Interview #9: Hanne Luhdo: Schwerin Neighborhood Development Project
[Interviewer] I saw you with our students, and I would like to ask you to describe what you do here in this organization.
[Hanne] I am the manager of social systems programs in this area of our town. A lot of people who live here are without work. They live on social security. Many are raising children on their own. This is a very difficult area to live in, and so there are many ways to get finances to support this community here. We try to develop projects to work together with those who live here, and today we came together here in this park. There are many apartments here, and they are called Cement Buildings because that's what they're made of. We're working with cement blocks in this park, and we have a lot of volunteers who come and work here.
Since this is an international day, we decided to come here. We also work with people from Lithuania, India, Pakistan, and we want to show how diverse this community is. We also have work in gardens. So, when the sun has been coming out in the past weeks, many of the students have come here to help water the plants because the sun was so strong and so that the plants didn't dry out. We also have some artwork in our park.
[Interviewer] You said that this is a turning point here.
[Hanne] There are many unemployed people who live here. These are people who collect social welfare. There are many refugees that also live here because in this area of the inner city there are empty apartments. We have had to see where can we put the refugees, and they have been brought to this area. This is not always good because there's a high concentration of refugees here, and that doesn't always work because there are conflicts between all the different people who are already here having a deficit in receiving social services. Then you bring refugees to this also, who are without things, and this difficulty is clear. People who live here have a lot of problems.
[Interviewer] I am touched to come here. I was here last year, and I learned a lot about Schwerin, and how the refugees and the people here in Schwerin worked together. I would like to hear more from you about the strengths that Schwerin, and also what this area of the community brings to help the people, so they do better, so that they are able to integrate. What do you think about this?
[Hanne] In Germany, there is a huge wave of willingness to be helpful, and this is also in Schwerin. What is special for this area is, I believe, that many volunteer organizations have located here. So, we're going to be going to go and play a game with another voluntary organization here. There's going to be a new soccer field build by volunteers so then the Syrian organization will have a place here. Various organizations are located here. Many of these volunteers help and give us strengths, and still it's difficult. It's difficult to motivate community members to get active. Many feel depressed and have lost interest, and so this is hard work. What we see is that there are a lot of children here. When we can have activities for families, then we don’t need much advertising, because they come; they are there. So, the informal network functions very well, I think.
[Interviewer] So as I listened, it sounds as though you have a lot of support with each other; you
are creating community with different organizations. You are trying to be creative in building something and creating something. That is a strength.
[Hanne] Yes. Last year, we had a conference with the neighbors, and we talked about managing our neighborhood. We said we need to work closer with the organizations that don't have direct financial support from the city so that we can help each other. There are churches that help. They have a wonderful center that they put together. They have an old post office that they've donated that collects donations and works with a lot of volunteers without any money from the state. Those are the people that are attracted to coming here. So, we bought an empty building, and now we're remodeling that. We won a prize about renovating this building, and now we're buying paint. This is with a lot of help from volunteers. We look for a bit of money if we can. The community here needs to be coordinated so that they can inform each other, exchange information, share skills and people with each other. That is our thought about how to work together. We don't want to be controlled by people from above us that say what we have to do. We say, "Let us do things, and let us be good neighbors for each other and with each other." How do we help each other? That's what we're trying to do in the past years here in this community. And we want to support each other in a strong way.
[Interviewer] And how does that work? What do you think?
[Hanne] We have successes. First, we need to inform people. At first, someone knew about a project but another person didn't. So, everybody was doing their own thing. What we know is that we need to know about each other; we visit each other; we invite each other to different activities; and if somebody needs help, naturally, we help. Of course, there are some that are more reserved at doing this than others.
[Interviewer] What are the challenges that you have? How would you like to continue your work?
[Hanne] Yeah, hmm, hmm. The projects that have already begun, I would like to continue those. We don't need new things. We'd like to deal with what has already happened. We have a patchwork center; the name says it all already. There are many different things that are being done there. We have the welcome cafe. We have places that are working with materials. They are just starting. So, we want to keep giving a lot of life into those projects. There are about 200 people involved with that. That's a lot. We want them to be able to carry themselves, to be able to continue. Those are the challenges. And here, this building is not done yet. As you can see, we still need to do the floor. This is an organization that, in the past, had a lot of problems because children were abused here. That was discovered, and the perpetrator is now in prison. The organization had to start all over again. It has a new name, and they had to start back at zero. This is a huge challenge to move towards the goal of building trust again with people, to bring people back into this place. So yeah, so we have to deal with that. We want to just continue with what we started and move forward. We would like to include more and more people, that's the most difficult part. We have to talk with people. We have to get them excited about our projects. We want to get them out of their apartments. We want to help them move out of their depression and resignation. Often, we need to contact with them in order to invite them to come.
[Interviewer] As I listened, the different organizations with different visions, they come together. They build a network together in order to reach people; and the chances are very high that people will come because those things interests them. So, the cooperation that you have with each other sounds very important, or...?
[Hanne] Yes, theoretically, this is a strength. But often the organizations would like to stay by themselves and isolated, and that is difficult. There are some that go from one organization to another. There's a new social way organization here that specializes with bees. In our community we have bees and bee keepers. We have a huge problem with the bees dying, and we say we need to do something for the bees. We also have to do things for other animals, and for people. We have to have fields of blooming flowers, and we need to address this problem. This interests a special group of people, but there are also others that have different ideas.
[Interviewer] When you think about the future, what do you wish for with this community? What would you like to move forward?
[Hanne] Our largest problem is that we need to work on our image. This area of the community is one of the lower socio-economic areas, and it has a poor image. It is spoken about badly by other areas of the community, and so we need to volunteer in a different way. We need to say that there aren't just bad apartments here, there are also landlords that are just trying to take money out of these buildings. A lot of things have been happening here. Some of the apartments are being renovated, and there are small gardens being built. All the way around us there's the forest, there's the lake that is nearby, there are parks, there are playgrounds. There are many strengths and advantages to be here; and we need to explain to people that although there are a lot of problems, there are also a lot of strengths and advantages. Now there's more movement this way in the administration and in politics. There are less than 10,000 people in this area of the community. All the politicians thought that we would drop in population, but we haven't. And it's not just the people who came as refugees, there are other people who came from other areas of Germany; and they see the advantages of having an inexpensive apartment. So, there is some movement of bringing people into this area, and we are trying to attract people from the outside to come. We wonder why do we always have such a poor image here? But this is also an internal problem. Many people feel comfortable here; many don't, and they want to leave. So, the problem with our image is challenging for us. We're working on that image, and we try to encourage people to trust, saying, "Hey, I live here." Otherwise they'll be stigmatized. Where do you come from? And when they look for a job and they're asked, "Where do you live?" Oh my God, yeah, this is a problem.
[Interviewer] Another question that I have. I saw that you worked with our students today. You spoke with them. What brought you? How was it for you that we came to spend a few hours to help here? What was that?
[Hanne] I think it's great. In Eastern Germany, we have that a lot. After the reunification, some of the Western states were not interested in the Eastern block. The Eastern block people went over to the West, and so there hasn't been much interest in us in the East. So, every time somebody comes here and is interested in us, and who take time to come here, we are excited about that. Tourists come and they want to see the beautiful Schwerin Sea, lake, and everything around that; but very few people come here to this area, to this park. So, we are happy when people are interested in the people who live here and want to see what is being done here. And we notice that. You didn't say very much or ask very much about what's going on here, you just grabbed a shovel and you started working. And you're going to be leaving a part of who you are here also.
[Interviewer] If you could say a few more words about how you're working with the people here, what would you like to say to the students and faculty, the faculty from the United States? What would you like to say to them? How people build community?
[Hanne] Yeah, hmm. Openness and tolerance. Be willing to meet each other and talk. Especially in Germany, we have the problem that we don't talk enough with each other; and I think this is international. Isn’t it the same in your country now? There are different political opinions, and the different political realities are distancing themselves from each other; and it seems like a real split. It doesn't help if we threaten each other with weapons. We need to find ways to talk with each other, we need to deal with conflict, we need to try to understand the other person, and we need to have peace and save this planet so that we can bring people together. That's my greatest worry. It helps when we look around the world and we see how other people are living, what are they thinking about? That connects us. And so, from our experience here, I could say that it helps to talk, and not to move so fast. It takes time to build interesting projects. Even with this park, some people just walk by and don't see it. What we need to show is that we don't have anything to hide. We need to be out in the open. Before this park was just a pile of weeds, and people would swear about it and complain, and nobody was willing to do something. Then we decided to take the initiative to create an idea, develop an idea, and we're going to work on this. We started, and we helped create many good ways to connect, and also how to connect with nature. We developed the welcome cafe, and simply tried to find out what others like? What are they interested in? What are they excited about? And not to be discouraged when it doesn't quickly happen. Things take time sometimes.
[Interviewer] I would like to thank you for your time this was very nice. And I'm very touched how people came together, even for just a day.
[Hanne] And we would like to thank you for your interest, and for the practical help that you offered. There were so many helping hands, we could not have done this on our own. Everything looks wonderful. Thank you so much.
[Interviewer] Thank you. This was very nice. Thank you.