can do, what we can accomplish. I'm curious about how many of us working together might make the world—maybe not more peaceful, but maybe we can contribute something. I'm really curious about that. For what's really interesting to see is what type of effect can my work have, maybe not now or next year, but in the future, maybe in 40 years. Talk to me again in five years and see where people are at in Schwerin, or maybe I can call somebody who was trained here 10 years ago and they come back and they say “Hello, how are you?” Maybe they won't say where they live, but what they are doing. And maybe this is so.

[Interviewer] This is very interesting. So, you're optimistic.

[Mario] Always. If I go into the day as a pessimist, that means when I get up, if I'm not willing to

do my work, I may as well not get up. If I say I can't do it, then I'm not going to even try. But that's not what I do. This is what we do every day, and we find a way. We don't just stand there. We have to show ways to move forward and move a couple stones to the side, and we need to keep walking—everybody has to do that. We can open doors and each person has to go through the door.

[Interviewer] Your last words?

[Mario] Hmm, my last words. I'm very, very happy that we had the chance to talk with each 

other, and that I have had the opportunity to meet your students. It has raised my curiosity in a positive way. Thank you very much. Thank you very, very much. This was wonderful. Honestly.

[Interviewer] It was great for me too, and I'm very touched, and I know the students are also—even when they don't know the language. I know that they're grateful.

[Mario] Well, each day we do our best, and we take the best of every day and live with it. That's all we can do. Yes. But when we do that, then we see what happens as the week goes on.

[Interviewer] Yes, for sure.

[Mario] And the most important thing is when we get home and we see that we've come a step further.

[Interviewer] I agree.

[Mario] Good. Then, let's go next door. Thank you very much. Again, again, it was very pleasant.

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