Students from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) enjoyed a unique insight into Berlin youth work on the first day of their #DMUglobal trip to the German capital.
Sitting in the shadow of the iconic TV Tower in Alexanderplatz, they first heard about the innovative Project Gangway, which has been offering “social work on the streets” for 25 years.
Project worker Anna Biedermann explained how they helped young people living in the area to deal with “relationship troubles, money troubles, police troubles and gang troubles”.
She said: “We don’t want to send them home or to school or to work. We want to help them find their own way and fix their own problems to get to where they want to be.”
Ulf Kahle-Siegel, who has worked for the project since it started, said they always looked for the good in the people they built relationships with: “We care about the problems they have, not the problems they are perceived to be.”
Students compared and contrasted youth work in the UK and Germany during a question and answer session, before Ulf offered his final words of advice on what it took to succeed in such a challenging role: “You need to be flexible, authentic and interested.”
Christopher Herriot, DMU senior lecturer and and programme leader for BA (Hons) in Youth and Community Development, said: “We’re benefitting from the real experience of experts who are on the streets with young people from diverse backgrounds – including Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis – which is vital for our students to hear.
“It’s also been music to my ears – it really is the radical model of youth work that we want our students to practice when they graduate. It’s a totally different approach to the mainstream because it’s about putting the young people at the centre; it’s not about the government’s agenda, it’s not about the social workers’ agenda, it’s about the young people themselves.”
Mature student Sharon Harrison, in the second year of her Youth Work and Community Development degree, said: “After being at home for 25 years, coming to DMU has already opened my eyes to so many things. I’d never been abroad before I went to Florida with #DMUglobal last year, and to then come here to hear another country’s perspective of what I want to do is inspiring. It’s amazing to see the theory being put into practice.”
Emilia Djiapouras, also a second year Youth Work and Community Development student, said: “Learning about how practitioners in Germany work with marginalised young people and refugees is a hugely eye-opening experience and it’s only day one.”
The group then made its way across the city to Berliner Aids-Hilfe, which targets youths in detention, students and refugees, aged 14 to 27 years old, to offer counselling on HIV or Aids, and workshops in schools, hospitals and prisons to promote sexual health and reduce new infections.
Social worker Luise Ihrig said: “We fight against the isolation of young people with HIV. Advances in medicine mean it’s not deadly any more, but there is still stigma and discrimination. We provide an alternative for people who have been abandoned by friends and family.”
Sylvia Nampijja, a third-year Medical Science student said: “Learning never stops and despite having covered HIV prevention in my degree, to come to an organisation which really does the job is very enlightening. It’s also good to know how closely the theory matches the reality.”
Janice Kusters, from the Netherlands, is a first-year Education Studies and Psychology student. She said: “It’s very interesting to see another country’s approach to sex education. We can all learn from each other and DMU has given me a very good base which I feel this is building on. I’m very much about international education and came to England to get an international degree. Going to Berlin only adds to this and will hopefully help me to get a rewarding job.”
More than 850 DMU students on nearly 35 courses will be in Berlin this week with the our award-winning #DMUglobal international experience programme, to take part in academic trips and opportunities unavailable to tourists.