28.10.2016 PROJECTS

Volunteers trained to work with refugees in Lower Saxony

EAEA GRUNDTVIG AWARD 2016. An influx of asylum seekers into Germany presented the adult education sector with a remarkable challenge: providing all refugees with language support. As the media widely reports severe shortages of German teachers, EAEA member Agentur für Erwachsenen- und Weiterbildung (AEWB) looked into the option of training volunteers to become language assistants.

The article series shares good practices by introducing the nominees of the EAEA Grundtvig Award 2016.

Recognizing the need of newly-arrived refugees for support in everyday situations and their difficult emotional state, AEWB came up with special training programmes for language assistants and their trainers. The project, entitled Offensive of training, is implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Lower Saxony for Science and Culture.

“With the project we want to positively influence a culture of welcoming and supporting refugees in Lower Saxony by helping and providing support to voluntary helpers,” explains Dr. Henning Marquardt from AEWB.

“We want to make voluntary work with refugees more sustainable, enable volunteers to cope with difficult situations and thereby improve life for refugees in our region.”

The importance of counselling

The activities in the project are twofold, first training the trainers and then the volunteers. The first stage foresees two free qualification periods, when 40 participants are qualified to train volunteers about “first orientation and language assistance for refugees.” During the second stage, almost 200 trainings take place in different adult education centres across the region.

The trainings prepare the volunteers for the work with refugees, putting emphasis on cultural differences and the specifics of working with learners who have suffered trauma. AEWB also trains the volunteers to establish and respect their personal limits, to make sure they can offer long-term support and to avoid the emotional strain from taking its toll. This aspect of the project proved to be particularly difficult.

“The counselling of volunteers posed a real challenge at the time, because, just as the refugees’, their situations were very individual, emotional and sometimes quite difficult. Yet, especially this aspect is very rewarding when volunteers can be supported,” says Dr Marquardt.

The project team also has to confront a few other difficulties. “A major challenge was the diversity of local situations and problems that made it difficult to offer solutions for everybody,” Dr Marquardt tells EAEA.

“Furthermore, the team working on the handbook on learning and teaching materials faced the challenge of the sheer endless mass of materials that had to be taken into consideration.”

A multiplying effect

Regardless of the initial difficulties, AEWB is on its way to reach the main objective, that is, to make sure the volunteers receive high-quality, but at the same time quick and non-bureaucratic preparation for everyday work with refugees. Thanks to the region-wide scope of the project, the organization can effectively train almost 3000 volunteers. As calculated by AEWB, this can assure language assistance for about 43.000 refugees, assuming that every volunteer provides assistance for around 15 refugees.

The numbers are certainly impressive and could increase. “We got into contact with new organisations and initiatives and therefore extended our network,’ says Dr Henning Marquardt from AEWB.

“We also gained know-how in the work with volunteers and refugees that will trickle down into the Lower Saxon adult education providers through our training programme and further activities.”

This way, the project can offer concrete and timely help in fighting against staff shortages in adult education and ultimately support refugees on a large scale.

The project: Offensive of training

Project coordinator:


Text: Aleksandra Kozyra
Photos: Agentur für Erwachsenen- und Weiterbildung