GetYourGuide for Good - an Interview with Refugees Welcome

GetYourGuide for Good - an Interview with Refugees Welcome

Last year, GetYourGuider’s  aimed to donate €1000 for the not-for-profit initiative Flüchtlinge Willkommen (Refugees Welcome). Amazingly, through the generosity of all colleagues and board members, we raised an unbelievable €20,689! The initiative, founded in 2014, aims to bring flatshares and refugees together by providing assistance for co-habitation.

We caught up with Jonas Kakoschke, Co-Founder of Flüchtlinge Willkommen, to see what they’ve been working on since then.

For our readers who don’t know your organization, can you tell us a little about Flüchtlinge Willkommen?

Flüchtlinge Willkommen is a digital platform which originated to help connect refugees and flatshares in the city. The core of our organisation aims to find permanent or longer term living arrangements for the many refugees currently looking for a place to call home.

The way it works is this: If you have a spare room, jump onto our website and complete some basic information about yourself, your living situation and the room available. One of our team members will then take on the case to fill your room and help a person in need. They’ll be in touch to learn more about you and find the right person for your living arrangements.

Once we’ve found the perfect match, our team will help you through the funding process. Those offering the room do not need to pay anything if we find a refugee to take the room. Instead, we’ll help you work out how best to finance the new flatmate’s stay. There are lots of different options for funding, including micro-financing (eg. donations from friends and family), crowdfunding platforms, and government support payments.  

Finally, after getting to know each other, the new flatmate moves in! This will be a time of learning more about each other and different cultures. We’ll support you throughout and provide other contacts, such as local refugee organisations, to help make the move a smooth and rewarding experience.

Sounds like a great cause and, like all good ideas, so obvious now that it is out there! How did the program actually come about?

It actually came from my own experiences. In 2014, I was living with Mareike Geiling and we ended up with a spare room available in our apartment. At the same time, we were increasingly unhappy with the way refugees were being treated. We came up with the idea to offer the room to someone in need. Since we didn’t have the contacts, we reached out to Golde Ebding, a qualified social worker, who helped connect us with the right people. Mareike and I ended up sharing our apartment with a young man who had fled Mali, and the whole thing was financed by friends and family who were able to make small donations. It was such a great way to help and address something we saw as a real problem, so we decided to expand!

Marieke, Golde and I (now the Co-Founders of Flüchtlinge Willkommen) continued trying to match refugees with flatshares and within half a year we had 50 people living in flatshares through our program. After that Flüchtlinge Willkommen just kept growing, we were promoting via digital media, and got more and more attention from national and then international media.

By the end of last year, we had a full team to support our work and the project had expanded online into 12 different countries, including Canada and around Europe.

So what’s been happening this year and what’s the plan going forward?

One thing that really kept us busy last year was making sure our project was scalable. Fortunately, the way we had designed the project and workflow meant that the international expansion of Flüchtlinge Willkommen was relatively smooth and we were able to maintain the networks between each independent NGO. We held two international network meetings, one in Athens and one in Warsaw, to share our knowledge.

Of course, the expanded network is something we’re always having to manage so we’re still working to improve things. We’re considering founding an umbrella organization this Summer, to help all of the groups effectively place refugees in flatshares in their cities.

We’re also focusing on the number of people being placed here and in other countries. To date we have about 790 people placed in flatshares around the world, 350 of those are in Germany. It’s going well but it would be great to get some more rooms being offered. There was a lot of excitement from the public to help last year. Unfortunately this year enthusiasm has waned, while the numbers of refugees who need housing just keeps growing.

So that’s one thing we’re working on - promoting our work and seeking help from anyone with a spare room.

First and foremost, offer your spare room. You won’t have to pay for it, it will really help someone out and it’s a great, rewarding experience for you as well.

Sounds like a busy time! How can people get involved or help then?

You can register your room on our website, and the process will follow as I said. There’s also opportunities to help as a buddy or volunteer in other ways, such as reaching out to more flatshares or helping us with our administrative and bureaucratic work.

Also, if you are not based in Germany but would still like to help out or know more, you may be able to find one of our international counterparts. Check out this website http://www.refugees-welcome.net/ for a list of countries and more info on how to get involved internationally.

Anything else we should keep an eye out for?

Part of our work also means trying to promote to an open society based on solidarity and equality for everyone. For this reason, we also do some awareness raising about issues facing refugees. For instance, you may have seen our recent campaign called ‘search racism, find truth’. The campaign placed YouTube advertisements featuring recent refugees in front of particular clips that we felt were misguided or racist. The aim was to shed light on people who have fled their homes by allowing them to tell their stories. It was a really great campaign and nice to give refugees greater voice in the debate.

We’re always open to doing similar campaigns in the future so I’d keep an eye on our website and blog (along with Twitter and Facebook) for news and other updates.

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