“Refugees”, “refugee politics” and “integration” are terms that are currently with us every day. Many still meet these terms with insecurity or even hostility. For many, the refugee topic is a problem that is very far away – and exactly that is the challenge we are facing. In order to be able to form an opinion about people, you have to do more than just follow the news. You have to make a step into the unknown and deal with the topic yourself. Every single one can contribute a lot to society. Aicha Hamoud-Gogollok is a wonderful example for that: Moroccan by birth, she has been supporting the integration of refugees and migrants in Germany for many years now.
Afrika! Portal: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in 1954 in Morocco and I have been living in Germany, in Ludwigshafen am Rhein, for over 40 years now. Right now, I am a German teacher working for a fee with the Diakonie in Ludwigshafen, and I teach refugees and migrants. Lately its has been refugees above all, of course. The courses I teach are for women from different countries and for every level of proficiency.
I have been teaching literacy courses for 20 years now, and I am happy to offer my help to people. Of course I started at the Diakonie on a voluntary basis. Back then, I was working as an interpreter here and there and as an escort for visits with authorities, with doctors and such quite often. Naturally, after more and more refugee projects were established, also by the ZAB and the Employment Agency, the demand for assistants, teachers and interpreters went up.
Afrika! Portal: So, when and why did you come to Germany?
I came to Germany in 1975, shortly after getting married to my husband. Being an engineer in navy, he was on the road a lot; we also got to know each other through that. Back then, I was still living in Essaouira, my home town. After our marriage, it was clear to us that I would accompany him to Germany.
Afrika! Portal: If you had to describe Morocco in five terms, what would these be?
Beautiful, rich in tradition (many different languages and cultures), colourful, splendid, and contradictory (modernity and the old traditions do not always go together; the new generation always tries to manage that split).
Afrika! Portal: What is typically Moroccan in your eyes?
Couscous is quite a typically Moroccan dish; Tajines (the so-called casseroles) are also very characteristic for Morocco. You cook almost everything in Tajines, from fish over meat to vegetables, and everything on charcoal of course.
Afrika! Portal: What is the difference between people from Morocco and people from Germany?
I would say that people in Morocco are definitely the embodiment of hospitality, more than the Germans anyway. Furthermore, the Moroccans are much more aware of their traditions.
Afrika! Portal: Do you have a favourite place in Morocco?
My favourite place is definitely a café by the beach in Essaouira. From there, you have a view of the port and the island and you can just enjoy life for a few minutes.
Afrika! Portal: Do you still have family in Morocco?
My mother still lives in Morocco, and three of my sisters with their children and grandchildren. Here in Germany, I have a sister, a niece and my husband´s family.
Afrika! Portal: What would be your advice to someone who wants to travel to Morocco?
The most important thing is to respect the country´s traditions. As a woman, you should not necessarily dress extremely revealingly as there are still conflicts between the lifestyle inspired by the west and the old, lasting traditions from time to time. It is also very important to not only stay at the beach and in the hotels. In order to experience Morocco from its most beautiful sides, you also have to mingle with people.
Afrika! Portal: How do you perceive the status of the Moroccan society in Germany?
I never noticed anything negative. I believe that the number of us Moroccans is not high enough for us to be perceived as an independent ethnic group like for example the Turks. There are definitely Moroccan associations and organisations in Germany, but we are not so present and still something rather special. In my opinion, Moroccans integrate very well, there are less groupings typical of the country; we become a part of society very quickly.
Afrika! Portal: You have travelled a lot. Where was your most beautiful stay?
My most beautiful travel was definitely to Martinique. We stayed at a lovely hotel, and during breakfast we had a view of the bay and we could watch birds. The nature, the people, the landscape, everything was very idyllic. It was similar on Sri Lanka, but my husband has friends there and through them we had a much more close relationship with the country and the people, in contrast to Martinique.
Afrika! Portal: How many languages do you speak? Do you speak Arabic?
Yes, I speak Arabic, and also English, German and French. Of course, there is a high demand for Arabic right now.
Afrika! Portal: Are you involved in charitable work in your free time? What is your stand on social commitment?
Social commitment is very important to me personally. I work at the “Women´s self-help after cancer” in Ludwigshafen on the side, which is an advice centre for women, children, and by now also men with breast cancer. I have been active there since 1992; it started more or less by chance but now it has already been 24 years.
Afrika! Portal: As a German teacher, you are a very good example of successful integration yourself. How did you come to teach refugees and what is your drive?
About 20 years ago, when I was 40 years old, I also stumbled into working with refugees over an aquaintance more or less by chance. I was supposed to jump in as an interpreter and help at the Diakonie from time to time. As time passed, there were more and more offers and also more demand for support so that the occasional helping out became more or less my life´s work. Knowing that you can maybe lay the foundation for different fates to go in the right direction is something that makes you feel very fulfilled and keeps you going.
For instance, the idea behind the courses for women was the following: it had been considered to let women learn in a safe environment, without the influence of men. Through that they also had the possibility to share with other women their experiences during their escape and their tragic impressions which had marked them. Many women already have children; and mostly their partners, if they have come with them to Germany, have a job; so they did not have a lot of support with the children. The Diakonie offers them childcare while they are taking language courses, and the women have the possibility to take training courses. These women are often underestimated. We have so many women here who are eager to learn, clever and also career-oriented. They also often hope that their training or their studies which they already have will be accepted in Germany or that they can take up a new job here. For example, there is a great demand for social professions. Migrants or refugees need a B2 level in order to begin training in Germany, and usually, if the person is already literate, it takes them 2-3 years to get to that level.
Afrika! Portal: What was your most impressive experience during your work up to now?
For years, I accompanied a woman from Congo who always worked doggedly and actively on her residence permit. Like other refugees, she was marked by a terrible fate; her husband had been murdered and she had been persecuted for years. Here in Germany, she had support from all sides and she was incredibly clever and tough. She wanted to stay in Germany, she had worked hard for it and for me, it was the most beautiful present to see her receive her residence permit, even if it was only after 10 years. She is an inspiring woman and I often see her working. It fills you with pride to know that you have contributed a small part to that.
Afrika! Portal: In your opinion, how can every single one of us contribute to helping the people coming here?
Become active. Get involved. There are so many working groups, asylum cafés in which you can simply take part yourself. Support these groups, take over sponsorships that are offered, help accompanying refugees or preparing events. The problems we are having right now are huge, and they are distributed to only a few people. If everyone contributed something, the mountain of problems would already be a lot smaller and more manageable. Strength lies in community.
Afrika! Portal: Do you perceive a difference between society today and how it used to be with regard to integration? Do you see more of an improvement or a deterioration?
There is definitely more help for refugees now, so that is an improvement. The introduction of integration courses by the Bundesamt für Migration, which obliges the refugees to take part in German courses, causes a better basis. Today, there are also more grants for the courses. That is the only way to reach the required preconditions so that we can speak of a successful integration some day.