In Berlin, SOS Kinderdorf runs a service that is focused on the twin concepts of ‘integration’ and ‘meeting the communities’ needs’. The service is based in a large and beautiful building, with much natural light, in a multi-cultural neighbourhood that has recently become car free – a pedestrian and playing street.
Most of the people who live nearby are poor, and social isolation is a big problem. Many come from Turkish ethnic backgrounds. Defining the ‘needs’ was done on the basis of analysis of all available data and local consultations. The house is deliberately inter-generational with a focus on multicultural integration. There is a subsidised neighbourhood café, where many older people, and local employees have lunch, and many families meet after kindergarten and school. Open drop in therapy consultation operates in the cafe every week.
There is a programme of informal education for all upstairs, offering a wide programme, from sewing to yoga and language classes for newly arrived refugees. The aim is to strengthen families’ abilities to cope with family life, to keep the door open, find resources for them, and offer the opportunity to gain new skills. Many older people are engaged through being volunteers in the education programme. Volunteers are from the local area and mediate between the centre and the neighbourhood. They bring in new ideas and help cement the place of the centre in the neighbourhood.
At the back of the house is a large and vibrant kindergarten with its own garden. Children are encouraged to decide for themselves the activities they want to participate in from what is on offer each day.
At the top of the house are two apartments that are for young people who cannot live with birth parents. There are another two apartments in the nearby streets. There are four members of staff (an SOS mother, two erzieherin (educators) and a housekeeper) and six children in each. These groups of children and staff live together in close contact with each other and model an ‘ordinary family’. When they grow up and leave, the idea is to parallel leaving home, so they keep in touch, offer a bed for the night, work with talents and strengths of young people to identify what kind of vocational training and skills e.g. apprenticeship to go for.
Psychotherapy counselling for the families and individuals is available from an in-house team, on a short term basis, and in Turkish, Arabic, Syrian and German. The problems brought to them are mostly those arising from divorce, school related behaviour and family crises. More specialist help is available from the language development programme for children. Many people were suspicious of the SOS Kinderdorf when is first arrived. The team worked hard to attend neighbourhood forums and events and forged collaborative relationships with schools, local management boards and other service providers. This demonstration of how they various bodies could work together was key to acceptance of SOS Kinderdorf.