Qais – from attending a circus show to German lessons

Gudrun Wiegand teaching German lessons to refugees

My name is Gudrun Wiegand. Since the beginning of 2015, when the first refugees arrived at a refugee home that once used to be a restaurant in Brünning, my colleagues and I, a retired primary school teacher, offered German lessons for about an hour and a half twice a week. Especially in autumn 2015 the number of newly arrived refugees increased substantially. Many of them struggled to get used to the new environment initially. However, time and again offers for different social activities did exist in order to ease them into their new situation. In October the same year for instance we were offered free tickets for a circus show in Traunstein. Spontaneously I took three Afghans with me in my car and that way I met Qais for the first time.

He sat next to me, studied the surrounding closely and started to talk to me in English. He told me how relieved he felt finally feeling safe and protected again after having experienced many ordeals. When I asked him if he attended school back home he said no. “No, I only attended schools for a few days. My father and I used to own a small shop in Kabul. There we sold cosmetics, detergents and so on. Among our customers there were many Americans, Pakistanis and others, they spoke many different languages. Over time I learnt English, Farsi, Dari…Very often, already as a child, I was alone in the shop. I had no choice but to speak frequently. Most likely I will learn German the same way, in any case I will master the German language. I am confident about and I also want to work, find a flat…”. He was full of energy and optimism. “If we are allowed to live in peace here, we have to give something back and say thank you by being engaged and by participating. I want to become a part of the local society!”

I was impressed as I hadn’t experienced any of my other students as so articulate and dedicated. Most of them were unbelievably grateful for having reached a peaceful environment and help after years of having experienced war, cruelty, the escape and being so far away from their families. They were willing to integrate themselves, to learn German and to work. However, the majority of them needed time to adjust, to deal with their traumatic experiences and time to find the energy for a new start.

Qais however was ready to start immediately, but it was not all that easy. First he had to learn the German language. But he learnt quickly. In no time he adjusted to the sound and rhythm of the language, managed to understand and pick up the language quickly and was brave enough to start speaking. Reading and writing did not come as easy – which was no surprise considering that he had never attended school in his life. Though luck was on his side and soon enough he was able to get to know family Kern better through his participation at a Christmas market sale in Traunstein. They started to take care of him. Having made the decision to volunteer to help out with the Christmas market is so typical for Qais. He is always ready to help and engage. In the end his efforts were reciprocated and the family started to take care of him like a foster child, taught him German intensively, opened the door to joining the Technical Relief Organisation and assisted with his job search.

For those reasons he had attended my German lessons for a comparably short time. But I see him regularly and continuously experience him as a very interested and responsible young man. In Germany almost every municipality has a group of volunteers assisting refugees with their needs in daily life. In our group of volunteers we are lucky to have Qais, who is now helping us: Regulalry he is helping out as a translator, be it in front of a bigger audience like at the ‘Café International’ for example or for individual cases. Whenever another refugee needs help, struggles to express himself or does not understand – Qais is there to assist. He translates, advises and provides guidance. Him being multilingual helps a lot. By now he even understands Kurdish and Arabic, not fluently, but enough to communicate with refugees from the respective countries. Most of all though he is always passing own to others his own conviction and belief:  We should be grateful to be in a country that is safe and where we can make our own contributions.

We, the Germans, should also be grateful to have such great people among us. They enrich us from a human as well as an economic perspective. And in case one they hopefully are able to return to their country once there is true peace and security, they will be able to assist with the reconstruction of their own tormented countries and thereby benefit from what they learnt in Germany.

I truly wish for Qais to receive the recognition (including from the authorities!) and to find the friends he so desperately is hoping for. From the bottom of my heart I also hope that one day the sadness that time and again is visible in his eyes resembling his traumatic experiences in life, will fade away and that we will see home smile and shine for most of his life.