This year’s Juergen Mulert Memorial Award on Mutual Understanding is bestowed to Sherief El-Helaifi and the project “Schülerpaten Berlin”.
“Schülerpaten Berlin e.V.” organizes tutorings between mentors and mentees. Mentors, usually university and doctorate students, are matched with young people from Arab families. Tutoring takes place in the privacy of the mentee’s home, opening up a whole new world to the mentor and facilitating intercultural education of both mentor and mentee.
Sherief El-Helaifi, currently a B.A. student at the Berlin Institute of Technology, spent a Fulbright exchange year at the University of California at Berkeley in 2011/12, where he focused on Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. "Schülerpaten Berlin", which El-Helaifi supported as co-founder, board member and head of public relations, is a unique project which focuses on the process of cultural exchange and awareness. Since its start in 2009, "Schülerpaten" has created more than 220 tutoring partnerships and has thus been instrumental in broadening the public discourse surrounding issues of integration in Germany. In 2013, El-Helaifi plans to expand "Schülerpaten Berlin" to the Ruhr region, and later to other regions, as well. El-Helaifi, who himself has both German and Arab roots, explains the need for such a program: "As the child of a Muslim Egyptian father and a Christian German mother, I grew up learning to appreciate and embrace two religions and two very different cultures. Sometimes I felt that I was pressured to decide whether I am Egyptian or German, although I just felt as both. But I realized how hard it is to integrate if nobody takes you by the hand and explains cultural differences."
According to Benjamin Becker, president of the German Fulbright Alumni Association, "the idea of 'Schülerpaten' is both simple and revolutionary, and promotes the growth of volunteerism in Germany". The statistics are testimony to the success of "Schülerpaten Berlin": In a survey conducted in 2011, over 68% of mentees said that their grades had improved dramatically through the "Schülerpaten" program. 79% had a better understanding of school tasks, 79% had learned and incorporated crucial organizational skills, and 74%, felt more self-confident. Overall, 90% of the mentees surveyed were more than satisfied with their mentors.
Children and teenagers with migrant backgrounds often need tutoring in order to achieve higher grades and increase their potential in school, but their families cannot afford it. At the same time, there is an enormous potential to engage in volunteer work among university students all across Germany.
This is where Schülerpaten comes into play:
We started our project in Berlin where Schülerpaten Berlin was founded in 2009. Today, about 30 volunteers are part of the organizing team. Since the beginning of the project, we have brought more than 220 mentorships between German volunteers and Arab children into being. We want to reproduce our success in other cities and with other migrant backgrounds in Germany. Therefore, we are currently developing a social franchise strategy with which we want to expand our program. Our first expansion into another city will begin in January 2013. After a thorough evaluation of this first attempt, we aim to expand further into other parts of Germany. In the future, an umbrella organization may coordinate the expansion, supervise quality, and provide seminars and room for networking as well as funding for the individual organizations.
The concept of Schülerpaten is based on encouraging contact between people with higher education and children with different cultural backgrounds and fewer educational opportunities. People with different social and cultural backgrounds meet and learn from one another, which leads to increased respect and a potent reduction in prejudices. Through increased civil volunteering, social isolation is defeated. As a result, these otherwise parallel societies grow into one of cooperation and benevolence. Such a development cannot be forced by politicians, but must be borne by the civil society. For this to happen, Schülerpaten is an essential stepping stone.